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Stunning grotto project combines custom glass and ceramic mosaic with high-level installation expertise

Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., wins CID Award for Residential Tile Installation

Grotto pool rendering
Only a rendering and preliminary plan of the Grotto were available at the pre-construction meeting.

This Corte Madera Pool Grotto project grabbed the Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Award for Residential Tile Installation back in April, announced during Coverings Connected virtual trade show. This homeowner’s dream project of a Moroccan-style pool grotto was brought to life through the expert installation of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., in Mill Valley, Calif. 

Heritage Marble & Tile was brought onto the bidding process by landscape architect Todd Standley at Simmonds and Associates in San Anselmo, Calif., on the recommendation of tile supplier Ceramic Tile Design in San Rafael, Calif. Ceramic Tile Design provided the custom glass mosaic tile manufactured by Sicis and the handmade ceramic tile from Pratt and Larson that would form the project’s intricate design. The grotto, which has a circumference of 55 ft., would use approximately 500 sq. ft. of tile by the time the project was complete. 

Story pole in unfinished pool grotto
A story pole was attached to the center point of the domed roof, with datum established that would guide the layout.

Martin Brookes, owner of Heritage Marble & Tile, said that at the pre-construction meeting, the grotto structure had not yet been poured and only a rendering and preliminary plan were available. 

“Numerous pre-construction site visits took place to ensure that all parties were kept up to date about any issues or changes that arose during the project,” he said. “We projected that the project would be completed in 6-7 weeks.”

Brookes explained that the pool grotto shell had been formed with gunite, and did not meet substrate tolerances for both glass and ceramic tile installation. “To address this issue, we floated the walls, trued up the niches and arch, and used a laser level to create critical layout lines,” he said. “The center point of the domed roof was used to attach a story pole, and datum was established on which the layout would be dependent upon. The pool grotto’s structure required numerous hours of preparation to make the walls smooth enough to accept the Sicis glass mosaic tile. Once the walls were within tolerance, LATICRETE Hydro Ban Cementitious membrane was applied, which is specifically designed for pool applications.”

Pool grotto niche

When Heritage Marble & Tile was ready to begin the tile installation, the project encountered several installation challenges:

  • The mosaic had been carefully drawn by the architect, who had instructed Sicis to cut the niches out during production, thus the tile installation had to accommodate the existing structure. 
  • The niches were not poured in the correct position and ranged from 2-3 inches off-center. 
  • The diameter at the bottom of the grotto was poured 2 inches larger than at the top. 

Brookes said, “To resolve these installation challenges required a cost analysis to determine whether to return the tile to Sicis in Italy to have it adjusted with about a three-month lead time, or make the adjustments on site with our team of qualified installers who held Certified Tile Installer (CTI) and Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT) credentials. We chose to make the adjustments on site, and after much discussion with the architect came up with a game plan: the niches would have to be pieced in by hand and the circles in the mosaic pattern re-worked. This took time but was much faster than the other option of returning the tile to Italy.”

worker installing tile in pool grotto
Niches had to be pieced in by hand by installer Gabriel Cortez and helper Ledesmo Calderon.

Brookes said installer Gabriel Cortez – with CTI and ACT credentials – along with helper Ledesmo Calderon took the lead on making these adjustments. “There are few installers I know have the ability and skill like Gabriel to perform this kind of install,” Brookes said. “His attention to detail and focus are exemplary. He is a true asset not only to Heritage Marble & Tile Inc., but to the whole tile community, producing artwork that will last for years to come.”

The Heritage crew began the tile installation by protecting the work area with a structure to maintain a stable ambient temperature. The Pratt and Larson ceramic tile stars on the ceiling and trim were set with LATICRETE Titanium thinset, chosen because of its superior bond strength and workability characteristics. The entire project was grouted with Litokol Starlike EVO epoxy grout that uses Zherorisk® technology – non-hazardous to the environment, non-toxic, non-corrosive and very low VOC. The black grout used on the ceiling contained golden flecks that accentuated the star effect. 

The resulting project took about 12 weeks from start to spectacular finish. “This was a technically challenging installation that tested the focus, detail, and stamina of the installer,” Brookes concluded. “The end result was a stunning pool grotto that exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Editor at | [email protected] | + posts

Editor for TileLetter, TileLetter Coverings, TREND and TECH publications.

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11, and drawing and sketching since she could hold a pencil. Her penchant for observation led to her becoming a paid professional as a trade journalist, publicist and is editor for TileLetter. She has also written for Guideposts, Walls, Windows and Floors, Floor Covering Weekly, and Low Carb Energy.

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