Master Craftsmen: 1999 Floor of the Year Winners

Upscale Elegance

Congratulations to 1999's Floor of the Year Winners

Judges from the American Society of Interior Designers select the winners for all except for Members' Choice awards, which are voted on by convention attendees. The Master Division is reserved for those who have previously won Floor of the Year awards; those who have not previously won awards are eligible for the Expert Division.

Upscale Elegance


Upscale Elegance

For a Floor of the Year project that won every possible award, this floor had inauspicious beginnings. "Very few times do you get a job where the only thing the builder tells you is, 'You have to use this wood from five years ago that's been sitting in my garage,' " says Michael Palembas, owner of Michael Palembas Hardwood Floors. Eight-inch white oak planks had been erroneously ordered for a previous job, and the planks had traveled from job to job before making it to the builder's garage.

Palembas took the design charge seriously. The builder had recently broken away to start his own company, and this 7,500-square-foot home was to be his first spec home. Although the budget for the project was limited, Palembas knew the floor required an upscale look.

"We were hoping that the floor would help sell the house," he explains. "We wanted to keep it simple. My idea when I initially started designing it was to give it an elegant feeling of someone walking in for a party." Keeping that old white oak plank in mind, Palembas created a unique parquet design adopted from a pattern he had seen on a Greek pot, adding a center wreath inlay and a coordinating border.

The design consists of interlocking 6-inch, notched white oak blocks with 2-inch squares of red narra, a wood from the East Indian country of Samoa. The border features select white oak strip with 1-inch Peruvian walnut, as well as keys of the same three species. All flooring was cut on-site in the home's living room. The curved elements of the center wreath and border were painstakingly created by ripping the linear grain of white oak strips and molding them into the illusion of curved 2 1/4 -inch strip flooring.

Cutting the pieces and doing the installation for a total of 1,600 square feet (600 of it in the foyer) took about six weeks, with four days dedicated just to dry-laying the floor to develop working lines. A water-based finish was used to coat the floor.

The final effect was exactly what Palembas had hoped for. The home owners decided to buy the house before they had even done a complete walk-through. Happily enough, that wasn't the end of this project. The majority of the rooms in the house had been left without flooring so the future owners could choose their own. As luck would have it, the buyer turned out to be a retiring allergist — hardwood was chosen to complete the rest of the house, resulting in Palembas' biggest project to date.

The project was large-scale not only in square footage, but also in personal meaning for Palembas. He dedicates the floor to his father, who, along with two brothers, started the family business after World War II. It was even more meaningful for that floor to then win the contest's vaunted "Triple Crown" of awards, a feat never achieved until last year.

Palembas' father passed away two years ago. "There's one brother who's still alive," Palembas says. "I just saw him a couple of weeks ago, and he couldn't believe that we had taken the business that far."

Not so long ago, Palembas and his brother Chris weren't sure that they could do it. "We had gone to Reno in 1991, entered a floor and got all excited. It was a really spectacular floor that won; just unreal," Palembas says, referring to Allan Pyne's custom parquet pattern in a game room. "We went, 'Whoa, we're never going to get close to this. Ever since then, we've been trying to fine-tune our work."

On this second try, the result at the awards luncheon was better than Palembas had dared to hope. "That was the most incredible feeling — being recognized by the industry and your own peers," he says. "We had worked really hard for that moment." — K.M.W.

Designers: Michael Palembas, Chris Palembas, Doug Duncan • Installers: Michael Palembas, Chris Palembas • Sanders/Finishers: Chris Palembas, Mike Brady • Distributor: Galleher Hardwood Co.Flooring: Memphis Hardwood Flooring Co., Michael Palembas Hardwood Floors • Finish: Basic Coatings • Adhesive: BostikNailers: Stanley-Bostitch • Abrasive: 3M Co.Sander: Clarke American • Buffers: Clarke, Columbus • Saws: Bosch, Makita, Hitachi

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On the Fast Track


On the Fast Track

Unfortunately, Steve Becht couldn't make it to the awards ceremony in Reno to claim his three Floor of the Year trophies. "I was at the convention and I had an emergency at home — a pipe broke and my home flooded. My wife called and said, 'We have a little problem, the first floor's flooding,'" explains Becht, who took the red-eye flight home that Friday night. "I saw Bill Price [Jr.] on my way out and asked, 'On the remote chance that I win something, would you grab it for me?' I got a phone call at home Saturday and he said, 'I can't believe what you did today — I was up on the stage constantly. They just kept calling your name, and the trophies just kept getting bigger and bigger.'"

Price wasn't exaggerating — Becht won three awards (see facing page for the description of his winning Best Design in a Commercial Application installation), accomplishing several Floor of the Year firsts. It was the first time that a prefinished floor took home the Floor of the Year award, and also the first time that the same company had more than one winning project in the same year.

This particular winning project is one of many restaurants The Becht Corp. has worked on recently. "I think we've done more restaurants in the last six months than in the last six years; the restaurant market in New England is just unbelievable," Becht says. Among those restaurants have been six locations of Legal Seafood, a Boston-based chain. "The restaurant is rolling out so quickly on the eastern seaboard that they have three different architectural firms doing their designs. On this particular one, the firm elected to go with a patterned prefinished floor. They sent me some schematic sketches and we did some budgets and told them what they could and couldn't do," Becht says. The chosen product is an acrylic impregnated floor with an aluminum oxide finish. Blue was incorporated into the design to accommodate the chain's color scheme, which uses blue to resemble water.

"Part of the issue with this project was the time frame for getting it done — it was a very fast-track job," Becht says. "We actually built the panels off site. We set up jigs, taped up the top of the panels, packed them, and shipped them to the job as 42-by-42-inch panels. We did the entire installation in 2 1/2 days."

Becht credits his crews for continuing to deliver the excellent quality that makes the final result award-winning. "I'm just proud of the guys who work here," he says. "This is more their rise to the top than mine. I recall that I said one of my goals in buying this company was to bring it to a level of national recognition. At last year's Christmas party, I said how I was so proud to reach that goal, and now to take it a step further this year was something to really be proud of." Will the company go for a third award-winning year in the contest next year? Becht answers, "To back it up again next year will be tough, but we'll try."— K.M.W.

Designer: Mary Jo Verde of Darlow, Christ Architects Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) • General Contractor: Shawmut Design and Construction (Boston, Mass.) • Distributor: Hoboken Floors • Flooring: PermaGrain ProductsAdhesive: BostikSaws: Dewalt, Skill

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Continual Curves


Continual Curves

There are some wood flooring contractors who dread doing commercial work. They hate installing over slabs or dealing with high-rise buildings. In fact, some avoid the work altogether. But it's precisely those types of jobs that Steve Becht has built his multi-million-dollar business on, and that have now led him to his second successful year entering the Floor of the Year contest. He follows up on last year's Members' Choice award with the trophy for this floor, honored as the Best Design in a Commercial Application. (Becht also won the Floor of the Year — Master Division and Best Prefinished Design with a different project — see above.)

Becht helped the architectural design firm write the specifications for this floor before actually bidding on it for the general contractor and getting the job. The project, a law firm office located on the sixth floor of a high-rise building in downtown Boston, required a tricky layout.

A wall of glass doors in the office curves around a walkway to an interior atrium, and the radius fan detail of the floor curves along with it.

"I sat down with my field foreman and figured out mathematically how we were going to achieve this," says Steve Becht, president and owner of The Becht Corp. "It wasn't like we could stretch out a 25-foot, 6-inch line and draw an arc on the floor, because that point was six stories in midair." Instead, they made a paper template off site and put that in position in the field to get their working lines.

Each piece of flooring was tapered and splined to achieve the fan detail. Becht found that one of the challenges was "getting that fan detail to tie into the main body of the floor. There are two curves meeting on a single line, and we put in the curved piece first and had to fit back to that curve. To make that look like one continuous curved line instead of a segmented line was difficult."

Products had been carefully specified that would work on the concrete slab floor. "A lot of people see a concrete floor and they run the other way," Becht says, "but we've become extremely proficient at putting wood flooring in these commercial applications because of specialized products and adhesives. I don't think I've ever had a failure, but you've got to have a stable product." Becht relied on a urethane adhesive to glue down a solid product — 1/2 -inch-thick, quartersawn Brazilian cherry. The flooring in the field was 3 inches wide, while 5-inch product was used for the fan detail.

The law firm stayed open while the entire project was installed, sanded and finished. "We sectioned off the lobby/reception area so people could get off the elevator and still have access to the office area," Becht says. Crews worked odd hours during the night and on weekends. "We worked continuously, around the clock Friday night to Monday morning to get it ready for them again on Monday morning," he says. Although the schedule made it difficult to have any continuity in the installation, that's just another day (or night) in the life of Becht's experienced commercial contracting crew. — K.M.W.

Designer: Gensler Associates (Boston) • Distributor: Top Grade Floors • Flooring: Firebird IndustriesFinish: Absolute Coatings • Adhesive: BostikAbrasive: Norton CompanySanders: Galaxy Floor Machines, Hummel (Palo Duro)Buffer: Mastercraft • Saws: Dewalt, Skill

Suppliers listed in boldface are advertisers in this issue.


Back for More


Back for More

"When we didn't win the prefinished category or Best of Show, I thought that was it," Dave Marzalek says of sitting at the Saturday awards luncheon at the NWFA Convention in Reno. "To hear my name called out, already accepting defeat, was quite shocking for me. That was the most touching moment in my whole career."

Marzalek's career has been nearly meteoric since he burst onto the Floor of the Year scene as an unknown in 1996, winning the awards for both Members' Choice and Craftsmanship. He won awards in '97 and '98, as well, making this his fourth consecutive year to garner at least one trophy.

This year's award has strong personal meaning. "That was the last inlay my dad was to see before he passed away on Thanksgiving," Marzalek explains. "He was always a supporter of mine. He sponsored all my photography and had the photos of all our floors in his office. I really wanted to win one to dedicate it to my parents. I got on the phone and talked with my mom right after I won."

Indirectly, it was last year's award-winning floor that enabled Marzalek to have a shot this year. "The client got a hold of the magazine [last year's Floor of the Year issue] somehow, and said they wanted that design," Marzalek says. Instead, Marzalek convinced the client to try a new design along the lines of last year's European-style medallion.

Marzalek used a prefinished distressed product for the field and throughout other rooms in the house. "I didn't want the floor to look busy, so we just used simple bands of the same wood to border it, and the inlay looks like a rug in the entry," Marzalek says. Because it was a distressed prefinished product, Marzalek restained and applied finish to the cuts. Using shorts for the border helped result in only a 2 percent waste factor.

The inlay also was distressed to match the field. "I've never scraped an inlay before," Marzalek says. "This was a guinea pig floor, basically." Construction on the inlay began two months before the actual installation. Like all of Marzalek's work, it was cut and pieced together in his garage. Scraps from 15 exotic species were cut and glued on a 5-by-7-foot panel, then carefully handscraped to create deep, rough cuts, using stain in the grooves to highlight them. Ten coats of urethane completed the inlay.

Once Marzalek was on the job site, the entire installation took only four days to complete.

"To win Members' Choice in prefinished is quite a statement in the industry," Marzalek says. "I've pushed that prefinished floor category in a lot of directions now. I want to challenge the industry to move forward with it."

Although he may continue to challenge the industry and he admits "I love the competition," Marzalek swears he's not going to be so intense in the future. "I'm going to be pretty much low-key from here on out," he says. Both friends and competitors of the high-energy Floor of the Year veteran will probably believe that when they see it. — K.M.W.

Designer: David Marzalek • Distributor: Galleher Hardwood Co.Flooring: Galleher Hardwood Co., Goodwin Heart Pine, Harris-Tarkett, Rare Earth Hardwoods • Finish: Basic Coatings (on inlay) • Adhesive: BostikAbrasive: 3M Co.Saws: Bosch, Hegner, Makita

Suppliers listed in boldface are advertisers in this issue.


Noteworthy Wood Floors


Noteworthy Wood Floors

To be honest, winning a Floor of the Year award in this year's contest wasn't much of a surprise to Allan Pyne, owner of Sunshine Flooring/Borders By Design. "I thought I had a very strong chance, because it's the most beautiful floor I've done," he says.

That's a strong statement coming from the man who has been in the industry for more than 50 years and is something of a legend. Known for his complex floors and meticulous attention to detail, Pyne has already won three awards, including back-to-back Floor of the Year awards in the residential category in the first two years of the contest, 1990 and 1991.

The opportunity for this year's entry came when Pyne was recommended for a remodel by a previous client. The home, located in an upscale Milwaukee suburb, had a 15-foot-square living room that was to be converted to an inspiring music room for three daughters.

The client chose the medallion featured on the cover of Pyne's brochure as the centerpiece of the room. The 68-inch, laser-cut inlay is composed of bubinga, wenge, bluegum and quilted maple, and Pyne custom-designed a matching 6 1/2 -inch border that utilizes the "trumpet" design from the medallion. Brazilian rosewood tiete was selected as the field material.

"I suggested the Brazilian tiete because I thought it was a beautiful wood, and it would go well with the quilted maple in the medallion," says Pyne. He ordered four-quarter lumber and remilled it for the field.

"The most time-consuming part of the installation was cutting the field," he explains. "I took every speck of lumber that BR-111 had and it was just rough lumber, so some pieces are 3 inches wide and some are 5 inches. I made a jig to guide the skillsaw and did the field first. From the center point of the room to the outside border, I just moved the jig around and cut each piece on the necessary angle." The square-edged, 5/16 -inch product was then glued down.

An additional custom touch is the 1/4 -inch brass, used to complement the gold molding in the room. The brass circles the medallion and creates sunburst rays that radiate out from the circle into the field.

The result is impressive. "People come to the house and they won't even step into the room off the foyer," says Pyne.

As for the future, Pyne gives no indications of slowing down. In fact, he hopes to do more remodel work on the same home. When questioned about future Floor of the Year projects, he says, "I believe this is probably the last entry unless something extraordinary comes up." Given Pyne's record, few will be surprised if that happens. — K.M.W.

Designer: Allan Pyne • Flooring: Sunshine Flooring Co./Borders By Design • Finish: Basic CoatingsAdhesive: BostikAbrasive: 3M Co.Sander, Buffer: Clarke • Saws: Milwaukee, Delta

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Earning High Marks


Earning High Marks

To the best of Dave McGuinness's knowledge, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's program is the only one like it in North America. What's unusual is that among the Institute's many construction trade programs, there is specific training in hardwood floors. It's a class project created, installed, sanded and finished by a group of the institute's students that was awarded this year's Floor of the Year trophy for Best Limited Species Design.

The guiding force behind the program is instructor Dave McGuinness, also a veteran hardwood flooring contractor. He's led the program since its inception in the fall of 1997, and in the process has pulled together the cooperation of the local wood flooring businesses.

"We have the support of all the distributors and contractors here in Calgary," he explains. "When we got started, I went to the contractors and said, 'Why don't you guys clean out your warehouses and put together a bunch of items you don't need anymore, and we'll send a truck around to pick them up, because we need this stuff at the school.' We ended up getting just truckloads of donated stuff.

"When I started sorting through this, I started seeing these little ideas, because there's not enough to do a whole job, but there's enough to make a small job interesting. So all the jobs we did, we'd add a strip of Brazilian cherry, make a geometric pattern in the shop."

McGuinness's students spend part of their time in the classroom learning skills such as blueprint reading and math, but the majority of their time is spent in the field practicing at actual job sites. This winning project was one such site.

"On this particular job, what we'd been doing was a lot of drafting and coming up with alternative stuff," says McGuinness. "We actually drew out the dimensions of the foyer and all the students submitted some graphic or another of what would look good in that setting." Guinness tweaked the final design, and the students went to work.

As usual, the design made use of some older stock, in this case nine-year-old white oak parquet, laid in diamond shapes in a field of white oak strip and accented by jarrah strips. "The hardest part was the layout," McGuinness says. "The field was nailed first, then we drew out the layout on top of it until it was perfect. It was fun for the students to see the technical difficulty and experience the fear about attempting it, but as soon as we got our lines straight, basically it was very easy."

With lines snapped, they plunged in with the circular saw to cut out the inset pattern area, raised the elevation with 3/8 -inch plywood for the parquet, and glued the product in, making a sophisticated-looking installation out of what had been leftovers.

Not only do such installations provide valuable experience for the students, they also help recoup the expenses of the program. "We just need the work sites, so the customers get the material at cost, and the labor is the same as what they pay for anybody," McGuinness explains. Customers get a higher-end project, and "there's a good chance you're going to get a good job, because that's what we're teaching."

In this case, the customers not only got a good job, they got a Floor of the Year-quality installation. McGuinness hopes that will translate into good exposure for SAIT's fledgling training program, allowing them to create more skilled wood flooring experts for the future. — K.M.W.

Designer: Dave McGuinness • Distributors: Active Hardwood Supply, TRC • Flooring: Linden Lumber, Contact Lumber • Finish: BonaKemi USAAdhesive: Franklin InternationalNailer: Stanley-Bostitch • Abrasive: Norton CompanySander: Hummel, Lagler (Palo Duro)Buffer: Thr-o-matic • Saws: DeWalt

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Show Business


Show Business

"I'd like to be on the upper end of the installation, sanding and finishing for the home run hitters, the movie stars," says Gary Horvath, president of ATC Hardwood Flooring and winner of a new category in the Floor of the Year awards — showroom and personal floors. "With the opening of the showroom, we're gearing more towards the architects, designers, people of that nature. That was my dream off the bat, to work for the people who have the money without the budget crunches."

As ATC goes into its seventh year in business, the company is headed in that direction, and the showroom has been instrumental in steering the course. Gary and his wife, Lisa, got the encouragement to go ahead with building a showroom through a friend and business associate. "We got started through Robert Fuller; he's the one who really gave us the push to get the showroom together," Horvath says of the man who founded the Westwood, N.J.-based manufacturer and distributor Harvester. "He said, 'Make the move, you know you can. It'll increase your business,' which it has."

The ATC showroom is now located in the other half of the building occupied by Harvester. ("It's like a candy store for the guys; they're in there every day," Horvath says.) Gary and Lisa developed the design together, using many of the ideas they had gathered from attending the NWFA Convention every year.

The actual installation of the showroom took about a year and a half. The work was patiently squeezed in between jobs, nights and weekends, with veteran installer Michael Ciosek handling a large amount of the installation.

"There was a lot of prep work in order to get the thing together," Horvath says. "The subfloor was way out. We struck lines, put down straightedges and said, 'Wow, this is going to take some time.'" The concrete subfloor was out about 4 inches in 15 feet, requiring extensive work tapering sleepers before installing the plywood subfloor.

The final design called for various grades of flooring, inlays, herringbones, exotics, borders, widths and lengths. The variety of flooring required a careful sanding job, which the crew had to do twice, since the first stain and finish applied didn't turn out as hoped. The floor is finished with a waterborne product.

The wood floors in the ATC showroom have taken the company a long way from the days when the Horvaths worked out of their home, having only pictures in a portfolio to show customers. Horvath is grateful to the man who encouraged him to take the company to a higher level, and who passed away only a month after the showroom was completed. When Horvath received the Floor of the Year award in Reno, "I said to Gertie [Robert Fuller's wife, Gertrude], 'This one's for Bob. He pushed us to move forward in the industry.'" — K.M.W.

Designers: Gary and Lisa Horvath • Installers/Sanders/Finishers: Michael Ciosek, Ed Bustamante, Gary Horvath • Distributors: Harvester Chemicals, Hoboken Floors • Flooring: Historic Floors of Oshkosh, Premier Inlays, Rare Earth Hardwoods, DLA, Premium, Harris-Tarkett, Kentucky Woods, Sheoga, Boa-Franc, Bruce Hardwood, Hartco, Mintec Corp., International Wood Products, Hoboken Floors • Finish: BonaKemi USAAdhesive: Franklin InternationalNailers: Stanley-Bostitch • Abrasive: 3M Co.Sander: Harvester Varicut • Buffers: Clarke American • Saws: DeWalt, Makita

Suppliers listed in boldface are advertisers in this issue.


Painstaking Precision


Painstaking Precision

Geography works in Scott Glidden's favor. His area, located in Connecticut just across the state line from New York City, is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the country. Not surprisingly, it is also a hot spot for high-end design work. When Scott Glidden saw the void in the area for specialty hardwood floor design, he went out on this own seven years ago, and Glidden Hardwood Flooring began. This year Glidden's work has culminated in his first Floor of the Year award, an honorable mention for the Best Use of Wood Technology.

"It was a perfect example of where a good designer, a really good builder and a professional floor company can get together and make a nice project," Glidden says of the award-winning project, located in Greenwich, Conn.

Glidden had worked previously with both the builder and the designer, whom he credits for coming up with original, attractive designs. As usual, this project was a cooperative effort. "The designer gave me the ideas and then I drew it in CAD. We played around with it 10 different ways, from straight squares to an elongated grid," he explains. They chose a design that would be accomplished entirely through custom stain detail, accommodating the designer's preference to not use exotic or endangered species of wood. The design was stained on top of a clear oak floor.

"This particular design was the first one I did exactly like this, but one of my specialties is stained design, faux painting and marblizing, and we do solid inlays, as well," Glidden says.

Like most custom work, complex custom stain jobs such as this one take patience, Glidden explains: "You have to break all these sections off so the stain doesn't bleed. We tape it and score it prior to staining, then dab on the stain a little bit at a time. It's really a painstaking process to get it to turn out nicely."

Once one stain color has been applied, Glidden had to stop and come back the next day before applying any more stain. The time-consuming process turned the foyer into a two-week project. Because the foyer is located in a high-traffic area, six coats of commercial-grade waterborne finish were then applied.

Glidden credits working on CAD for the precise layout of the grids, which appear to be centered from every angle. "CAD is flawless," he says. "We had to lay out this particular design so that the diamonds break aesthetically correctly. You could never lay out 45 feet down just guessing in your head or drawing it out."

Designing on the computer has other advantages, as well. "Typically in this high-end community, everybody wants to see a real blueprint, not just a sketch or drawing," Glidden says. "CAD makes it easy to produce a quality blueprint."

For now, it's back to the computer for Glidden. Among all this other work, he has an especially important deadline coming up. "I'm actually building my own house right now, so maybe we'll see some of those floors in the contest next year. I have all sorts of goodies going in there." — K.M.W.

Designer: B.J. Neff • Distributor: Hall Flooring of Connecticut • Flooring: Stuart Flooring • Finish: BonaKemi USAAdhesive: BostikNailer: Stanley-Bostitch • Abrasive: 3M Co.Sander: BonaKemi USABuffer: Clarke • Saws: Hitachi

Suppliers listed in boldface are advertisers in this issue.

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