Eugene "Gene" Klotz, one of the legends of the wood flooring community, passed away on Dec. 23, 2016, at age 60 after battling lung cancer.
Klotz, of Renaissance Floor In-Lays, became one of the most recognized wood flooring craftsman when he had a string of wins in the Floor of the Year contest in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997—a string that ended only when he decided after his 1997 win that it was time for him to step aside and become a Floor of the Year spectator. He made a reappearance by winning again in 2001. His stunning medallions and borders were hand-cut with a scroll saw. (To see all his winning floors and descriptions, scroll down to the bottom of this article.)
A native of Poland, Klotz was hand-picked for a special craftsman's school there when he was 16. He moved to the United States and transferred his master craftsman skills for marquetry to wood floors. He moved, along with his business and beloved wife, Urszula, back to Poland in 2008, and opened a Berlin showroom in 2013.
Klotz was always willing to share his skills, teaching students at the early National Wood Flooring Association Advanced Schools and demonstrating his talents at the NWFA convention. After winning in 1996, he told the magazine, "They ask things like, what tools do I use? What must they do to get to a certain point, technically? They ask very good questions, and I am happy to answer them. I am not making a secret of any of this."
Chris Coates, of Coates & Associates, met Klotz at Golden State Flooring not long after he came to the United States. She sent WFB the following memories of Klotz, which we wanted to share here in its entirety:
Gene first came to Golden State Flooring to buy finish. He had recently emigrated to the U.S. as a refugee and had taken on a job of refinishing some church pews in San Francisco. Not knowing what finishes were available, he had surmised that whatever was strong enough for wood flooring would certainly hold up on the church pews.
We started discussing finishes, and once his selection was made, he asked if any of our customers might want to purchase some wood marquetry "paintings." Intrigued, I asked to see these paintings. Gene went out to his car, shortly returning with some of the most fascinating, intricately detailed wood marquetry images. He was asking a very small sum for each one, and while studying one of the images, I noticed a beautifully depicted room with a stunning wood floor featuring a scrolled border pattern. I commented that if he could make the same border pattern full-scale, our customers would be delighted to pay him much more than what he was asking for any one of his marquetry paintings. Shocked, he looked at me and said, "But anyone can make them big." I assured him that talent was very rare and potentially quite marketable and valuable.
It was just a few years later that we proudly watched Gene mount the stage at the NWFA convention in Reno to take home his first Floor of The Year award. He had accomplished so much in such a short time, and as we sat at the bar sharing a bottle of Dom Perignon, we laughed about our first meeting, and Gene talked about how much he appreciated the support and encouragement offered by so many people in our industry.
A few Floor of the Year awards later, Gene declared he would no longer enter the competition. When I asked his why, he said he was concerned his success might deter others from entering and that he would like to encourage others to create their own masterpieces.
Gene was an incredibly talented, generous man who never stopped creating and dreaming of his next masterpiece. When he and his wife Urszula eventually made the decision to relocate their business to Poland, we missed them both but were always pleased to hear about their continued success and world-class projects.
Rest in peace, Gene. You brought beauty and art to the craft of wood flooring and enriched our lives with your creativity.
Click on the image below to read digital versions of all of Klotz's winning Floor of the Year floors as they appeared in the magazine:
Click below for a slideshow of images courtesy of Urszula Klotz: