Ask an Installer: Kyle Smith of Tilesmith | Fireclay Tile
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Ask an Installer: Kyle Smith of Tilesmith

Ask an Installer: Kyle Smith of Tilesmith

Kyle Smith, the founder of Madison, WI based tile setting company Tilesmith, is in it for the right reasons. A specialist in artistic tile installs and handmade tile, Kyle's passionate about the work he does.

He's also passionate about spreading the joy of tile to others, whether it's his clients who enjoy his projects for years to come, or others in search of a trade, pride, and a living. Kyle frequently works with Fireclay Tile, and we caught up with him to learn what he does differently, what trends he's seeing in design, and what one question homeowners should ask a potential tile installer.

Can you introduce yourself?

Tilesmith has been in the Madison area now for four years now and we've kind of become the de facto specialty tile installers. Contractors will say, 'Oh we have Fireclay Tile so we’ve got to have Tilesmith do that.'

yellow backsplash tile

Tile Shown: Star and Cross // Image: Kyle Smith

What makes Tilesmith unique?

My experience is not the norm in our trade. I found since I started Tilesmith, it's been a bit of an uphill battle to convince the industry partners around me, as well as my tile setting peers, that the way we do things is the way it should be done and that we can all level up the expectations here when it comes to craftsmanship.

I think what it is is I really care about it. Like, I love it. It's fun and it ticks every single box for me personally. Doing tile work is my mental health regime. It's also my physical health regime because of the physicality of it. It keeps me attentive to the moment. It also forces me to plan. It's really exciting.

yellow star and cross tile backsplash

Tile Shown: Star and Cross // Image: Kyle Smith

I also believe in the power of just positive experience. So even if we're doing something simple on your house, if they had a positive experience working with us, that object or that even mundane installation has some positive energy connected to it.

What’s one question homeowners should ask a potential tile installer?

It's probably, what do you love about tile? I think that will open up a conversation because installing tile is not easy. You have to love it. I don't do it for the money. I do it because it makes me happy and it makes other people happy.

floor tile

Tile Shown: Star and Cross, 3x12 // Image: Kyle Smith

When you interview an installer, ask as many questions as possible. It's a craft, so treat them like they were creating a custom piece of furniture for you or something. And also expect to pay more if you want a job well done. Don't just look up national averages because the average is failing much sooner than the 20 to 30 years that a tile installation should last.

What should a homeowner be considering when choosing tile?

Here's the thing, you're considering tile for its aesthetics, purely. There are hundreds of other materials that you could put in for much less money that would serve the same purpose. In your kitchen, are you afraid of getting splatter on your walls? Well, use better paint. Or in your shower, put in an acrylic shower surround if you just want to take a shower. Or your floor, there are all sorts of really good wearing floors these days that will last a decade or two.

floor tile

Tile Shown: Star and Cross // Image: Kyle Smith

You're doing it for the aesthetics and it's an art by that definition I think. We are helping you to install a piece of art. So do something that speaks to you. Do something that when you look at it kind of gives you a little smile inside because you're going to be walking into that space as a homeowner daily.

So give yourself that little smile inside every single time you walk through or into that space, even if you rarely notice it, even if it's just a part of the backdrop. I personally am attracted to the idea of how much our environment affects us. And then from there, of course, you know how we can affect other people.

What do you like about working with Fireclay Tile?

Fireclay is fantastic. I love the look of handmade tile. And I think the reason it has such a unique appeal is how handmade hits our psyche differently than something machine-made.

If I just look at a landscape, right, I see patterns. If I'm in the mountains, I might see a prairie and then like some trees leading up to a mountain and then the white-capped mountains. And there are all these textures that have that natural variation.

floor tile

Tile Shown: Star and Cross, 3x12 // Image: Kyle Smith

And I think that's what handmade tile does because of those imperfections, and there's something appealing about that. I think handmade tile is kind of a callback to nature.

For the same reasons we go for a walk through the woods or another natural environment, there's something about the handmade aesthetic that calls to us in a way that the high precision of rectified flat porcelain doesn't.

Should a homeowner hire a designer in addition to their installer?

That used to be a simple answer for me but over the years I've seen so many different recipes work well. Whether you're working with a designer or a tile professional, or just someone who is a few months into selling tile on a retail sales floor, the whole question is caring about it.

You know, it's how much does this person care? I think the same questions I'd suggested homeowners might ask of a prospective tile installer they could ask of a designer as well.

backsplash tile

Tile Shown: Ogee Drop // Image: Kyle Smith

You need to find someone you can relate to and have a good relationship with and you can tell has the time and attention for your project. Find someone who's excited about your project, not just an order taker, and also be prepared to do some work yourself.

Hiring a designer is not like just taking your car into the shop. They're not just going to take care of it. You're an integral part as a homeowner of that process. So you can't just hand it off and expect them to deliver this beautiful design.

What trends are you seeing in tile these days?

I think just more color.

It's hard for me to know if that's an overall trend or if it's just because of our reputation as a company or what I'm consuming on social media and elsewhere, but I am seeing people be a little braver with design.

What would you say to a client considering resale value of their home and potentially designing more conservatively?

When folks talk about just slapping something boring up because they're going to sell it in four to five years, I try to do the rough math and how many days that is. If it's four years down the road, that's more than 1400 days. So you're going to put a few thousand dollars into this and reside here for 1400 days and then you're going to hope that someone walks in here and likes it?

backsplash tile

Tile Shown: Ogee Drop // Image: Kyle Smith

I'm a big believer that when it comes to the resale of a home, and design in general, is that folks are attracted to something that's interesting more than they are repelled by something that's not their style.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm trying to lay the groundwork for some sort of tile school to show people how fun it is to do this trade and set them up with some baseline mentalities. It's part of my bigger mission. I love teaching this stuff.

There is nothing better than watching someone go from insecure and full of self-doubt to owning something that nobody can ever take away from them. You know, pretty sweet.

How can someone in the Madison area get in touch with you?

Either through our website or through Instagram.

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