Gramercy Park is a New York City neighborhood where townhouses from the 19th century still stand, and the community has worked to maintain its history. For Ulises Liceaga, a private residence in this neighborhood gave him and Fractal Construction LLC, the company he founded in New York City, the challenge to update an old building with a unique renovation. Liceaga renovated the residence with an approach that preserved the unique history of the New York townhouse but also modernized it in a stylish and functional way.

Before beginning the renovation, there was a lot for Liceaga to consider. “Within all of my projects, I try to consistently focus on the needs of the space, while respecting the traditional elements involved,” he said. “With the Gramercy Park Townhouse renovation, I had to solve the paradox on how to bring an 1848 townhouse into the 21st century -- both structurally and with design. With the tile selection, I wanted to incorporate a contemporary product that balanced the traditional features of the townhouse. The results show just how innovatively the ceramic tiles were able to weave these contrasting styles.”

Design decisions

After considering many different materials, including wood, concrete and natural stone, the redesign was set forth with the use of ceramic tiles. These were chosen for their durability and ease of maintenance -- which was a demand of the smaller occupants of the residence. “I needed a product that could withstand the grace of five children -- the banging and slamming of toys, constant traffic, accidental spills, you can use your imagination -- but most importantly stay resilient and beautiful,” said Liceaga.

In every renovation, the client has a certain amount of involvement in choosing materials that achieve a design goal for their space. When asked how involved their client was Liceaga responded, “Very involved. In this case, the client was my wife! Luckily we agree 99% of the time.” What they agreed upon were tiles that updated the townhouse by opening it up and allowing for a “clean slate” for their redesign. Sant’ Agostino’s “Pietre d’ Italia” floor tiles were used in the kitchen, dining area and living room. For a more dramatic effect, 2- x 2-foot size pieces were used. The resulting look is a continuous flow of a clean and modern material that freshens the space.

Installation Details

Installer:  Fractal Construction LLC, New York, NY

Tile Products:  Sant’ Agostino, Ergon, Island Stone, Dynasty Art

Installation Products: Laticrete SpectraLock®, Laticrete 84 LatiLevel™, both from Laticrete of Bethany, CT

Number of Installers:  2

Installation Time:  8 weeks

Upstairs, the floor of the master bathroom was covered with porcelain tiles from Ergon’s “Mikado” Collection. The walls are covered in a Himarchal Black stone tile from Island Stone’s “Strip Cladding” line. To add color to the black walls, the design incorporates a mosaic tile that follows the perimeter of the room. “MiniBrick” tiles from Dynasty Art in the color Blended Brick Red add a bold contrast that warms the stone walls and blends with the wood-look of the floor.

The installation

Working in a building that is over a century old, there are several extra considerations when carrying out a renovation. Over time, the natural settling of the building required the installation crew to prepare the floors for the tile installation. “It is imperative that with ceramic tile installation that the floor is smooth and level,” explained Liceaga. “It was best that we performed a self-leveling installation, which is great for concrete floors or often uneven wood.” To do so, they used Laticrete’s self-leveling underlayment mortar, LatiLevel™ 84.

"To install the tiles, products included Laticrete SpectraLock® grout. “I had heard great reviews regarding the product from friends in the industry,” Liceaga explained. “I could not resist.”

 The biggest challenge of the tile installations were the dimensions that they were using. Working with such large tiles in small spaces, places a high pressure on installers to use their measurements wisely. “It was a unique situation in that all starting points had to be labeled, allowing for as little cutting as possible,” said Liceaga, who stands confidently behind the craftsmanship of his crew. “It was imperative that the tiles be accurately installed due to their size. You save a lot of time and anxiety when you know what you are doing -- I had faith in my team.” Throughout the installation, Liceaga was on site at least once a week.

 For the 4,500-square-foot townhouse, the tile installation took about eight weeks. Due to the age of the building, it was a long process that involved a lot of work for Liceaga and his installation team. But despite the time and meticulous work that had to be put in to the renovation, there are no complaints when Liceaga recounts the project. After winning in the residential category of the Ceramics of Italy 2012 Tile Competition, Liceaga said that reactions to the project have been “positive, rewarding, and most importantly, inspiring.” He continued by adding, “Since completion, we have been working on another townhouse renovation, in which we continue to use Italian ceramics.”