In nature, a grotto is a small picturesque cave. Grottos can be found all over the world, on land and in the sea, and are admired by most for their unique features. In residential and commercial spaces, landscape architects have been incorporating manufactured grottos for years, whether as a luxurious pool add-on or an intricate feature in a public park.

For a couple of homeowners in Corte Madera, CA, their dream was to incorporate a grotto into their pool design, which was accomplished with the help of Martin Brookes and his talented team at Heritage Marble & Tile Inc. in Mill Valley, CA.

“We were contacted by the landscape architect, Todd Standley at Simmonds & Associates, Inc., in San Anselmo, CA, after a referral from the tile supplier, Ceramic Tile Design in San Rafael, CA,” said Brookes, founder of Heritage Marble & Tile Inc. “I met with the owner and the architect, and it was between myself and another installer who got awarded the project. The owner was very hands-on and it was a dream project of theirs, so the detail was paramount.”

Around 500 square feet of vibrantly colored glass mosaic tile from Sicis was used to create a kaleidoscope-inspired design on the walls and ceiling, while custom-made ceramic tile from Pratt & Larson in Portland, OR, was used for the trim and entrance, as well as individually placed stars on the ceiling.

When designing the grotto, which has a 55-foot circumference, Brookes and his team needed to cater the tile to the abnormal grotto shape in order for it to fit correctly. “The mosaic came incorrect, so it had to be dismantled and reassembled to accommodate the tapered dome of the grotto and the niches,” Brookes explained. “The niches had been laid out at the factory, but the formwork of the grotto did not match the layout. Because the design was circles of glass mosaic, these had to be remade to accommodate the tapered nature of the grotto and remain a circular shape, rather than oval.

“This was extremely challenging, but better than the option of having it remade in Italy,” he went on to say. “There are few installers I know that have the ability and skill like Gabriel to perform this kind of install. 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.”

Gabriel Cortez, a Certified Tile Installer with the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and certified installer through the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program, completed the installation in about three months with his helper, Ledesmo Calderon.

The project has received local and international praise, including the winning award in the “residential tile installation” category at this year’s Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Awards. “We won the CID award for ‘residential project,’ but because of COVID-19 were unable to accept the award in-person at Coverings in New Orleans, LA,” Brookes said. “I have had many emails and phone calls of congratulations. The owners and architects are extremely happy with the end product and we believe we exceeded their expectations.”

Private residence

Corte Madera, CA

Tile Installer: Heritage Marble & Tile Inc., Mill Valley, CA

Tile Supplier: Ceramic Tile Design, San Rafael, CA (Sicis glass mosaic tile and Pratt & Larson customized ceramic tile)

Installation Products: Dyna, Concord, Ontario, Canada (Dynacrete); Laticrete, Bethany, CT (Hydro Ban); The Tile Doctor, Marietta, GA (Litokol’s Litoelastic EVO and Starlike EVO)