In this edition, we sat down with Roberto Colonetti, the renowned “porcelain artist” at European Ceramics in Perth, Western Australia. Born and raised in Italy, Colonetti began his career at Colonetti SNC Of Colonetti Claudio And Sons in Borgo di Terzo, Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy, where worked with natural stone as a CNC and waterjet operator for 22 years. He relocated to Australia is 2013 to pursue a career in porcelain with European Ceramics, where he creates functional works of art using porcelain. He also travels around the world to host training and education sessions on fabrication best practices. Recently, he published his own book, the Colonetti System Technical Manual, which describes his particular method of porcelain fabrication for integrated sinks.
TILE: How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Colonetti: I started with my brother in 2003. Actually, it was more for fun. My brother and I were playing with big tiles, trying to make some cool stuff, and my brother said, “Let’s try to make a vanity.” Since that day, we spent so many hours and days trying to find the right way to make something that we could put on the market without any problem (we still have some vanities in place since 2005). After that happened, what came to mind was growing this industry — giving something different to our customers. Obviously at that time, our main focus was on natural stone, and the main reason was because my father is a sculptor and for him to see us using something different than stone was a shock. However, now he is proud of what we have done.
TILE: Are you a company owner? If so, what were some reasons for starting your own business?
Colonetti: I was working with my family, but in 2013, I decided to leave the company for something different; I moved to Australia. Now, I’ve been working with my brother on a big project and we will move to Houston, TX, together at the beginning of next year.
TILE: Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Colonetti: Yes it has. When we started, you could find just big sizes of tiles and not many tools specifically for porcelain on the market; the same for glue and foam. After a while, slabs were developed, and for us, it has been instrumental because we could start making big things like countertops, kitchen island benchtops and many other things.
TILE: Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Colonetti: I’ve done a lot of nice jobs, but because porcelain is still something that you can replicate with the same slabs, I can’t say that any job done by us is unique. If something goes wrong during the construction, we always have the chance to replace it with the same slab. With natural stone, everything has to be perfect; you can’t make a mistake. I had a discussion with my dad a couple of years ago about this. He was praising a job that I did in a famous restaurant, but I said to him, “Everything you have done using your hands with a piece of stone is not replicable.”
TILE: What are some common issues you have to deal with on the job site? How do you overcome them?
Colonetti: The main problem here in Australia is how the houses are built. We have to fight every time with uneven walls and floors, and sometimes builders pretending to anchor pieces like suspended vanities on what we call “fake walls” here. Luckily, by using the foam, we prefer to build our structures at the factories to avoid any problems. Getting the right measurement is another important part, but thanks to the digital systems, we can get all of the details required for completing a perfect job.
TILE: What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Colonetti: For every project, we explain to them what we can and what we can’t do. As you know, some customers ask for things that are quite impossible to make by using porcelain such as big curves or things like that. We have to protect our business as well from customers with these types of ideas by providing an exact drawing and providing what is on it, explaining why we did the joints in certain places, why the sink and the hotplate are at that distance from the front to the back, etc.
TILE: If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Colonetti: First, if you never handled porcelain, try to get information from who is handling/working with porcelain. It’s not easy like some people think. Make sure you are doing it the right way. Don’t guess. Otherwise, instead of making money, you will lose money and reputation. Sometimes it’s better to say “no” rather than “sorry.” I receive emails sometimes from people who were brought to court for a faulty job, asking me for my opinion. We have to work to make money and happy customers. To get a nice quality product, you have to invest money in tools and training. If you decide to start to working with porcelain, do some experiments and see if you can handle it, especially if you have a big project to do. When you make something out of foam, consider all of the variables. For example, if you make a suspended sink, you have to consider the right brackets to use on the wall and if someone can sit on top of it. The same thing goes for an island bench, etc. When you get the job, get a signed contract every time from the customer as well, so if there is a review on something, you can protect your business while also doing a quality job. Quality will always pay off.
If you or anyone you know is interested in being featured in a future edition of the “Contractor Spotlight,” please email Heather Fiore at email@example.com.