TILE recently sat down with Pavlo “Pasha” Starykov, owner of Star Tile & Stone, LLC in Portland, OR. Starykov is a Certified Tile Installer (CTI #1480) with the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), a NTCA Region 9 State Ambassador and a certified stone and tile inspector.
TILE: How did you first get involved in the tile industry?
PS: I was born in Kiev, Ukraine. Until the age of 25, I would have never thought my life would have anything to do with the tiling business. Like many teenagers in my country, I was dreaming to become a professional soccer player and was working hard to achieve that goal. During the course of my career, I played for various teams, including the Youth Academy of Borussia Dortmund (Germany), U-16 and U-18 Ukraine National Teams and several Ukrainian professional soccer clubs.
After moving to the U.S. in 2008, I came to the conclusion that I had to start a new chapter in my life – something that would help me to settle down and spend more time with my family. I was hired as an entry-level tile setter’s helper in a company that mostly did large commercial projects. It was a challenging time for me -- a new country and an absolutely different type of work where I had zero knowledge. I was no longer considered a highly experienced expert in my field, but simply as an employee with very poor English language skills that had to be guided in every step. When one of my coworkers asked me to bring him a water hose, I went outside of the school building where we were working and started asking the concrete guys where I could find a “water horse.” They looked at me so strangely. Having not found anything, I came back and said that there was no “water horse” outside. The eyes of my incredibly tolerant colleague started reflecting something greater than just a good mood, and the first thing I did after coming home was check the vocabulary. I still laugh aloud about that incident with my ex-coworkers.
TILE: How did you come to start your own business?
PS: Time passed by, and after six and a half years of the commercial “on your mark, get set, go” pace of work, I started my own residential tiling business in the Portland, OR, metropolitan area, Star Tile & Stone LLC, with the desire to provide the highest quality installation services and to further grow as a tile professional.
TILE: Has the tile industry changed much since you first started?
PS: Even though I started my tiling journey not that long ago, the tile industry has experienced dramatic changes since then. In 2009, the use of uncoupling membranes was unheard of by many tilers; there were no large and heavy tile mortars as we know them today and the size of tiles rarely exceeded 48 x 48 inches. Today, a professional tile contractor has an incredibly large variety of waterproof shower systems, advanced mortars and grouts, membranes and self-leveling compounds to make his job more efficient. Tile panels and thin slabs as large as 5 x 10 feet are growing in popularity and, most importantly, tile education is becoming more and more valued through the hard work of the trade associations, technical committees and dedicated individuals.
TILE: Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out?
PS: Most of the projects I do are complex, but one job I did in the spring of 2021 really stands out. It was my first project with 8-mm Dekton large-format tile panels. Everything in that large residential bathroom, from bringing it in to plane all substrates to templating, mitering and installing the panels, required proper evaluation, deep pre-planning and analysis, close attention and a lot of effort. The final product has exceeded not only the customers’, but also my own expectations.
TILE: What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite?
PS: The biggest challenge I face on almost every job is uneven floors and walls. As a professional tile contractor who is committed to following industry standards and up-to-date installation methods, I spend a lot of time preparing the substrates so that they are truly ready to receive tile installation. I “overcome” out-of-plane wall studs with proper shimming techniques, and not solid enough and uneven floors are corrected with proper reinforcing and leveling methods and products.
TILE: What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
PS: Professional tile installation is truly an art and a science. It is so interesting that I simply cannot not tell my customers what minimum requirements for a successful tile installation are: proper substrate prep, proper waterproofing system, proper mortar coverage behind the tiles, proper expansion and soft joints, proper maintenance and care. I explain it in detail when I visit people’s homes with estimates and my customers can learn that information again when reading my bids. Moreover, my Instagram page @star.tile.and.stone has a lot of information on how exactly I do my projects. I really love educating myself and people around me about tile and stone.
TILE: If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
PS: Shortly after I started my journey as an independent tile contractor, I realized my desperate need for continuing technical education. I had so many questions that I had no answers to. The turning point was becoming a member of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) in 2017 and I sincerely don’t know of any better advice I could give to the tile contractors, those who are just beginning their careers or who have been installing tile for 30 years. By joining the NTCA, I was able to meet like-minded professionals and get access to the invaluable riches of knowledge and education. The contacts I have made, workshops I have attended and technical resources I have read and keep reading have forever changed my tiling world.