Generation Homes’ Partner Spotlight: DeGrande follows family legacy as tile artisan
By STUART KORFHAGE
St. Augustine Record
Whether it’s soaking in the tub in the master bathroom or enjoying a worship service at a historic church, Ryan DeGrande hopes his work adds a little beauty to the experience.
As owner/operator of Ancient City Tile, the St. Augustine native is making use of the tile laying skills that run in his family to leave an aesthetic touch all over the area.
DeGrande can trace the trade in his family back as far as his great-grandfather Bill Kling.
And in a city as historic as St. Augustine, the 31-year-old said he sometimes comes across work that his father, Joey DeGrande, remembers doing while working as a young man for Kling.
“That’s a long line of people in the flooring industry,” DeGrande said of his family. “I was very fortunate to get dealt the right set of cards.”
It seems the city is the beneficiary.
Ancient City Tile was one of the companies chosen to be a subcontractor for the recent remodeling of the Cathedral Basilica in downtown.
The $4 million project included the removal of the sanctuary floor, painting of the sanctuary walls and ceiling, complete reconstruction of the choir loft, lighting work and more.
For Ancient City Tile, its portion of the project included working with 30 tons of Italian marble flooring.
DeGrande said he takes every job seriously, but it’s impossible for a tradesman not to appreciate the importance of a job on a building as significant as the Cathedral.
“We do that kind of work all the time,” DeGrande said. “But when you do it in that spot, in that surrounding, it’s even more special. I was glad to see it wasn’t somebody from out of town (doing the tile work).”
That DeGrande and his team did the work was no given. And neither was it set in stone that DeGrande would even go into the tile business despite the family connections.
DeGrande said he learned about the trade at a young age and always had an affinity for it. But he still had to think about whether it was what he wanted to do with his life.
He tried a couple semesters of college and decided that wasn’t for him. About the age of 21, DeGrande got serious about the business, working for a local master in Keith Hays.
“Being able to learn what I did from him and my family gave me a little bit of an unfair advantage,” DeGrande said. “Without what I learned from (Hays), I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
That experience gave DeGrande the skills and confidence to start his own business. He’s been fortunate enough to have his father working for the business, too.
Putting together a competent staff isn’t easy. DeGrande said there aren’t a lot of skilled tile workers available. He’d like to see more young people make a commitment to learning the trade.
“It’s almost impossible,” DeGrande said of finding quality stone workers. “The employees are super important. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.”
DeGrande isn’t the only one who is impressed with what he crew can do. Other contractors have taken notice and consistently give jobs to Ancient City Tile.
The company got the Cathedral assignment from A.D. Davis Construction, which routinely uses DeGrande’s tile workers.
“We’re always trying to find local contractors when we can,” said Mike Davis, president of A.D. Davis Construction. “Ryan is very conscientious and tries to do a good job. He’s great to work with. He just makes our job easier.
“The Cathedral was a very detailed job on a tight time schedule. We knew Ryan could get that done.”
Davis said he’s known Joey DeGrande since their school days and knows he can trust the work ethic and skills of the DeGrandes. He’s hired them to help this summer when A.D. Davis Construction will remodel 45 bathrooms at Flagler College.
Some of that work is expected to include modernizing the job in Ponce Hall that Joey DeGrande and Kling did decades ago.
DeGrande said he’s looking forward to getting into that job with his father, but he said there are plenty of other satisfying projects that don’t include historic buildings.
He said just redoing one person’s bathroom or kitchen or patio can be as much fun as working on something that’s been around for more than a century. All the jobs have their perks.
“It’s super rewarding,” DeGrande said. “I really enjoy it when you work with an appreciative homeowner.”
(This article on Ancient City Tile appeared in the St. Augustine Record. Ancient City Tile is one of Generation Homes’ craftsmen partners. Photos by Peter Willott, St. Augustine Record)