Heritage Tiling and Restoration
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2019
"Churches represent the highest form of craftsmanship our country has produced."
The Heritage Tiling and Restoration Company is a member of the National Churches Trust Professional Trades Directory. The company recently restored a marble mosaic floor in a Grade I listed Unitarian church
Steve Sinnott founded the Heritage Tiling and Restoration Company in Liverpool in 1982 and has worked on almost 200 listed buildings. His skills have taken him 27 countries including Alaska and New Zealand.
A million cubes of marble
It all began 46 years ago when Steve was an apprentice stonemason working on a Victorian building. Two workers spilled acid on a vast marble mosaic floor and left it there over a weekend. Together with other apprentices, Steve was set to work replacing pieces of stone that had been corroded by the acid.
“I was very, very precise in the work I did,” he recalls. “In the end, I was given the whole job to do. I cut nearly a million cubes of marble. The job took three years.”
Today, Steve is one of Britain’s leading craftsmen restoring Victorian mosaic and encaustic tiled floors. He says he finds church commissions most rewarding: “I think churches represent the highest form of craftsmanship our country has produced. So much of the work I’ve restored is absolutely outstanding. The time and the skills the craftsmen invested in their work is amazing and yet, in most cases there is no record of who they were.”
Ullet Road Unitarian Church
At the Grade I listed Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Sefton Park, Liverpool, Steve recently repaired a marble mosaic floor that was badly damaged in a flood. Water had seeped into the porous lime screed causing it to expand. The use of dehumidifiers made the damage worse causing the screed to contract too quickly leaving behind extensive expansion cracks. (There is a photo gallery showing the work at the bottom of this webpage.)
Steve cut out damaged tesserae and filled gaps and cracks with 3,000 new pieces. After extensive research, he sourced matching marble from quarries in France, Spain and Italy. Then began the painstaking work of cutting tesserae just 15mm x 10mm from 60cm square tiles using a diamond wet cut.
“We cut each piece from 60cm strips and then broke off the ends to match the rough finish of the originals. Then we laid them in a slightly irregular fashion to blend in with the rest of the floor,” he says.
Steve favours restoration over stabilising damaged areas of floor and leaving them: “I prefer to take a floor apart and put it back together again. The best compliment I can get from a client is that they can’t see the work I’ve done.”
He can call on a number of skilled men and women to work with him. These include eight he is mentoring who want to make the transition from modern tiling to heritage work. There is no national qualification for the latter. He would love to offer a training programme leading to a qualification and has been in talks with various bodies. But progress is slow.
“I might just get it up and running before I pop my clogs!” he says.