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Front Porch

Setting tile, she blazes a stylish trail

Karin Miller owns a flooring company, and stands out in an industry dominated by men.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published January 9, 2007


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HOLIDAY - The white Ford F-350 pickup rumbles into the parking lot of a tile store, and the customer waiting in the parking lot half expects a burly contractor to lumber from the cab.

The driver is a tile installer, all right, but hardly the sweaty, dusty dude you'd expect: Instead, it's 44-year-old Karin Miller, with a Cheshire smile and a swishing ponytail who sweetly greets her customer and strolls into the tile showroom.

Her company, Karin Miller Flooring, which she runs from the corner of her dining room in Tahitian Gardens she's moving into a spare bedroom soon, takes her all over Pasco County and beyond.

These days Miller's customers get her name from top contractors who recommend her business, which installs tile, marble and stone, and wood and laminate flooring.

But it wasn't always so easy.

"I used to ride down the road and when I'd see a construction site, I'd jump out and say, 'Who do you have doing your tile?' " she recalled.

Miller got her start when she was a 16-year-old cosmetology student. To make ends meet, she took a job with a local pool-installation company, where she learned carpentry and the basics of tile installation.

The all-female crew sported matching bikinis and tennis shoes.

"We got to talking one day and decided we all needed a uniform," she said with a laugh.

A single mom, she shared a mobile home in Aripeka with a female co-worker from the pool company. The boss loaned them a "beater" car to get to work.

Eventually, Miller saved enough money to buy her own car.

She decided she liked tiling and combed the phone book for a company that would take her on and thoroughly teach her the trade.

It took some perseverance. "Almost everyone I called said no," she said. Her line of work is one where "women are still few and far between," she said.

Miller grew up in Tarpon Springs, where her mother spent two decades waiting tables at Louis Pappas Riverside Restaurant. The family lived in Miller's grandmother's house and walked everywhere, even to the grocery store.

"My mom worked double shifts all the time. We didn't have a car, and she always walked to work."

Miller inherited the same work ethic. After learning tiling, she ventured out on her own, often working 60 hours or more a week. Her tile and flooring work can be seen in many local homes and restaurants, including Snookers, Mamma Maria's and Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill, all in Tarpon Springs.

Recently, a job took her to Tampa Tile in Clearwater, where she met real estate broker and developer Gene Maxon.

Maxon is remodeling a 3,200-square-foot, two-story house. He wanted Miller to help him tile the bathrooms and eventually work on other projects, including a new garage office.

"It has a tremendous floor plan and is going to look like a French manor," he explained to Miller, who, along with Tampa Tile saleswoman Teresa Bartiromo-Pentek, helped select appropriate tile for the look he envisioned.

The consultation lasted a good hour.

Miller typically spends that much time with her clients. When she finally goes home, it's to a house she tiled herself, a place that serves as an experimental canvas for new techniques she wants to try. Her children are grown, and in her spare time she breeds long-haired chihuahuas.

The secret to being a great tiler, she said, is working long and hard. It's also about "not sacrificing quality," standing behind one's work and really giving thought to the layout of a project before beginning a job.

"It's important to know where you're going to start and finish," she said.

And, nearly 30 years after she started, she's still a pioneer in a business dominated by men.

"I know over 500 men who are tile setters," Miller said. "As for the women, I know maybe four or five. You still don't see a lot of us in the business."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 07:41:13]


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