Frank Bartucca is the model stonemason. Born in Italy, he began working with stone among Rome's grand and ornate architecture aged just 13.
Those early years instilled a sense of master craftsmanship that has served Frank well. Today, he leads Bartucca Tiling and Construction (BTC), a renowned award-winning family business.
In 2001, BTC won the Master Builders Association Excellence in Tilelaying Award for work done at The Jewel and Exchange Tower and, this year, won the award again for the One Wallace Avenue Apartments project in Toorak.
While the luxury Wallace Avenue work was underway, BTC's crew was also finishing 1 Queens Road and student apartments at the rambling old Panch Hospital in Preston.
Other BTC credits include the Bourke Street Village Cinema centre, Kookai clothing stores across Australia and the massive Southgate shopping precinct "inside and out", which took two years to complete.
Part of the BTC recipe for success is versatility. Apart from ceramic tiles, the crew is skilled with marble, granite, sandstone and bluestone and is in hot demand for intricate mosaics.
Frank's wife, Maria, who administers the business says the right tradespeople are invaluable.
"Our high quality workmanship is what sets us apart, and it is very hard to get people with high standards," she said.
For this reason, BTC employs its core crew of 12 and an apprentice, rather than relying on contractors. It is a tight-knit group and the layers have been with BTC for up to 19 years. The Bartuccas appreciate their people and count them as more than just colleagues.
"It's like a family," Maria said.
"We go bowling once a month and go out together for all sorts of other activities and dinners.
"There's a lot of flexibility too. Sometimes the layers work very long, hard days and through weekends to meet schedules, so when they need our help with some days off, we encourage them."
The family nature of the business - up to seven relatives are involved in BTC - give Frank and Maria confidence in the future, with a new generation of tilelayers already highly skilled. There are even plans for some further expansion.
We don't want to get too big, but Frank has had his builder's license for many years and the next step is to do some residential building," Maria said.
On the other hand, stone and ceramics are in the Bartucca's blood and will remain the cornerstone of Bartucca Tiling and Construction, according to Maria.
"I think, coming from Italy, people understand you have authentic skills and that's what we are known for," she said.
Written by Marian MacDonald (First published in PIC magazine)