Editor's note: This story ran in the April 2010 issue of SouthPark Magazine.
Before coming to Charlotte in 1989, Lennart Wiktorin lived in Sweden in a house that was 150 years old. When it was time to upgrade the place, he first removed the original roof tiles. “I tore the house down,” he says, “rebuilt the house - and put the tile back on it.”In Europe, homeowners are willing to pay for the patina of age – and the authentic, original designs – just as you might for a fine antique. And now, in Charlotte, owners of high-end homes are increasingly willing to invest in these types of timeless materials that can last, well, forever. Wiktorin now owns Instyle Charlotte and sells tile and slate roofing. In his showroom, he points out the differences between, say, Dutch and French tiles or Italian and Spanish. Each has a distinctive profile, even to the layman's eye. And it's easy to see how real English limestone flat tiles – nearly an inch thick – endure for centuries. But you don't have to visit a showroom to appreciate the differences.At The Cherokee condos at Fenton Place and Cherokee Road, you can see a handful of these products side by side, and appreciate the style, color and authenticity. The condos are flats, but the exterior of the building was designed to resemble classic New York City brownstones. For inspiration, developer Brian Speas and architect Harry Schrader traveled to Manhattan and walked historic Sutton Place. The street was a “concert” of appealing architectural variety, Schrader says. The brownstones were built at different times by different architects and owners. The result is a blend of doors, windows and roofing materials.Speas and Schrader came back and started shaping the condo building, which contains 20 units priced from about $1 million to $1.5 million. “We sat down and asked... what's going to make this architectural concert work?” Schrader says. The roof became a key element, and Speas and Schrader worked with Wiktorin to find the two types of slate, an English tile, and three styles of barrel and flat tile that were used. They obtained their materials from a clay tile company named Ludowici, which has been making tiles in the U.S. for more than 120 years and traces its roots back to the 1600s in Europe.
Roofing is important, visually, because it's such a dominant exterior surface. And with tile and slate costing up to four or five times that of high-grade asphalt shingles, the roofing can't be an afterthought or compromise – if you want an authentic look. So how expensive should a home be to warrant one of these roofs? There’s no hard-and-fast rule. On a smaller home, you might not want the roof to claim a share of your budget so large that you have to scrimp elsewhere. Even on a larger home, some of the lower-cost options might provide the perfect look. Concrete versions that imitate the look of clay tile and natural stone are available at more affordable prices. The tradeoff? They don't look better with age as clay and stone do.For those with homes topping the $2 million mark, homeowners might look at using concrete tile or slate, says home designer Christopher Phelps. “If you're under $2 million, you can probably come up with a pretty good reason why you don't have to have it,” he says. At $4 million, clients might begin to consider clay and real stone. The extra expense of tiles comes primarily from labor, since tile can take four times longer than asphalt shingles to install. Also, tiles can be three times heavier than shingles, meaning the house must be stronger to carry the weight. Rafters and other components have to be larger. The actual materials cost more, too. Builder Peter Leeke of Kingswood Homes says asphalt shingles might cost $200 per 10-by-10-foot section. Tile might cost double that. And double that again for complicated roofs with very expensive materials. The final tab: A tile roof on a large, elaborate home can cost $250,000.
While pricey, these high-end tile products can help make a home more environmentally friendly. They're made of natural materials, not oil- or chemical-based synthetics. They last for centuries – and are reclaimed by tile and slate brokers – so they don't end up in landfills. Air flows under the tiles, which Wiktorin, Leeke and others say can cut the home's energy use. Schrader has been creating a new house on Lake Norman that will feature century-old reclaimed slate. “And when we put in on the house, it will be guaranteed for another 150 years,” he adds. (Unless, of course, the guy installing the satellite dish steps in the wrong place. Tiles will crack if workers aren't careful.)In Charlotte, these roofs have long been used on the very finest homes. Drive Queens Road West, for instance, or other streets in Myers Park and Eastover, and you’ll notice the many materials. Speas says he paid special attention to roofing at The Cherokee partly because he wanted the building to complement existing homes in the area.A couple of decades ago, you might have seen a new neighborhood of expensive homes with identical tile roofs – all the same vivid terra cotta red. But not so much any more. Now, clay tile roofs are more likely to be sophisticated, carefully selected blends of color – say, charcoal, medium gray and subdued terra cotta. Or even more vivid colors, like blue.Phelps just finished designing a $3 million, 10,000-square-foot house in Union County with a “fantastic” blend of colors. “Nobody puts on a standard red in this part of the country,” he says. In a blended-tile roof, the dominant color might make up 60 percent of the mix. To that, add 30 percent of another color, then 10 percent of the darkest accent color. Blends are carefully put together at the factory and shipped to the builder. What that means, Leeke says, is that it's difficult to duplicate a roof you admire, even if you know the colors. When you are ready to design your roof, you can visit the Web sites of the top manufacturers to see available styles and colors. On some sites, you can choose profiles, select colors and see the options side-by-side, just as in a showroom. Thanks to modern technology, it’s now easier than ever to see how this centuries-old tradition is improving the looks of homes around Charlotte and beyond.