It’s material: Local designers bring fresh perspective to home building supplies

It took carpenter Todd LeBack three years to fabricate wood tile, as seen in this recent installation for a Belmont kitchen. Below, Evolution Glass utilizes recycled bottles to top tables and counters. Photo: Virginia Hamrick It took carpenter Todd LeBack three years to fabricate wood tile, as seen in this recent installation for a Belmont kitchen. Below, Evolution Glass utilizes recycled bottles to top tables and counters. Photo: Virginia Hamrick

One man’s trash is another man’s funky countertop. That is, if the other man is Evolution Glass founder Bill Hess.

“We take locally sourced bottle glass and transform it into amazing, blow-your-mind countertop surfaces suitable for homes and businesses,” Hess says.

And he isn’t the only local creating exciting new materials that let homeowners take risks to personalize their space. Here’s a closer look at Evolution Glass and the introduction of a unique hybrid from the Charlottesville Tile Company.

Wood you?

Carpenter Todd LeBack was crafting a laminated wood sink for a customer several years ago when an idea struck him: What if you could bring wood accents into kitchens and bathrooms in places where you’d traditionally see tile?

“I was thinking about situations where you could do a sink with a certain wood species and an accent wall behind it,” he says. “I just tossed it around in my head.”

Working during his free time, LeBack was able, over the course of two to three years, to develop a product that fit the bill. His still-fledgling line of wood tiles comprises any number of wood species as a base, which is veneered with water-resistant glue. For applications like showers, he’s developing a fully waterproof product using epoxy.

LeBack says his wood tiles are stable enough to be grouted like standard tile, and their only real limitation is in high-heat areas where they’d be a fire hazard. He’s still developing prototypes but is installing production wood tiles in two backsplash applications in the near future.

“It can be treated as tile, and there are certain wood species that are either expensive in solid form or not available, so by veneering it, you can get essentially any species you can think of,” LeBack says. “It can be used to match an existing wood, like a cherry vanity with a cherry backsplash.”

According to LeBack, the tiles are comparable in price to custom ceramics—$25 to $40 per square foot—and look like the wood accents you might find in luxury automobiles or on grand pianos.

Photo: Heather Phillips
Photo: Heather Phillips

Bottled up

Recycling is a tough business. And glass bottles in particular don’t recycle well. Most of the time they’re “downcycled” into products that have less value than the original bottle.

Hess had another idea when he launched Evolution Glass.

“There is no market for glass recyclers. They have to pay to get it hauled away, so by recycling with us they save money,” he says. “We take it for free. It keeps it in the local use area and it doesn’t have to be transported anywhere…using fuel.”

First working with a landfill in Ivy and later establishing a relationship with the University of Virginia, he’s come up with a way to melt and combine clear and colored glass bottles discarded locally to produce rich, swirled glass countertops and tables.

“We use varying amounts to create different looks,” Hess says. “Our process is totally unique. There is no other countertop in the world made like ours.”

On top of the signature look, Evolution’s glass offers structural properties comparable to stone, Hess says. The glass isn’t tempered, but its thickness makes it difficult to break. And it’s scratch resistant without requiring maintenance or a sealer like many stone materials.

Hess says he’s done more tables than counters since launching his material a year and a half ago, but his recent collaboration with Wes Carter of Albemarle Countertop Company is helping him move into more kitchens. Eventually, he believes he’ll be able to produce a material strong enough to serve as wall panels and stair treads.

“Stair treads are a cautious area—we have to be absolutely sure it’s going to work, but with the wall panels, we’re just waiting for the right customer,” Hess says.