Whether it’s made of tile, slate, or metal, the roof is the crowning touch of every building. Through the centuries, these materials have more than proven themselves to be worthy, aesthetically and functionally, of the facades they enhance.
Today, as the companies below illustrate, there are many time-tested options for roofing traditional-style buildings old and new.
Fitzgerald’s Heavy Timber Construction
A full-service timber-framing specialist, Fitzgerald’s Heavy Timber Construction is a design-build company that also is a historic restoration services contractor. In addition, the family-owned company offers consulting engineering and architectural services.
“Throughout our nearly four decades of experience we have found that historic building technologies create unexpected issues for designers and project managers not used to adapting them,” says president/CEO Dean C. Fitzgerald. “We are dedicated to helping clients find lasting solutions to just these sorts of historic preservation and period construction challenges.”
The company makes and works with traditional, double-locking, standing-seam, and batten-seam metal (copper, lead-coated, and galvanized) roofing styles.
“When it comes to historic styles, we design our own, often duplicating what we take off the building with a learning curve from carefully observing what made the old roof fail,” Fitzgerald says. “We like the complex projects, we solder seams and flashings when needed, we make lots by hand, we have our own roll former, shaping on site what we need as we need it.”
Noting that most of the company’s projects are in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, Fitzgerald says that “we have traveled as far as Ireland, Ohio, and Vermont. No job is too large, too small or too far.”
Heather & Little Limited
A specialist in the manufacture of custom historic replication sheet metal roofing, Canada-based Heather & Little Limited has been working in the industry for nearly a century.
Its products—lead, copper, zinc, pre-painted metal, and Victorian metal shingles as well as slate and cedar shingles—are paired with modern underlayments and ventilation sheets to maximize the performance and lifespan of the roof.
“Most of our work is historic replication,” says Marc Jamieson, vice president of sales and projects for the family-owned and -operated company that has more than 40 employees. “However, we are often involved in designing improvements for the roof system such as adding ventilation, rectifying points of failure, adding insulation, and adding expansion joints. Architects and designers often use our company as a consultant during the design process.”
The company has worked on Canada’s Parliament buildings, the U.S. Library of Congress, and many churches, courthouses, and other public buildings in North America.
Heather & Little Limited’s replacement of the roofs at the historic Toronto Club in Canada is a prime illustration of its expertise and experience, Jamieson says, because it included the use of a variety of products—slate roofing, batten-seam copper roofing, flat-seam copper roofing, sheet lead roofing, inlaid copper gutters, and a copper cornice.
“We have over 95 years of company experience and literally hundreds of years of individual hands-on experience amongst our management and our entire team,” he says. “This sets us apart from newer competitors. Also, our willingness to go the extra mile to carry out work exactly as required to satisfy the historical accuracy and design intent of the project allows us to fabricate and install truly custom work.”
From the New York Life Building in Manhattan to the Pennsylvania State Capitol, Ludowici terra-cotta roof tiles adorn some of the country’s most important historical, government, educational, commercial, residential, and religious structures.
“For thousands of years, villages and cities of old-world Europe, Asia, and beyond have used clay roofing as a pillar of architecture and design,” says Lauren Johnson, Ludowici’s head of marketing. “Inspired by this philosophy, Ludowici incorporates old-world craftsmanship with modern production technology to design equally enduring terra-cotta products that stand the test of time.”
Ludowici tiles, which are guaranteed for 75 years, require little maintenance and are recyclable, energy-efficient, and free of toxic and synthetic ingredients.
“Several of our best-selling designs are made to mimic the look of other materials like real stone, slate, or wood-shake roofs—all with the benefits and longevity of terra-cotta,” Johnson says. “We also produce interlocking tiles, which allow for less pieces per square, so they are lighter and perfect for renovations and provide budget-friendly solutions.”
The company, which is known for its customization capabilities, offers more than 50 standard designer colors and can custom match almost any hue.
“Our craftsmen can also re-create several finish textures that authentically replicate the surface of age-old terra-cotta tiles,” Johnson says. “Many tile textures are applied by hand, allowing for a distinctive, handmade look.”
In addition to replicating vintage and historic tiles, Ludowici also works with architects, designers, and building owners to develop custom tiles.
Johnson notes that the company’s products have been manufactured in the United States since 1888. “Our team is comprised of engineers and architects with vast product knowledge and industry experience to make getting you take-offs, tile identification, part drawings, modeling, custom-color glazes, or project estimates a breeze,” she says.
McGhee and Co. The Roof Thatchers
One of the few roof-thatching companies in America, McGhee and Co. The Roof Thatchers creates and installs water reed thatch roofs by hand on high-end residences and estate outbuildings.
“Our roofs have unique handcrafted design elements that add to the architectural style of the building with flowing lines, dramatic curves, solid shapes, and impressive angles,” says Colin McGhee, the English master thatcher who founded the Virginia-based company in 2002. “Each roof is a unique piece of art.”
McGhee and his crew of three or more artisans typically complete ten roofs a year, working on each for weeks or even months. Like McGhee, his thatchers complete five-year apprenticeships in England, where there is much more demand for the product, and use old-world construction methods.
The thatch, which is imported from Uzbekistan and Turkey, is in ten-pound bundles.
“Thatched roofs are sustainable, and people today like the idea of green buildings,” he says, adding that the roofs generally last six decades and that the company guarantees them and checks them at least every two years at no charge. “The architects, of course, consider them key design elements.”
McGhee and Co. The Roof Thatchers has done a number of museum projects. Its work may be seen at Plimoth Patuxet living history museums in Plymouth, Massachusetts (roofs on several buildings), at George Washington’s Mount Vernon (the roof of the open shed), and at Connolly’s, the iconic Irish pub in New York City’s Times Square (roof-top bar).
“Thatch adds a dramatic and impressive appearance to any structure,” McGhee says. “It provides vermin resistance, it’s a very effective insulator, and it can be specially treated with a fire retardant.”
Established in 1974, NIKO Contracting specializes in fabricating and installing custom architectural sheet-metal roofing as well as cornices, crestings, finials, cupolas, window surrounds, domes, crosses, and pressed metal ceilings and wall panels.
“A lot of our projects involve historic replications,” says owner/founder Nick Lardas. “We don’t have a catalog of pieces, we match existing ones.”
The company, which works with architects, building owners, and contractors, primarily supplies copper, zinc, and even steel and aluminum roofing products for clients on the East Coast, especially in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York City. One of its major public projects was the replication, fabrication, and installation of the copper roof for New York City’s Cooper Hewitt museum.
“We do a lot of specialized and unusual projects,” Lardas says, noting that most recently it fabricated and installed a balustrade, a dormer, a skylight, and copper roofing on the Juliet balcony project at the Clayton, the Henry Clay Frick residence that’s part of The Frick Pittsburgh. “We do a big mix of products that other companies can’t tackle.”
Northern Roof Tiles US Inc.
For over three decades, the family-owned and -operated Northern Roof Tiles US Inc. has been supplying clay tiles from England, France, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal as well as English Cotswold stone to clients in the United States, Canada, and even one in Tasmania, Australia.
“Each of the manufacturers makes tiles to suit their local markets, so if a client is looking for an authentic Victorian-style roof, we can supply them from England from a company that has been making tiles since 1805,” says Stuart Matthews, who founded the “one-stop roof tile shop” in 1991. “If a client wants a country French-style roof, we can supply tiles made in the French countryside from a plant that has been making tiles for over 150 years.”
Clay and Cotswold stone, Stuart points out, are exceedingly durable roofing choices. “They are natural materials that actually have the advantage of looking better as they age,” he says. “Clay roof tiles have a proven history and will last at least one hundred years.” They are also non-combustible and one hundred percent recyclable at the end of their life.
Matthews started the company, which has offices in Delaware and in Canada, after he was sent from England by the largest maker of concrete roof tiles to open a plant in Ontario, Canada.
Northern Roof Tiles US Inc. has supplied clay tiles for the re-roofing of a number of historically significant buildings, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House in Buffalo, New York, Newport’s magnificent mansion The Breakers, and the Powder Magazine Museum in Charleston.
“We are a small family business—my sons Adam and Simon will be taking over the company soon—so we provide individual attention to our clients,” says Matthews, adding that his experience supervising up to 60 teams of tilers in a previous job prepared him for solving a variety of roofing issues. “We have a passion for magnificently beautiful clay tile roofs. In fact, I have been described as ‘the roof tile junkie,’ so be careful when you talk to me because my passion for clay tile roofs can be contagious.”
Slate & Copper Services
Established in 1978, Slate & Copper Services specializes in the installation, maintenance, and repair of slate, tile, wood, copper, and sheet-metal roofing systems.
The company, which has operations in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Easton, Connecticut, has worked on a number of roofs of historic buildings. It replaced the slate roofs at the National Museum of Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, at St. Columba’s Chapel in Middletown, Rhode Island, and at the parish house of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Rhode Island.
And it installed Ludowici tile roofing at the Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Newport, Rhode Island.
“Our reputation sets us apart,” says owner Scott Donahue. “We do whatever it takes to facilitate effective execution of our scope of work, we are available 24/7 to our customers and have high workmanship standards. We bring thoughtful planning, proactive communication, and a sense of stewardship to every project.”
Vermont Slate Co.
The natural-slate specialist Vermont Slate Co. offers several roofing products that pair color and elegance to enhance the beauty of historic structures.
“We offer the best natural product that has been proven over the course of time and years of experience in taking architects’ and designers’ visions and finding the best fit for their specific project,” says Lucas Severance, the company’s director of domestic sales and services. “We have a variety of slate colors and product options.”
One of the newer options is READYSLATE from CUPA GROUP, the first pre-assembled natural slate roofing system.
Slate, Severance says, is a cost-conscious choice. “When compared to all other roofing materials, natural slate’s life cycle cost makes it the least expensive product on the market. The lifespan of natural slate has been proven by the real test of time. A lesser roof will need to be replaced three, four, or more times during the lifetime of a single application of slate.”
Vermont Slate has facilities in Vermont, Baltimore, Savannah, Houston, and Los Angeles that supply historic projects all over the United States and overseas.
The 15-employee company has supplied hundreds of high-profile roof restorations over the past several decades, including the Union Station Hotel in Nashville, Flushing High School in New York City, Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory University, Maryville College in Tennessee, the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, and Milwaukee City Hall as well as several historic train stations, military bases and other government buildings and major universities.