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Traditional Roofing Materials

A look at roofing materials for historically inspired buildings.

Whether they be of wood, metal, tile, or slate or even lowly thatch, roofs are the royal crowns of traditional buildings. Yes, they keep out the rain, snow, and sleet, but they also are designed to lead the eye to the sky. Creating a traditional-style roof is an art; here are some of the companies that have mastered it.

Boston College

Ludowici roof tiles were used at Boston.

Durable Slate Co. 

Founded in 1986, this award-winning company, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, works exclusively on historic roofing. The company, which specializes in natural slate, clay tile, and historic metals, had worked on school, church, and museum roofs around the country.

Prominent projects include the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden in Columbus; The Red House, Trinidad’s House of Parliament; the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee; the Baltimore City Hall in Maryland; the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland; the Frank Lloyd Wright Westcott House in Springfield, Ohio; the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse in the middle of Lake Erie in Ohio; several buildings at The Ohio State University; Capital University in Bexley, Ohio; Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio; Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; the University of South Carolina; and Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Durable Slate’s work has received recognition from several organizations. It was the only American company to win the International Federation for the Roofing Trade IFD Award for Project of the Year and has received the National Roofing Contractors Association’s Gold Circle Award for Project of the Year several times.

“We will do work anywhere—even abroad,” says executive vice president John Chan. “We also work on very difficult roofs—ones that many people consider impossible.”

tile roof

At the historic Oak Hill Memorial Park and Funeral Home Chapel of Roses in San Jose, California, which was designed by Francis Harvey Slocombe, Huber + Associates restored the 1920s cedar-shingle roof.

Huber + Associates

An awarding-winning, internationally recognized roofing company that holds three patents, Huber + Associates has been specializing in historic and custom roof restorations since 1976.

It supplies and installs slate, clay, metal, and ornamental metal, wood, and even synthetic and natural thatch that’s made from vegetation such as palm fronds or straw.

“We strive to get every detail right, with a culture of solving problems,” says president and founder Barry Huber. “Our patented techniques and custom designs ensure that every custom or historic roof restoration maintains the original look, right down to the most intricate details.”

The company, which is known for what Huber calls “artistic” installations, replaced the copper cap ridge of the Biltmore Estate’s north tower and has done work at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere and at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

It has received numerous recognitions, including the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Master Craftsman Award; the Dade Heritage Trust Preservation Master Craftsman Award; the National Roofing & Contractors Association Gold Circle Award; and The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County Griffin Award.

Huber likes to tell the story of the company’s initial patent. It was the 1980s, and the firm was working on its first custom residence. The project required steam bending of shingles, so Huber steamed them on his kitchen stove to produce samples immediately.

Another patent led to the launch of Endureed, a synthetic thatch roofing product that is used worldwide.

“We specialize in historic roof restoration that captures the original beauty of the roof while providing durability that carries it into the future,” Huber says. “With our specialized techniques, we can offer intricate designs as stunning as the original.”

Ludowici roof tiles

A residence in Atlanta, Georgia features Ludowici roof tiles.


Architectural terra-cotta tile specialist Ludowici produces not only roof tiles but also floor tiles, wall cladding, and solar shades for new construction and renovation projects for the residential, commercial, educational, government, religious, and historic buildings markets.

The company, whose New Lexington, Ohio, plant has been in continuous operation since 1888, has provided roof tiles to a number of iconic buildings. They include The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Boston College, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, The Plaza hotel in New York City, Finca Vigía, the Ernest Hemingway house in Cuba, the Boston Public Library, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Lauren Johnson, head of marketing, says Ludowici tiles are “made to withstand more stress than any other clay tile products on the market. Our production process allows tiles to form into a dense, vitrified material with the highest strengths available, which is essential for peak performance.”

She adds that many of the tiles can resist loads of over 1,000 pounds before breaking, and all are ASTM C1167 Grade 1 Certified.

Ludowici has more than 50 standard colors and also custom-matches hues. In addition to 40 standard roof-tile profiles, the company has hundreds of accessory pieces and will custom design tiles to fit every project.

“We have shaped thousands of different tile profiles,” Johnson says, “and we are still able to reproduce any tile we have ever made.”

What’s more, Ludowici tiles, she says, are made to last a lifetime. “They come with a 75-year warranty that includes the color on every tile we produce,” she says.

slate and copper roofing, custom gutters, downspouts

The slate and copper roofing and custom gutters and downspouts on Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburg are by NIKO Contracting Co.

NIKO Contracting Co.

Since 1974, NIKO Contracting Co., which is based in Pittsburgh, has specialized in the fabrication and installation of custom roofing and gutters. Its 6,000-square-foot shop fabricates copper and zinc roofing as well as copper gutters, cornices, cupolas, domes, steeples, and dormer surrounds. The company also installs slate and copper roofing. “We specialize in traditional styles,” says owner/founder Nick Lardas.

The company recently worked on Trinity Cathedral, an Episcopal church in downtown Pittsburgh. The Gothic Revival church, which is also the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, was completed in 1872 and is on land deeded by heirs of Pennsylvania founder William Penn.

Other clients include the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and Southern Methodist University. “Its main roof is slate,” Lardas says. “But we also worked on other parts of the roof that are standing-seam copper and flat-lock copper and supplied custom copper gutters and downspouts.”

Northern Roof Tiles, Frank Lloyd Wright

One of Northern Tile’s more high-profile projects was the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House in Buffalo, New York.

Northern Roof Tiles US

This family-owned and -operated company, founded 29 years ago, imports clay roof tiles from around the world and also commissions the making of specialty tile, shapes, and fittings.

“We know how to detail a roof so it looks as if it is in the English or French countryside or on some sun-baked hillside around the Mediterranean,” says founder and president Stuart Matthews. “Perhaps our approach is best described as ‘Northern does not sell tiles, we sell roofs, one roof at a time.’”

The company has worked on a number of high-profile roofs, including those at The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island; the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House in Buffalo, New York; the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania; and the Powder Magazine museum in Charleston, South Carolina.

In addition to supplying tiles, Northern Roof Tiles US, based in Wilmington, Delaware, has expertise and experience in installation. “Consequently, when hip and valley tiles are needed to accommodate a swoop at the eaves, we can calculate different angles needed, provide each different template, and work with the tile makers to ensure a seamless detail,” Matthews says. “We can also provide all the custom-size tiles for circular turrets and rounded hips.”

He adds that when Northern replaces existing shingle-tile roofs, “we can re-create the existing size, thickness, surface finish and coloration along with all the necessary fittings. We did this for a re-roof on a residence in Greenwich, Connecticut. Months after the roof and other improvements were completed, a friend of the owners was overheard saying, ‘I thought you were having a new roof?’”

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