Together, father and son team Jeff and Chris Higdon installed the courthouse scene in the lobby of the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.
At age 25 Chris Higdon has worked with his dad Jeff for over two decades. “He’s been on the job with me since he was four years old,” Jeff recently explained. “I went through a divorce. I got custody of him. I didn’t have a babysitter, so he went to work with me. I actually had him in the tub handing tile to me and sticking it on the wall.”
“I remember that house. I remember putting the tile up,” Chris reported.
“He’s just improved ever since,” Jeff added.
Today this father and son team are partners in Everything Stone. Their company specializes in custom tile design work, granite countertops, and other real and cultured stone work for walls, floors, decks, driveways, patios, and fireplaces. They recently applied vibrant tile designs, created by New York art student Elysia Belilove and cut by Creative Edge Master Shop, outside the Symplicity Floral Shop on the Fairfield square. They also installed the mosaic courthouse scene on the entryway floor of the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center. In Rapid City, South Dakota, last year, they laid travertine terrazzo medallions on seven floors of the Radisson Hotel.
Thirty-two years ago Jeff took up tiling in Florida. “I was just a laborer for another guy,” Jeff said, “and Paul from Naples Tile saw something in me. He said, ‘He’s going with me.’ ”
Paul taught Jeff the hard way. The first week he wasn’t allowed to use modern conveniences: he hand nipped everything. The second week Paul gave him a handsaw.
“There’s nothing you can’t do with that handsaw if you set your mind to it,” Jeff learned.
“There’s nothing you can’t do with those nips, either,” Chris insisted, and he should know, because Jeff taught him the hard way, too.
In his third week of training, Jeff used a wet saw. After four weeks, Paul sent Jeff to work on a $4.2 million house in Port Royal.
“I was scared to death,” Jeff recalled. “I told Paul, ‘I’m not ready.’ ”
“Yeah, you are,” Paul insisted, and Jeff discovered he was. His quick mastery of the tiling trade might have resulted partly from previous hands-on learning he’d experienced beside an earlier teacher.
“My dad built homes for 55 years,” Jeff said. “So I went through my construction trade journeymanship through my dad. And that was not easy because my dad was extremely tough on me about doing it right. He was very, very meticulous.”
Today Chris continues the Higdon family tradition of fathers passing skills to the next generation. His own son celebrated his very first birthday last month.
“I’ve already had him sitting on the drums with the sticks in his hands, and he’s actually kind of good at it,” reported Chris, who plays the drums at his church. “It’s amazing,” Chris added. “He can keep a steady beat with his hands. He loves the drumsticks. I set him on my lap, and he sat there hitting the high hat.”
Years ago Jeff played the drums at church, too.
“I started playing the drums when I was—five?” Chris asked.
“Five,” Jeff agreed. “He’s been behind a set of drums, my drums, all the time.”
“I learned from watching him,” Chris explained.
The drums Chris and his son use were purchased with money from the sale of Jeff’s drums. If Jeff feels like drumming now, he walks to Chris’s. That’s easy because not long ago Chris bought a house three doors north of his dad’s.
“He has one beautiful bathroom, and it’s all scrap,” Jeff said. “We took ten different tiles, ten different colors, marble, porcelain, ceramic. Mixed them all together.”
The process resembled assembling fabric scraps into a quilt top. For his countertop, Chris wanted something extra special.
“We started thinking about it. We started talking to Creative Edge about it,” Chris recalled.
Jeff reported the result. “We cut out stainless steel grapevines and inserted them into his granite countertop.”
“I love working with stone. Granite’s really, really beautiful. How can nature do something like that? We get to see all these different colors of stone.”
“I love what we do. I love going to work every day,” Jeff reported.
“It’s not work when you enjoy it,” Chris said. “Not at all, really.”
“I’ll probably work for a long, long time,” Jeff said. “If my legs or my back give out on me, even then, I’d still go. I’d still have something to do with it.”
“He’ll be just like my grandpa,” Chris predicted. “He’d come sit on a chair and watch.”
“I’ve had both of them on the job watching,” Jeff recalled. “I feel really fortunate that I have a son who wants to do what I do and who is actually good at what he’s doing. It’s awesome.”
Like father, like son, like grandpa.
© 2011 Cheryl Fusco Johnson