Interview with Loki Selmani and Isa Lahu

Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck.

Tell us how Loki Tiling began and how you met your business partner, Isa Lahu. Selmani: I immigrated to Victoria from Kosovo, Albania in 1999. I met Isa 12 years ago and we’ve been business partners for a decade now. Victoria has a small and connected community of approximately 250 Kosovo immigrants. We all know each other quite well and get together at least twice a year. When Isa immigrated, I called him to ask how I can help. He came to work in tiling and in 2008 we opened Loki Tile. Then Isa’s wife’s best friend came to visit from Albania and I fell in love with her. I helped Isa get a job and he helped me meet my wife.

Do you have a showroom? We originally had a showroom on Gamma Street and we relocated to 682 Alpha Street. Our new showroom is larger with improved visibility from the street. We’re able to carry more products and make ourselves accessible to both walk-in customers and our contractor and designer community. Our friendly, experienced staff are well-versed in design and always eager to create beautiful spaces.

What are the latest tile trends that clients are requesting? Tile trends are changing at lightning speed. Currently, it seems penny tiles, hex and chevron designs in neutrals are most popular. The intricate designs and patterns make installation more involved, so you want to use a very skilled professional installer.

What are some of the big mistakes people make with DIY tile projects? People get excited about the aesthetics and forget about the most important part — the structure and waterproofing. There are a lot of products on the market and you need experience to know which ones are best for longevity. Every few months we are hired to demolish a DIY job because of mold. Clients can be surprised at the prepping quote, but the waterproofing is what keeps the area moisture-free and the mold at bay.

Tell us about your recent contract with the Fairmont Empress. How did you get the job? Lahu: A year into our business, we were driving by the Empress and I said, “I hope we get to tile the Empress one day.” And here we are. We just finished a massive renovation project in May 2017. The Fairmont Empress hired us for the project based on their builder’s referral — they knew our level of work and that we could manage the amount of detail expected of the project. We were responsible for approximately 500 rooms, the pool area, and the beautiful front lobby.

Selmani: The Empress had a very organized project manager, so that helped keep the workflow streamlined. They had a firm May 1, 2017 deadline and they were not flexible. Our goal was to always work two weeks ahead of schedule and we stuck to it, even if we had to work on Saturdays. The most challenging aspect was managing about 30 staff, but we worked well within the very demanding timeline and the results were beautiful. We had a lot of fun but also gained some grey hair! But for decades now, we can see our work and that feels satisfying.

Describe the beautiful mountainscape tile mosaic in the pool area. This was an exciting part of the project. We had to wait three months for the custom glass tile to arrive from Italy. We created the piece from a drawing made by a designer in San Francisco. It was quite intense work to transform the drawing into a large-scale mural knowing how expensive the tiles were and the effort that went into the design. The 14.5 by 4.5-foot mural took a solid three days for Isa and me to complete, but we are very proud of the result.

Have you done any residential jobs in Victoria that stand out? Every one of our jobs is unique and memorable. We are fortunate to get to work on a lot of custom-built homes in Victoria. One recent project that stands out was in East Sooke with Zebra Group and Christopher Developments. It was a stunning design with a European feel — we enjoyed doing the entire floor in tile. Seeing the final result and the homeowners’ excitement never gets old for us.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working? We take our kids to the park and spend as much time with them as possible. We work very long hours so we don’t have a lot of time off, mostly Sundays. But we work hard and play hard. Our kids are friends so our families often spend a lot of time together, even on our day off. Isa and I have even been known to go grab a coffee at 9 pm on a weekday to talk shop.