Antex Western: Floor to Ceiling Commercial Finishes

Antex Western is a Winnipeg-based commercial interior building finishes company that will be celebrating its 85-year anniversary in 2013. Moses Sodomsky, a labour foreman for Johns Manville Co., founded Antex Western in 1928.

When the business moved from a concentration in labour to a focus in manufacturing, Sodomsky was asked to form a company specializing in the installation of Johns Manville Co.’s products, which included corrugated asbestos pipe covering and other mechanical insulation implements. Sodomsky’s new company took on the name Western Asbestos, with early projects including the Winnipeg Hydro steam plant and a Seagram’s distillery in Gimli, Manitoba.

As Western Asbestos expanded, the company became involved in a number of installation projects using the different products that Johns Manville Co. was manufacturing. The line of components grew to include vinyl asbestos flooring tile and a variety of ceiling tile solutions.

Elliot Saunders, then-president of Western Asbestos, decided that the company would expand into movable wall systems in the early 1970s, which had grown in popularity in the commercial building industry because offices could be erected overnight and the staff could be working the next day. Antex Western is still supplying and installing the moveable wall systems today, as the system is still used by a number of the major insurance companies across Canada.

A few years later Western Asbestos decided to remove itself from the asbestos products market due to the controversy over the substance. The company made a commitment to move away from products that were harmful to ones’ health. Western Asbestos then changed its name to Antex Western. “With large grocery chains demanding the tile, we really got into flooring big time,” says Mike Kolas, CEO of Antex Western. Eventually the company’s flooring business had become the staple of Antex Western’s business and the company started to provide carpeting in addition to its vinyl flooring services.

With success in new flooring solutions, Antex Western continued to grow and accommodate the rapidly changing needs of its customers. “We got into computer room flooring,” Kolas says. “They call it access floor now, but back then every major office had a computer room. The old computers had to be on a raised platform with air conditioning pumped underneath so the components wouldn’t overheat.”

From Toilets to Terrazzo

Antex Western again broadened its service offerings to include hard surface flooring, such as ceramic and porcelain tiling, granite, marble and terrazzo around 2000. “Terrazzo has been around for a thousand years,” explains Kolas. “The Romans had leftover chips from making building components and decorative items out of marble. Instead of letting it go to waste, they graded it and mixed it into a concrete matrix, then poured the concrete, ground it down and polished it.”

The idea struck a chord with Antex Western, so the team started developing a similar product with a modern twist. “If the Romans were using their waste to make this floor, why couldn’t we use modern waste to make it?” asks Kolas.

The team then began experimenting with the concept. “We took discarded toilets, crushed them and grated them into aggregate-size pieces and mixed them in with concrete,” Kolas explains. Antex Western poured the floors and then ground and polished to a fine finish that provided an appealing end result. “Toilet-floor is probably not the best marketing term,” Kolas chuckles, “so we figured maybe toilets weren’t the way to go for flooring.”

The team sought out new options for constructing the modern mosaic and found resource renewal through recycled glass. The glass and concrete did not react well, so the team began researching alternative binding solutions. The company turned to epoxy to bind its glass aggregate, which has proven quite successful. Antex Western calls the innovative terrazzo solution Reazzo, acknowledging the ancient technology that inspired the product while embracing its green, recycled qualities. As part of ongoing research and design, the team is experimenting with greener binding alternatives, inspired by the construction of the ancient Egyptian pyramids.

Portland cement-based concrete has been around for a couple of hundred years, and generally lasts only half a century before deteriorating. As it turns out, a non-Portland cement binder, geopolymer, was used in the pyramids, which have been around for a lot longer than a couple decades.

The company’s research and development team is working to recreate the substance for use in Reazzo. The natural make-up and longevity make Reazzo the perfect binder for the ecopositive flooring solution. The team believes alternative cementitious solutions will find a market as building materials for a number of sectors within the construction industry.

Vertical and Horizontal Growth

Antex Western was approached by a couple of large construction companies in the late 1990s to see if the company would be willing to expand into the Fort McMurray, Alberta, market. At the time, qualified labour in northern Alberta was not readily available to accommodate the demand that was put upon the local economy due to the tar sands project.

The team at Antex Western has a massive portfolio already and is expanding operations to offer other contracting services. The company carpeted the locker room for the Winnipeg Jets and all of the floor surfaces – hard and soft – at the Edmonton Airport. The team has received several awards of recognition for the company’s projects with architects and designers around the country.

Antex Western was awarded a Hard Surfaces Award from the Terrazzo Tile Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC) for two years in a row. In addition, the company is one of 12 businesses recognized by Starnet in Canada as an elite industry leader in North America.

Starnet awarded Antex Western the 2012 Starnet Design Award top prize in the Hospitality and Public Space category for the team’s work at the Edmonton International Airport Expansion. The company is entirely employee-owned and -operated, even in its special projects division.

The company’s success has allowed the team to expand Antex Western’s reach in Canada. The company has offices in Fort McMurray and Edmonton in addition to its Winnipeg headquarters. The company also boasts projects in British Columbia. “While in the process of diversifying vertically, we’ve diversified horizontally across the country,” explains Kolas.

The company maintains a commitment to quality and efficient service. Antex Western’s research and innovation division works continuously to support socially responsible solutions that keep the business ahead of the curve and at the top of its field. From Manitoba to British Columbia, from office complexes to hospitals, Antex Western can handle a wide variety of contracting ranging from hundreds to millions of dollars.

From access floors to finish flooring and mechanical insulation to sprayed fireproofing, Antex Western consistently applies a strong commitment to lasting, quality building finishes, literally floor to ceiling and everything in between.