By Francie Healy

He meets you at the door with a smile. He’s relaxed and quiet. He seems shy, but John Manzo’s eyes are full of life and energy.

He’s the owner of award-winning Tego Bathroom Solutions, and he’s keen to talk about his business. He seems more comfortable talking about it, in fact, than about himself.

He and Mike Aubrey, both from Sault Ste. Marie, have operated Tego Bathroom Solutions (originally called Bathwall Manufacturing Solutions) since 1988.

You don’t expect to hear that John first trained as an air traffic controller. Somehow it doesn’t seem to go with bathrooms. But he met up with his long-time friend Mike, who had moved to Ottawa to work in construction, and they struck up a business.

John and Mike had done a lot of renovation work back in the Sault, and they knew there were always problems − lots of them – with bathrooms. It isn’t surprising, though, says John, because the bathroom is the most complex room in the house.

The challenge is to find solutions to all those finicky bathroom problems. How, for instance, do you turn a tiny condo space into a spa, yet have room to store linens and towels, enjoy a glass-wall-and-door shower and still have decent counter space?

John Manzo knows how, and it’s fun to watch him give you a tour around the Tego showroom on Merivale Road to explain. The “solutions” are endless. They’re also imaginative, artistic, sometimes surprising, and practical.

When John and Mike started the business, their whole purpose was to create custom bath and shower wall systems. They were so attractive and well-made that people started wanting more. They wanted counters to match. And cabinets. And glass rather than shower curtains or sliding doors. And floors. And lighting.

Once started, it seemed they were not going to be able to stop. The ball was rolling.

Now they still manufacture custom walls for tub and showers. But they also provide an entire customized bathroom with beautiful but practical touches: for instance, an arc bar that also serves as a grab bar and looks like a piece of sculpture.

You can have a wall-hung toilet, which looks contemporary, clean, simple, and saves room because there’s no tank (that you can see). There’s just a flush button in the wall. It’s perfect for the small bathrooms of apartments and condos. It’s sleek and contemporary-looking, so you can see why it looks superb in larger bathrooms as well.

You can stand under a large stainless steel circle that creates a wide shower reminding you of gentle rain. Or if you want ultimate pampering, you can have a softly-lit therapeutic bath with music that comes right out of the water.

John shows closets in places so small that you wouldn’t have thought it possible. But when you open the closet there’s ample space for towels and all the other supplies you need in a bathroom.

The cabinets in the bathrooms are clean-lined, simple, and obviously well-constructed with very good materials.

John shows examples of Canadian Soap Stone (www.canadiansoapstone.ca), an exquisite idea for shower and bathroom floors. Since soap stone has talc in it, it feels wonderful on bare feet. It also keeps you from slipping when wet. He says soap stone makes for a beautiful shower floor and walls as well. It lasts almost forever. If you need to refurbish it in 25 years, you just sand it lightly.

You can have just about anything you want in a bathroom, he says. “It’s incredible what’s out there.”

“The layout of the bathroom practically dictates the product,” he explains. But first you have to create the layout, and that process is what takes the longest.

“There’s lots of planning,” he says, “more than you’d think.”

First he needs to find out about people’s lifestyles. He’ll ask questions like: Who’s in your family? Who visits you?

“We have to find out what kind of style they’ll like,” he says. “Clients usually come to the showroom first. We show them a few things. They come in with photos, sketches. Then we go for site visits.”

Tego employs installers, carpenters, tilesetters, cabinet makers. Behind the scenes of the showroom are large, clean, well-organized work rooms where cabinets are cut and made right there. John proudly shows off the state-of-the-art tools and machines that ensure perfect, detailed, custom work.

He says the trend in bathrooms is for the spa experience. People want luxury, great lighting and beautiful surroundings.

John stops showing all the amazing things a bathroom can have (and be) and finally sits down and talks a bit about himself.

He’s married to Marion, who is a teacher. They have two sons: Peter, 21, and David, 19, both at university.

They like to go skiing and hiking with their boys. They’re involved in the fundraising sport of dragon boating, which they practice twice a week. Dragon boating takes them to festivals in Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Coburg and Carleton Place.

They also like canoeing and camping. They can’t do as much as a whole family in summer as they used to, because the boys work throughout the summer.

“And,” says John, “We travel − if we can get away.”

There’s that spontaneous smile again. Life is busy, but John seems to take it all in stride.