The Crown: Inside Royal Coffee’s Stunning New Oakland Coffee Complex

The Crown: Inside Royal Coffee’s Stunning New Oakland Coffee Complex

In a first look four years in the making, today we’re taking you inside The Crown, the stunning new coffee experience complex from Oakland green coffee importers Royal Coffee.

In a world of cookie cutter coffee architecture and same-same interior design, this is the rarest thing: a new coffee project that dares to look and feel singular. Awe inspiring, grandly scaled, and utterly bespoke, The Crown sprawls across thousands of square feet in a reimagined 1920s auto showroom in the heart of Oakland’s Broadway Auto Row. The size and scope of the project bring to mind other big new coffee endeavors of the last decade, from La Marzocco’s KEXP cafe to the very first Starbucks Reserve store in Seattle. It opens to the public on March 4th.

A combination public tasting room, interconnected network of multimedia equipped training spaces, a multi-unit roasting HQ, and second-floor offices, the space’s stats stagger the mind. Two separate architecture firms served on the project: Norman Sanchez Architecture (Architect of Record) and Studio Terpeluk (Design Architect). There are more than 15 coffee grinders alone at The Crown, plus seven espresso machines and counting, all by La Marzocco and Modbar. There are Perlick fridges, Curtis water towers, Marco Uber Fonts and Uber Boilers, custom glassware from local Oakland all-Japan-everything experts Umamimart, custom ceramics by Created Co., demitasse spoons by Loveramics, custom white oak service boards designed by Tom Connelly (in collaboration with Sandra Loofbourow, The Crown’s Tasting Room Director), and custom white American oak drip trays built-ins from Saint Anthony Industries protecting a fleet of Acaia scales.

The front tasting room is anchored by an enormous custom Chambers Art & Design multi-unit modular coffee bar that can be positioned in various forms: a wave, a straight line, or a Nike swoosh. Beneath the bar there are a bank of custom floor boxes containing electronics and water lines for the espresso machines. The tasting room will be open to the public, offering a range of flights and unique experiences—”stuff that’s not regularly offered to the public,” according to Richard Sandlin of Royal Coffee, who serves as The Crown’s general manager and has helped oversee the project over its four year incubation.

Public guests can walk in and experience an ever-changing battery of farmer-focused coffee flights and tasting experiences, or pick up a quick cup for $2, with a $.25 surcharge on to-go orders (proceeds benefitting Phat Beets). Behind the bar, a pixelated green tile wall designed by Studio Terpeluk “references the color palette and texture of unroasted coffee beans,” as per Sandlin, studded with wall-mounted coffee storage jars.

Past the tasting room, a unique Nana Wall System (imported from Germany and armed with tornado proof glass) provides a unique movable wall infrastructure, allowing The Crown to break their space up into a modular series of units: one large space, four contained spaces, or any combination in-between. A bank of six mobile cupping carts provide cupping space for up to 60 slurpers, all of it built custom in West Oakland by Shada Designs.

The presentation Room has an 133” projector screen. The adjoining brew lab has a 92” projector screen.

The roasting area of the space is fitted out with no fewer than four coffee roasting units, by Proaster, Diedrich, Probat, and Loring, respectively, with custom ventwork spiring up to the top of the space’s 27-foot-high ceiling. Across the bank of spaces, The Crown will offer Q grader certification and SCA courses, as well as tech training, equipment training, and roasting training.

There is no toll roasting. No comfy couches. No public WiFi, no food, and no whole bean sales at The Crown.

If, like me, you are gobsmacked by all of this, have no fear—we’ve been checking in on this project since it was announced in late 2015, and I’m still trying to process what this space means, what it’s supposed to be, and what an independent project of this scale and scope means right now for coffee. For their part, Royal envisions The Crown as nothing less than world-building—an attempt to shrink down the global footprint of coffee into something more accessible, collaborative, public, and open source. “We want to be a bridge to where coffees come from,” says Royal CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer.

The company sees it as a fight against proprietary knowledge; that by creating a space where the coffee industry is invited to collaborate, they can appeal to a new generation of coffee professionals, especially roasters. They also see it as offering a resource for customers who can’t travel to origin, or even to a coffee competition. The presentation and events space is a major hub for that. “This is for producers to come present here and connect with customers who can’t go,” Nicholas-Fulmer told me during an advance tour of the space. Sometimes those producer presentations will happen digitally, and other times for in-person sessions and events between California coffee pros and coffee producers around the world. “We think this space can increase the knowledge flow between the two.”

“We’re building something that doesn’t fit into an easy category,” says Sandlin. “Is it a roaster? An education and events space? A cafe? Yes.”

“We want this to be a community space for all different kinds of communities,” Tasting Room Director Sandra Loofbourow adds. “Cheese, meat, marijuana, wine. A home for all things delicious.”

For Nicholas-Fulmer, an Oakland native stepping into a CEO roll at a company founded decades ago by his father and uncle, there is clearly a local point of pride invested deep into the project. “We’ve been conceptualizing The Crown for years and our priority was to execute the vision properly, which meant a high level of customization and allocating the time and resources to do so,” he tells Sprudge. “We look at The Crown fundamentally as an investment in our customers and producing partners. Having a venue for producers to showcase their coffees and an educational program which supports the growth and success of our customers is the foundation of Royal’s next 40 years in business.”

Members of the general public can get their first glimpse of The Crown on Monday, March 4th, and the Tasting Room will be open Monday thru Friday from 9am-6pm. A series of cupping events are scheduled following opening day, including a Costa Rica event on March 19th and standing weekly events on Tuesday and Thursdays. A complete listing of upcoming events is available via The Crown’s official website.

How subway tile became the go-to solution for farmhouse chic

How subway tile became the go-to solution for farmhouse chic

It’s Season 4, Episode 11 of HGTV’s smash hit, “Fixer Upper,” and Joanna Gaines is walking her husband, Chip, through her vision to transform an abandoned, turn-of-the-century flower shop in Waco, Tex., into a Parisian-inspired cupcake cafe.

The camera pans across a dilapidated interior, featuring peeling white paint and chartreuse wainscoting.

“But all of this would be, like, subway tile, from the floor up,” she says, conjuring a great wall of glossy, 3-by-6-inch ceramics.

As any loyal viewer can tell you, subway tiles — along with shiplap and farm sinks — hold a special place in the holy trinity of “Fixer Upper” renovations. But how did something eponymous with one of the most utilitarian urban spaces in America become synonymous with cozy farmhouse chic? And what is it about these basic white rectangles, which debuted more than 100 years ago, that has modern homeowners so obsessed?

“It does feel post-recessional,” says Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing at Crossville Tile. “Our lives are crazy, and there’s something about those classic shapes and traditional styles that are soothing.”

This calming effect is precisely what drove architects George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge to cast the tile in its original breakout role. Tasked with creating an inviting space for potentially fearful passengers, the men behind the design of New York City’s first underground rail stations chose the white glass field tiles — named because they create a monolithic field of color — to keep the subway stations bright, according to Rebecca Haggerty, a research archivist at the New York Transit Museum. Inspired by Beaux Arts design and the City Beautiful movement, the architects infused the stations with 3-by-6-inch glass tile to unify the various mosaics and terra cotta units.

“The tile had many design options, was considered to be hygienic, and was affordable at the time,” she adds. “They were also selected as they are easy to be rinsed off, which is why there are so many round corners and smooth finishes.”

That sounds like something any practical homeowner would want. And it’s likely the reason the popularity of the tile surged in the 1900s and made the jump from underground tunnels into the kitchens and bathroomsof America — everywhere from New York City apartments to those original Victorian farm houses.

Keith Bieneman, managing director of Heritage Tile, says in the early 1920s, the tile we now so fondly refer to as “subway” was not only popular, but pretty much the only option. “It was used virtually everywhere at the time — kitchens, bathrooms, it was the utilitarian tile of America,” he says. “It was absolutely more ubiquitous than it is now.”

According to Bieneman, the pace of growth in America at the time required precise synchronization across tile production and installation practices. This resulted in a mutual agreement among about 20 tile companies that decided upon specifications, such as a uniform size and thickness, rectified edges, flat surface and pencil-thin grout. But technology soon disrupted all that.

“Things became more mass produced, and it changed the character of the original tile work,” says Bieneman, who seized upon a business opportunity to produce and distribute tile with those original specifications. In addition to commercial and residential projects, he is currently working with the Enhanced Station Initiative to restore the tilework in 33 New York City subway stations.

Bieneman says even though homeowners now have limitless options when it comes to tile, there’s still really only one choice for those looking to restore an older house to its prewar glory.

“This is an enduring surface,” he says. “If you choose something historic or authentic to that period, you know you can live with it for years to come.”

But does the longevity of these historical tiles translate to a modern loft or a home that is more “Brady Bunch” than “This Old House”?

“Subway tile has become a neutral in our industry that goes with anything,” says Elle H-Millard, certified kitchen designer and trend specialist with the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “It’s almost like investing in low-risk stock, it is so timeless. It isn’t going to date itself.”

She says that classic styles are maintaining their popularity because people want their renovations to last longer. That’s why she predicts the deluge of white, stainless steel — and subway-tiled — kitchens overwhelming our Houzz and Pinterest streams won’t slow down anytime soon.

Waldrep agrees subway tile will always be classic and emphasizes it “is not dead,” but she admits, “a lot of people are over it.” She says what excites her now is that designers are continuing to reinterpret the classic look with variations on the tiles’ size, texture and color.

You’re seeing wider planks, like 3-by-12 and 3-by-8, and it’s getting more textural with some variations raised more like a Georgian brick,” she says. “Colors vary from boldly saturated to subtle, watercolor glazes.”

When it comes to grout, experts agree choosing something darker will take your design in a more modern and industrial direction that may become dated a little faster than the more traditional white grout and rectified edges.

 Shea McGee, the Salt Lake City interior designer behind the Instagram-famous brand Studio McGee, recommends those torn between a classic look and something more unusual should opt for just one of the variations (size, color or texture), with texture perhaps being her top pick: “It adds interest and a thoughtful detail without being too trendy.”

And for those concerned the end of “Fixer Upper” will mean the sunset of America’s infatuation with subway tile, take heart from Gaines herself, who vowed in a Q&A after Season 1: “I liked subway tile 10 years ago, and I will like it for years to come.”

Tiny tiles are back in a big way

Tiny tiles are back in a big way

Beloved for their old-fashioned charm, small mosaic tiles are resonating with homeowners who want floors that are uniquely patterned and boldly expressive. From itty-bitty hexagons to miniature squares, tiny tiles are back in a big way.

“Mosaics are appealing because they can adapt to different period styles and can be used in so many applications; they’re both timeless and versatile,” says Keith Bieneman, owner of Heritage Tile in Oak Park, Ill. “They’re also wildly photogenic.”

He’s not kidding: Intricately tiled floors have been on the upswing in recent years, thanks in large part to the Instagram account @ihavethisthingwithfloors. Started by three Dutch friends who share a fondness for taking pictures of their footwear against striking floor patterns, the feed curates images of marzipan-hued mosaics from all over the world. For over 812,000 followers, the timeworn entries of old hotels and hat shops from Lisbon to Los Angeles serve as a reminder to look down and appreciate the history beneath your feet.

Unsurprisingly, homeowners want to bring the bespoke, vintage feel of the eye-catching tile they see on social media into their own homes. That some of these mosaics look as if they require an advanced degree in mathematics and an abundance of time to lay out only adds to their allure.

“There’s definitely an appreciation for the way things used to be made,” says Erin Oliver, vice president of Little Rock-based American Restoration Tile. “Mosaics aren’t fast, and they don’t look like everything else on the market.”

According to Bieneman, mosaic tile first became popular in the United States in the late 1800s, when plumbing came indoors and the need for a sanitary surface became paramount for germ-obsessed Victorians. Porcelain flooring was imported from England, but as demand for indoor restrooms grew, American manufacturers started to produce smaller unglazed porcelain tiles. Soon, basket weave, penny-round and hex designs became ubiquitous in homes.

In commercial buildings, such as taverns and pharmacies, the mosaics grew more decorative, as the country transitioned from the Victorian era to the arts and crafts, art nouveau and art deco periods. Tile production peaked in the late 1920s, and then the Great Depression hit and many factories shuttered. “Amazingly, we’re now discovering patterns in old catalogues that were never even produced,” Bieneman says.

Most of the tile work Oliver is seeing today could be classified as traditional with a twist. “People are trying a newer look using the old materials,” she says. “For instance, they want flat hex tiles, but instead of black and white, we’ll see more modern color combos like blues and grays.”

To bring an authentic Old World feel to a home in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, designer Jessica Helgerson used hex tiles in an array of poppy hues. “The client was a young family with a real love for color, and the idea of small mosaics felt historically appropriate for the house,” she says.

Designer Allison Tick took a similar approach for the attic bath of a Stanford White house in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., where she used mosaic tile to pay homage to the home’s stately architecture. “The custom pattern is intended to enhance the rounded shape of the room and invoke the historical nature of the house,” she says.

But not all tile installations make a statement through color and pattern choice; some spell it out — literally. The typography trend, which started with hotels and restaurants trying to emulate old-timey signage, has crossed over into residential design, with homeowners using tile as a form of self-expression.

“There’s definitely an appreciation for the way things used to be made,” says Erin Oliver of American Restoration Tile

In a foyer, designer Bria Hammel used gray and white hex tile to craft a playful greeting. “Writing ‘hello’ was a way to add some whimsy to a classic entry,” she says. The space also features a custom gray border that flows into the adjacent powder room. Hammel admits getting the type right was a challenge. “We had limited options on the font style since the script needed to look fluid and be easily readable,” she says.

Oliver says she’s observed an increase in front entries that feature monograms and salutations, which is especially surprising in housing markets with frequent turnover.

“If you embed your initials in the front entryway of your home, you’re definitely making a commitment to staying there,” she says. “When people want something highly personalized, I recommend doing the house number because the address isn’t likely to change. It’s a good way to put your mark on your home without the risk of losing resale value.”

Whether you’re using tile to create a simple border or something more elaborate such as say, a pixelated Persian rug, there are a few basics to keep in mind.

Historical reproduction tiles lie totally flat, so they’re flush with the grout. Typically, made-to-order custom porcelain mosaics from both American Restoration Tile and Heritage Tile run between $25 and $30 per square foot, and that price includes design services.

Pattern and color choices are limited, however, and these tiles often have beveled edges, which result in a raised surface when installed. If you want your floor to look like an entryway or bath from 100 years ago, you’ll probably want to opt for flat tile.

Many companies will let you select colors and create a custom design using a computer grid on their website. Still, some creative homeowners prefer a DIY approach, especially when it comes to playing around with typography or doing a simple color change. Watch HGTV for any extended period, and you’ve probably seen someone manually pop out individual tiles from an adhesive-backed sheet and swap in a different color as an inexpensive way to customize mosaics. While this method works, it can be time-consuming; some companies will do it for you at no additional cost. “Our pricing is based on complexity of pattern, so it doesn’t increase for color changes,” Oliver says.

If you happen to be a lucky homeowner with a vintage porcelain mosaic still intact, don’t fret if you spy a crack. Because tile production was standardized for many years in the United States, it’s likely you’ll be able to find replacements in the right size and color to restore the floor. “Our historical palette has matches for everything that was available from 1885 to 1940,” Oliver says.

Outside repairing the occasional crack, there isn’t a ton of maintenance involved in preserving an unglazed porcelain mosaic floor. Because porcelain is impervious to water, stains and temperature changes, it’s a durable and practical choice for high-traffic areas. “If you look at any 100-year-old tile floor, you’ll see a natural patina that comes from wear, and that patina becomes a protective coat,” Oliver says. “That’s why all these beautiful tiles have been around for over a century; they’ve stood the test of time.”

9 Top (and Stubborn) Design Trends

9 Top (and Stubborn) Design Trends

We couldn’t have been more pleased with our mention in the New York Times, “9 Top (and Stubborn) Design Trends” on July 1, 2020 .

Being confined to my home for the last two months has led me to think deeply about subway tile. It neatly covers my kitchen backsplash, and very possibly yours, but do its origins really lie in the subways? Why would that environment be anyone’s inspiration? And why is it so crazily popular now?

Which leads me to kitchen islands. All of the Zillow listings I read for personal and professional reasons point them out, but when did they become a thing? And why does the director Nancy Meyers have two?

Macramé? Moroccan carpets? Fiddle-leaf figs? Why have they popped up everywhere?

Having some extra time on my hands, I decided to look a little closer at these and other interior décor trends. After combing through magazines and blogs that make a habit of spotting them, I compiled a list of nine — the number was arbitrary — and confirmed their relevance with Google Trends data compiled over the last five years. To make absolutely sure my choices weren’t fluky, I checked the number of hashtag mentions each received on Instagram. (After all that, I realized I could have just deconstructed a Pottery Barn catalog and had much the same results.)

Below is my list, with some historical perspective.

Maeve Pacheco, a Brooklyn fiber artist, creates large-scale macramé pieces that represent a sea change from the owls and plant hangers of the 1960s and ’70s..


A decade ago, macramé, the ancient art of knotting threads into textiles, was still a punchline for jokes about the Age of Aquarius. The misplaced energies of amateur makers seeking authenticity with handiwork made for an easy laugh.

No one is laughing now that there has been an explosive craft revival, and a reawakening of respect for honest, unrefined — OK, hairy — textures and materials. Instagram currently has about 3.4 million macramé-related posts. Of those, 592,000 concern wall hangings, and 237,000 plant hangers.

Maeve Pacheco, a fiber artist in Brooklyn, learned macramé from her mother, an architect who square-knotted plant hangers on weekends while Ms. Pacheco’s father threw pots. After working as a carpenter, painter and sculptor on retail displays, Ms. Pacheco discovered that customers kept asking to buy the big macramé wall pieces, so about eight years ago, she began focusing on that.

She continues working at a large scale, using chunky 1- and 2-inch cords she doubts were readily available in her mother’s time. “It’s not all owls anymore, right?” she said. “The technique itself has been modernized, and I think people can appreciate it.”

Ms. Pacheco was not alone in pointing out that macramé offers a textural respite from the slickness of computer screens, and has a wholesome, organic nature.

The colors have shifted from the browns, greens and saturated oranges of the 1960s and ’70s. “Now there’s a much more neutral palette and a lot less dye in the process,” she said.

Rattan has shape-shifted with every design trend since the mid-19th century, when it first became popular in the United States. Doris Day, circa 1955, in a rattan bowl chair probably inspired by Asian papasans


Rattan is a vine-like East Asian palm with a solid inner pith used for framing and a flexible skin that is woven. The result is sometimes described as “wicker,” though wicker is a construction method rather than a material and might involve willow or raffia.

Kenneth Cobonpue, a Filipino designer who has worked for decades with the material, said it made its way to the West through the colonies, turning up in Parisian bistro seating and Victorian peacock chairs “because rattan furniture was considered to be more hygienic than upholstered pieces.”

In the United States, Cyrus Wakefield, a Boston grocer, founded a business in the 1850s that converted the waste material used for stabilizing oceangoing freight into baskets and furniture. In 1897, the Wakefield Rattan Company merged with its biggest competitor, Heywood Brothers, to form Heywood-Wakefield. When the rampant curlicues that satisfied Victorians’ taste for organic decoration went out of fashion, the company abandoned rattan and made Art Deco-inspired pieces out of yellow birch wood.

Far from disappearing, rattan shape-shifted into the early-to-midcentury streamlined furnishings of Paul Frankl and Gilbert Rohde. Then came the 1960s. Gypsy skirts, flowing hair and hallucinatory rock poster graphics repudiated the neat, boxy contours and conformity of postwar subdivisions. Victorian curlicues and exoticism were back. A discount store later to be called Pier 1 opened in San Mateo, Calif., in 1962, and went on to sell love beads, incense and imported bowl-shaped rattan papasan chairs.

At the same time, rattan lounges continued to fill the poolside decks of privilege, symbols of a sun that never set on economic imperialism.

And today? Pier 1, now a publicly owned giant, filed for bankruptcy in February, but that is no reflection on the popularity of rattan, which scored 618,000 Instagram hashtags. Its yogi-like flexibility may still be what appeals to us. Rattan works inside or outside. It is tough but biodegradable. It can blend into the background but streams historical narrative like a contrail. It is wipeable and usually reasonably priced. It is lightweight, but it isn’t going anywhere.


The fiddle-leaf fig is celebrated for adding a splash of emerald to today’s trendy white interiors, despite the challenge of keeping it alive

Fiddle-leaf Figs

The love affair between millennials and their houseplants has been heating up to such a degree that Pinterest named the garden room — an oxygen-spewing sanctuary in one’s home — among its 100 trends for 2020..

Nothing about sheltering in a pandemic is cooling anyone’s ardor for greenery, and the king of the potted jungle remains Ficus lyrata, better known as the fiddle-leaf fig.”

In 2016, writing in The New York Times, Steven Kurutz declared the sassy botanical, with its fat, glossy leaves, the plant of the decade, despite the fig’s habit of dying at the slightest provocation. A native of western Africa that grows as tall as 50 feet out of doors, it now fills the neutral, white rooms of West Elm catalogs and real estate listings. Last count, it had 216,000 hashtags on Instagram.

Ficus lyrata’s celebrity and tetchiness can be traced back into the mists of the 20th century. It made the top eight houseplants list in a 1939 issue of Better Homes & Gardens because, the author, writing in the middle of the Depression, noted, “it doesn’t take up so much room nor require so large a pot.” This plant had one weakness, she went on, “a tendency to drop its leaves unless given plenty of water.”

In 1952, Britain’s Country Life magazine reported a growing popularity in potted evergreens, including the fiddle-leaf fig. The trend reversed a longtime preference for cut flowers and was a source of alarm to those who associated potted plants with fusty Victorian ways.

Potted plants returned for two reasons, the author explained: World War II, during which farmers were encouraged to grow food over ornamentals, and central heating, which shortened the lives of cut flowers. The writer also noted that not everyone is adept at arranging cut flowers, but anyone can plunk down a pot.


Subway tile has shed its retro vibe in homes, but not in restaurants, including this one in Stockholm. Credit Schiller’s Liquor Bar, the faux-vintage bistro on the Lower East Side that closed in 2017, but is still copied throughout the world.

Subway Tile

White tile was a fixture in middle-class Victorian homes long before the New York City subway opened in 1904, covered in the stuff. Unlike fancier, colorful tiles applied to fireplace surrounds and hearths, glazed white tile appeared in high-traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms, offering durable surfaces that made dirt conspicuous and were easy to clean.

Transferring the same hygienic principles underground, the subway station designers Christopher Grant La Farge and George L. Heins created a huge, elaborate canvas for white field tile installed in a running bond pattern edged in coves and other trims. The three-by-six-inch rectangles had a distinctive look, with beveled surfaces and narrow grout lines.

Though the color and material palettes (and even size range) have expanded, this is the hugely popular wall treatment (214,000 Instagram hashtags) we now call subway tile.

Keith Bieneman is the owner and managing director of Heritage Tile, a company that does restoration work on New York’s subway stations, using tile manufactured to the original standards.”

“There was a resurgence in artisan tile making throughout the U.S.” in the 1990s, he said. “People started focusing on the kitchen and started putting in high-end appliances and looking at backsplashes as art pieces as opposed to utilitarian surfaces.” Subway tile fulfilled aspirations for the authentic remodeling of many 20th-century homes (it had exploded in the 1920s when its manufacture and installation were standardized) and yet it looked timeless.

Another powerful influencer was Schiller’s Liquor Bar, the retro-styled restaurant Keith McNally opened on the Lower East Side in 2003. For 14 years, it dished out steak frites in a space with a pressed tin ceiling, tarnished mirrors, a black-and-white checkerboard floor and square yards of vintage subway tiles.

Schiller’s has plenty of imitators, including a minutely detailed copy called Café La Favorite on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

“This Jazz Age New York style, that’s something that’s admired tremendously around the world,” said Mr. Bieneman, whose company manufactured tile for La Favorite, and for Schiller’s copycats in Dublin, Stockholm and Guangzhou, China.


Subway tile has shed its retro vibe in homes, but not in restaurants, including this one in Stockholm. Credit Schiller’s Liquor Bar, the faux-vintage bistro on the Lower East Side that closed in 2017, but is still copied throughout the world.

String Lights

A current fashion for hanging strands of tiny lights indoors as well as out can be studied in 155,000 Instagram posts, if you’re so inspired. It is an inexpensive way to turn a room into a miniature wonderland and sustain a holiday feeling year round.

But string lights predate their use as Christmas decorations. The little bulbs draped around Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., in 1879, created a natural opportunity for the inventor to demonstrate his perfection of long-lasting carbon filament lamps in hopes of gaining a contract to electrify New York City.

Three years later, Edison’s business associate, Edward H. Johnson, wound 80 small red, white and blue bulbs around a revolving Christmas tree that he powered with a generator. A reporter from the Detroit Post and Tribune called the effect “most picturesque and uncanny.” The first Christmas lights for popular home use emerged in the teens.

Dainty bulbs were immediately destined for non-holiday purposes, as well. In 1882, they were integrated into the costumes of fairies in a Savoy Theatre production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Iolanthe.” The term “fairy lights” dates at least to this event, though some argue that it evolved naturally from “fairy lamps,” petite, domed candle holders that were popular in Victorian England.

Jumping to today, one finds an early influencer in Patrick Townsend. In the late 1990s, Mr. Townsend, a New York industrial designer, moved into a big artist’s loft on Canal Street and needed something splashy to brighten it. He went into the lighting shops that dominated the neighborhood at the time, bought lamp sockets and cords and strung them together.

Necessity was the mother of this invention, but love improved it. Wanting to make a special Christmas present for his girlfriend, he tweaked the design so that the bulbs formed an attractive cluster and were sheathed in white nylon instead of cardboard sleeves.

Mr. Townsend married the girlfriend, and the lamp evolved into a more elaborate chandelier called Orbit, but the principle was the same: naked wires and bulbs.

“I love the simplicity of it,” he said.
After adventures in mass production in China, his company is making the lamps by hand in Long Island City. This boosts the cost into the art-piece realm. His String10 design, with a cluster of bulbs at the bottom, for example, starts at $175.

Or, for $24.99, you can buy IKEA’s Blötsnö string light, with 24 LEDs.
In fact, there are many choices for string lights, and not all of them are simple. The bulbs come in huge varieties of shapes and colors and many have their own little shades. A company called Atomi makes a “smart” version that can be controlled by Alexa, or any Wi-Fi-enabled device to which you can download an app. Oddly, there is even a “string light bulb” — a clear, bulbous glass vessel within which a tangle of string lights nest.


As the modern kitchen became larger and more porous, flowing into adjacent rooms, the worktable evolved into the island, where multitasking hostesses could chop, chat and serve.Credit…

Kitchen Islands

The décor choices of quarantined celebrities have become their own genre in this pandemic, and none has stirred more interest than the filmmaker Nancy Meyers’s kitchen. Famous for the aspirational kitchens that gleam in her romantic comedies, Ms. Meyers, who lives in Los Angeles, shared a photograph of her own in an April 26 Instagram post.

What most impressed her followers were the twin islands, almost exactly like those in her 2003 movie, “Something’s Gotta Give,” starring Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and a Hamptons house.

“Well I cook at one and serve on the other one,” Ms. Meyers told Vanity Fair, explaining that the nearby table where everyone eats was not in view.

Not so long ago, a single kitchen island might have produced the same frisson. Today, there are more than 455,000 Instagram posts on the topic.

According to Juliana Rowen Barton, a historian of modern architecture and design, the island emerged in the mid-20th century when kitchen walls began to dissolve with the postwar open floor plan. This transformation was part of a decades-long evolution of the kitchen from a tight, functional space, with a worktable, overseen by servants at the back of the Victorian home to a larger, more conspicuous area supervised by housewives and designed for greater sociability.

“Islands became increasingly popular because they allowed for more communication and movement between the kitchen and other parts of the home,” Ms. Barton said.

Some users chafed at the smells and sounds that poured out of open kitchens. “They were not as functional as people thought and created stress between family members,” Ms. Barton said. Nor could the enhanced dimensions, surfaces and appliances disguise the fact that women, though on display as gracious hostesses, still did most of the work.

And yet Ms. Barton believes it was no accident that the open kitchen emerged with other forms of liberation.
“An open plan in theory allows for freedom of movement around a space. You can choose your own path,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the kitchen island began to become popular at the same time as the civil rights movement and ‘The Feminine Mystique.’”.


Descended from the Victorian tea trolley, the bar cart became an object of modern convenience as well as a token of major attitude. A patio featured in a 1954 issue of House and Garden.Credit…

Bar Carts

The bar cart, a midcentury artifact, made its return about a decade ago, a few years after “Mad Men” showed us what an asset it could be. In you took the AMC series as your model, you parked the bar cart in your living room (or better yet, office) and visited it as frequently as a diabetic zebra at a watering hole. You learned that anything small and on wheels feels friendly and informal, even when it is a vehicle for bad behavior..

Well, five years have passed since “Mad Men” ended, and the bar cart is still with us (150,000 Instagram posts). It turns out to be useful in so many un-louche ways.

Bar carts can be plant stands and end tables. Magazine holders and unused corner fillers. You can even pull them up to your open-plan kitchen for emergency counter space when you have no other place to put the roast.

N“To me, bar carts signify swagger. I think that’s le mot juste,” said Jonathan Adler, who began designing them 15 years ago, before Don Draper lurched onto the scene. “If you see someone with a bar cart, you think they’re fun. They make young people seem sophisticated and old people seem young.”

He said his personal love affair began when he bought a vintage bar cart by an under-sung midcentury Italian designer named Aldo Tura, who worked in lacquered goatskin. Since then, Mr. Adler said he’s done a “bazillion” ones with different degrees of functionality and had just gotten out of a Zoom meeting discussing the development of his next.

“I’m going to do a round one,” he said. “One of the things I love about them is an opportunity to get quite sculptural.”


Smacking of postwar austerity and industrial ingenuity, the hairpin leg beloved of today’s DIY-ers was found in many mid-century furnishings.

Hairpin Legs

“Is This Tomorrow’s Furniture?” asks the title of a 1950 Better Homes & Garden article that reproduced items from the Museum of Modern Art’s first annual “Good Design” show of home furnishings.

“Each of the pieces is sturdy, simply styled, easy to clean and fairly low cost,” the article trumpeted. “Don’t be afraid of the chests or chairs because they look different.”

Among the honorees was Charles and Ray Eames’ bucket-shaped molded fiberglass armchair, which Herman Miller had just put into production. There was also a shockingly modern storage cabinet manufactured by Johnson Carper, a furniture company in Roanoke, Va. that was supported by a frame that resembled giant hairpins.

Hairpin legs — V-shaped metal pieces that can be bolted to wood slabs to create furniture — are descendants of this design. For D.I.Y. types, they are a satisfying alternative to Ikea — so satisfying that Instagram has 73,400 posts about them.

But even in 1950 this signifier of bare-bones yet attractive functionality was no novelty. Nine years before, Henry P. Glass, a Viennese-born refugee from Hitler’s Europe, who had been inspired by the shape of his wife’s hairpins, designed an outdoor furniture collection called American Way with continuous, bent wrought-iron frames that terminated in four narrowly angled feet. His innovation spread to many midcentury furnishings, like the MoMA cabinet, which had been designed by other people.

Glass continued refining the design — at one point making the legs collapsible. He received 52 patents in a long, productive career (he died in 2003 at the age of 91), but never one for this.


Woven by Berber women in Morocco, cream-colored wool Beni Ouarain carpets were popularized by famous 20th-century architects. The diamond-patterned rug is shown in the great room of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Beni Ouarain Carpets

Nathan Ursch, a Moroccan carpet dealer in Brooklyn, guessed that anyone who bought a Dwell or Domino magazine in the last seven years has seen a Beni Ouarain carpet. “They’re in every issue.”

The ivory wool rugs, with scrawled geometric motifs in dark grays, browns or blacks, are named for a confederation of nomadic Berber tribes in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and have 53,300 Instagram hashtags.

“They bring a kind of rustic warmth to an environment that is different than a Turkish or Oriental carpet,” said Mr. Ursch, who considers the Beni Ouarain a “gateway” Moroccan carpet. “They contrast in a nice way with minimal modern furniture,” as opposed to, say, jute, which just adds frost to the chill.

If your Beni Ouarain carpet is authentic (many are not), it will probably be less than 100 years old, having been made for hard use as tent flooring. A woman will have woven it over an average period of two years, on a portable loom at most 8 feet wide.

It will probably tell the story of the weaver’s fertility, Mr. Ursch said.
“The lozenges represent the female form, and when they’re put in a chain it’s a timeline of things that happened to the woman in her life. The dots are her attempts to get pregnant. Lightning bolts and bars that go down the selvage, those are male symbols which are meant to form a protection for the female symbols,” he explained..

Beni Ouarain carpets were never intended for display, much less export, but came to the notice of designers and decorators in the early 20th century, after Morocco became a French protectorate with new infrastructure, and adventurous travelers ventured into the mountains. The architects Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto installed the carpets in their much-photographed interiors. They later showed up at the Eames House and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, where Mr. Ursch said he first saw them in a modern architectural context.

Their popularity has predictably set off a rash of imitations made outside Morocco, often with synthetic fibers and replicated patterns. About a decade ago, “there were less than 10 Moroccan carpet dealers in the world,” Mr. Ursch said, “and now there are hundreds.”


New York Times Features Subway Tile as a Timeless Feature

New York Times Features Subway Tile as a Timeless Feature

We couldn’t have been more pleased with our mention in the New York Times, “9 Top (and Stubborn) Design Trends” on May 15th, 2020.

This title is especially meaningful because, in this case, “stubbornness” is a virtue. There are features forever on the minds of designers when constructing or remodeling a home. In the article, Julie Lasky (NY Times reporter), discusses design trends that stick around due to the effortless feel they bring to a space. Inspired from being cooped up for months due to the pandemic, Lasky did a historical deep dive into the 9 top trends including the ever-present subway tile. 

In the article, she quotes Keith Bieneman, the founder and managing director of Heritage Tile. Discussing the history of subway tile and its significance in both the 20th and 21th centuries, Bieneman notes, “There was a resurgence in artisan tile making throughout the U.S.” in the 1990s, he said. “People started focusing on the kitchen and started putting in high-end appliances and looking at backsplashes as art pieces as opposed to utilitarian surfaces.” 

It’s true that although subway tiles were in homes in the 1920s, they have made a resurgence into both modern and historical homes today. This is partially because of the timeless look and aesthetic durability of the material.

The historically authentic Subway Ceramics Collection compliments the original style of any period home, this material truly forges the new with the classic. Not only elegant and sophisticated, historic subway tiles were designed for easy cleaning as well.

Subway tile has made its way into cafes  and restaurants in New York and beyond. Heritage Tile’s Subway Ceramics Collection has been featured in landmarks like the Battery Maritime Building and Chelsea Market as well. 

Subway Ceramics has also been imitated in countless institutions around the world proving, yet again, that the classic New York style is here to stay.

While the sleek look of subway tile is a classic fixture in many public spaces, it also compliments home designs as backsplash or bathroom tile, Bieneman explains, “This Jazz Age New York style, that’s something that’s admired tremendously around the world.” Reproducing this timeless look with modern materials creates durability and a classic design that will be trending just as long. 

Looking for a subway tile renovation? Learn more about Subway Ceramics