Our story begins with a nagging question: why is prewar American “subway tile” so similar, so perfect, regardless of where it was made or installed? A brownstone in Brooklyn and the Gamble House in Pasadena may seem a world apart architecturally (and culturally) but they both share a similar bathroom. Curiosity led me to make a surprising discovery, and started me on a journey into our past to reclaim our lost knowledge of our tile heritage and preserve something special about the America of that time and place.
The challenge to reproduce this vast, sophisticated, and precise system of ceramic tilework would require an exceptionally skilled team. From there, this team would need to replicate the tools and manufacturing processes needed to achieve the same flat surface and pencil-thin grout lines, characteristic of vintage tile installations. A chance encounter directed me to Hovey Tile Art, an experienced and resourceful Southern California tilemaker who shared my vision to re-introduce a complete collection of subway tile, trims, moundings, ceramic accessories, and floor mosaics to faithfully restore a prewar bathroom in the most historically authentic way possible. And thus Subway Ceramics was conceived.
Further down this path I made other discoveries. One such finding was Earnest Batchelder, a creative genius and professor of art who emerged from his Pasadena garage/ceramics studio in 1905 and, almost overnight, morphed into a prolific mega-industrialist. Batchelder went on to build one of the world’s largest tile factories in Los Angeles and completed brilliant commissions on a massive scale all over America, until his tileworks were shuttered by the Great Depression. His life continues to awe and inspire me as the Steve Jobs of the tile world.
Turning East I made another valuable connection: Japan. My travels there, originally as an exporter of our Subway Ceramics collection (where our brand of Jazz-age, New York style was becoming very popular), introduced me to their unique wabi-sabi aesthetic as expressed in the production of architectural ceramics. Virtually unknown to American designers and architects, Japanese tilemakers specialized in porcelain and stoneware tile and mosaics of the highest quality. I was stunned by the creative versatility of Japanese designers. Subsequent trips included visits to tile factories near Nagoya, where I met with 4th generation ceramicists and developed a deep appreciation for their craft and cultural traditions in the ceramic arts.
As founder of Heritage Tile, I am grateful for the privilege to continue on this journey we started over sixteen years ago that, with all its twists and turns, continues to guide us towards new relationships, new inspirations, and new challenges.