January 2016 - Baltimore, MD - As a design consultant at Architectural Ceramics in Canton, a neighborhood of Baltimore City, I recently had the privilege of meeting a great couple that allowed me to create a mosaic design for the fireplace in their Bolton-Hill home in downtown Baltimore. It was in a series of row homes designed by an award -winning architect, Hugh Newell Jacobson, years ago.
When owners- let's call them Bob and Betty- came to see me, they had certain colors in mind already, but they were open to anything. We discussed the existing granite hearth and the not-yet-permanently –installed mantle which was hand-made by a local Baltimore artist. The mantle was made out of reclaimed wood and it was there to stay. This wasn't a bad thing, since it was stunning!
The fireplace, however, had no tile on it. It was bare and the drywall around it was smoke-covered. I could see why they wanted to fix it! I came up with some simple modest budget solutions which would have looked great, but then asked if they would be interested in doing something a little more special- a mosaic. They agreed excitedly, and I had some homework to do!
When I went to the house to measure and see how much area we could use for tile, I found that the walls were not quite plumb, but placing a mosaic was feasible. After observing the color of the hardwood floors and the mantle, the owners and I came up with a color scheme. We decided on colors that would contrast but also coordinate with the existing materials in the home. Dark brown and gold, utilizing a hand glazed historic look, was definitely the way to go. Wanting to marry the past with the present, I knew just which tile manufacturer to go with... Motawi Tileworks, an American tile maker that started in the garage of an artist’s home.
Since the couple didn't have a specific design in mind – I had room to create. Once the measurements were taken and the color and type of tile was selected, I researched available sizes. Motawi has a plethora of size options, so I was able to be more creative but my goal was to make the design without needing to cut any tiles. After drawing up at least 8 or 9 different design ideas, I still wasn't satisfied with the ordinary options most houses go for. This house was special, and it was time to think outside of the box. I thought about who the homeowners were, where they've lived and are living, the things they enjoy as a couple, and even the art they had on their walls. They were two true progressive city dwellers, and that's when it dawned on me!
What they needed was not just a design, but rather, art.
I finally found my inspiration one evening at a local bar and lounge in downtown Baltimore, in the classic, historic and iconic building known as The Belvedere. The south and north facing windows have huge, panoramic windows where you can see the city in all it’s glory. It was my “ah-ha” moment! I was going to paint a cityscape with tiles- a silhouette of the city with its golden sky.
I immediately began drawing it out, specifying each tile, color, which sides needed glazing and so-on, then I finally presented the design to the client. Luckily, they loved it so now we just had to wait for the hand-glazed tiles to arrive.
When the tiles arrived, I inspected them to make sure no pieces were broken before delivering them to the installer who was able to follow my design perfectly! Will Koenig is a very skilled installer and was able to adjust the 'not-so-plumb' fireplace wall to make the mosaic display as beautiful as I'd hoped. It's definitely been the perfect addition to this historic Baltimore home!