Photo courtesy of Nick Berg, founder of Exactmosaics

Lafayette Mercantile Fountain 2008 by Laurel True and True Mosaics Studio

Handcrafted and artisanal tiles have had a long history within society as beautiful and durable embellishments that enhanced living areas. Each piece was handmade - hand-formed and hand-painted - its own little work of art.

Historically, ceramic tiles have been around for more than 8,000 years. According to the Turkish Ceramic Federation, “The first ceramics were created in Çatalhöyük 6,000 years B.C. The Yang-Shao culture, one of the forefathers of Chinese civilization, was to wait for another 2,000 years before making its first earthenware pots.”

In the fourth century, where Egyptians used tile to decorate their homes, clay bricks were sun-dried or baked. The first glazes used, which were made from copper, were only available in blue. Tile-producing techniques are said to have been pioneered in Mesopotamia. However, it wasn’t until the Islamic period (700 A.D.) when the influence of Islamic tiles and architecture spread from Syria via North Africa to Morocco and Spain. It was during this same period where it has also been widely known throughout the industry that the Persians perfected all methods of tile decoration.

In 12th century Europe, decorated tiles came into use in Moorish Spain and Portugal as azulejos, as majolica floor tiles in Renaissance Italy, as faiences in Antwerp, as tile iconography in England and The Netherlands, and as ceramic tiles in Germany.

Several centuries later, in the year 2008, not much has changed in societal tastes - everyone wants a one-of-a-kind creation that allows them to stand out from the proverbial crowd. In the architectural and design communities that understand the value of unspoken statements, it’s up to the artisans to fill the visionary void.

With that in mind,TILE Magazinepolled members of the handcrafted and artisanal tile community for its insight on the industry, concerns, outlook for the coming year, and foreseeable prominent trends. As a result of receiving an overwhelming reaction to our editorial request, responses have been divided into four sections: Insight, Concerns, Trends, and Outlook.

Copper-tiled fireplace. Photo courtesy of Metalmorfik LLC


  • Anne Foulke of Clay Décor LLC: To be able to give the client a custom work of art, designed and sized to fit their exact space, is one of the biggest advantages to art tile versus pre-fabricated tile. Our segment is small but powerful in its impact.
  • David Morganstein, DM Decos by Design: With mass production and competition based solely on price (functionality) and less on aesthetics, artistic and handmade tiles represent a beacon of creative hope and unbridled artisanship in a world of otherwise “bland” and assembly line like production.
  • Donna Greenbush of Oceanside Tile and Mandala: We need to promote what makes our products special by showing how they are made - from the artistic inspiration to artisan techniques of the craftspeople who make our tile products.
  • Michelle Griffoul of Griffoul Studios, Inc.: Education is the key to selling our tile. Educating the showroom as to why our tile is different from mass-produced tile is critical.
  • Josh Blanc of Handmade Tile Association: The more that the greater tile industry sees artistic tile as a trend-setting component of the tile community, the more both groups will benefit from the collaboration.
  • Dennis Fox, Metalmorfik LLC: The industry could set up a database that architects, designers and distributors could access. This could include all aspects of the tile industry, but have a special section for art tile.
  • Nawal Motawi, Motwai Tileworks: I would like to see many of the national art tile studios work together on at least one marketing project to resellers. I’m sure we can all think of more marketing projects we could do together that would benefit all of us. I also suspect that many of us would benefit from some sharing more of our non-proprietary design, manufacturing, and management practices.
  • Laurel True, True Mosaics Studio and the Institute of Mosaic Art: I think it is important for the industry to help keep this segment strong by showcasing this type of work in magazines, in the media, and by profiling individual artists and designers so the public can become acquainted with their work.
  • Dianne McIntosh, Back Alley Designs, Inc: I believe decorative tile has been in demand for over 2,000 years and will continue to be in demand due to its durable and natural properties. There seems to be a trend toward replacing carpet with tile for environmental reasons today, evidenced in many hospitals.

Photo courtesy of Michael Kelly, California Pottery and Tile Works


  • Donna Greenbush, Oceanside Tile and Mandala: If we demonstrate that the source of inspiration behind our products is art and not mass production, and illustrate our differentiated designs and handcrafted production processes, it will go a long way toward maintaining the position of our “authentic” products in the market.
  • Michael Kelly, California Potteries and Tile Works: We need to constantly observe the fashions in the market while retaining a solid identity, which can distinguish from other forms of competition, including the larger marketing budgets of corporate entities and “copyists.”
  • Michelle Griffoul, Griffoul Studios, Inc.: Truly handmade tile requires hands, not automation. Labor and fuel costs, are just a couple of factors that make this business more challenging.
  • Josh Blanc, Handmade Tile Association and Clay Squared to Infinity: We need to create an environment where great tile artists and programs are ensured their success. A well-developed program encouraged and backed by all sectors of the community will be a great asset to the entire tile community.
  • Susan Dunis, Dunis Studios: Tile artists continue to explore and push the boundaries of traditional expression. The entire industry looks to such creativity for ideas and trends. Artisan tile makers need more recognition and support from dealers and clients to keep the art tile movement alive.”
  • Laurel True, True Mosaics Studio and the Institute of Mosaic Art: Not everyone who considers themselves an artist has the technical knowledge to do a lasting and permanent installation. Even if an installation is “artistic’ or includes handmade tiles, it still has to be put together with the same techniques and materials as any other high-quality tile installation.

Photo courtesy of Hirsch Glass Corp.


  • Nick Berg, Exactmosaics: Custom work is still in high demand. Architects and designers are looking for handmade and artistic tile that will set their project apart from the rest. The key is to develop products for underserved niches.
  • Michael Kelly, California Potteries and Tile Works: The two main trends are the “green” movement’s acceleration within the construction world, and the application of handmade ceramics to hospitality and commercial projects.
  • Richard Scott, Status Inc. Handcrafted Ceramics: The trend seems to be towards a simpler design with more vibrant complementary color. The “green” movement will add another inventive layer to the artistic and handmade tile stratus.
  • Helen Zhao, Hirsch Glass Corp.: We will see the trend of more affordable and more variety of designs of [artistic and handmade tiles] in the U.S.
  • Nawal Motawi, Motawi Tileworks: Being different from the norm is what art tile should be, so the studios should be bringing unique items to market, items that are true to the vision and style of the company. I’d like to see trends toward stakeholder-centric (as opposed to just shareholders) business practices, superior marketing, and planetary stewardship.
  • Barbara Cashman, GlasTile, Inc.: The artist is the ultimate trendsetter. I feel the smaller companies are closer to the designer, and therefore, able to come up with a unique use of color or materials that responds to a design need.
  • Anne Foulke, Clay Décor LLC: Artisan tile will always give the client a jewel in the showpiece, giving the homeowner “bragging rights.”
  • Dianne McIntosh, Back Alley Designs, Inc: I think we’ll see more intricate floor murals replacing Persian carpets and the like. I also think we’ll see more glass tile because of the LED backlighting possibilities.

Photo courtesy of GlasTile Inc.


  • Nick Berg, Exactmosaics: It’s counter-intuitive, but demand for luxury products often performs strongly through periods of slower growth.
  • Richard Scott, Status Inc. Handcrafted Ceramics: Producers concerned with the need to conserve not just energy but materials and water resources will be reflected by progressive new design elements. The challenge will produce an exciting new direction for the craftsman and the consumer.
  • David Morganstein, DM Decos by Design: There are large untapped segments of the population that are tired of mass commercialization and mass production of inferior tile. The commercial segment of the market represents the greatest potential for growth in the decorative tile market.
  • Susan Dunis, Dunis Studios: By embracing the art tile makers through increased media coverage, the tile industry will continue to inspire and educate design professionals and the public. In general, art tile and tile artists need more international attention and recognition.
  • Dennis Fox, Metalmorfik LLC: The high-end market will be viable for those who can access it.
  • Helen Zhao, Hirsch Glass Corp.: I believe that new designs and innovative technology will keep the artistic and handmade tile segment strong.
  • Lee Gruber, Syzygy Tileworks: We have a positive outlook for the tile industry. More and more tile products are being used as our customers begin to consider the “green-ness” and permanence of our products.
  • Wilhelm Stevens, Original Mission Tile: The outlook for our segment is pretty good. Nowadays, all architects and interior designers are looking to create their own style using original materials and creating a personality in the spaces provided - giving the project a unique signature.
  • Barbara Cashman, GlasTile, Inc.: By staying strong and working together, we can weather this downturn as we have weathered earlier ones. The operative phrase is “working together,” and we need to acknowledge and respond to each other’s needs accordingly. The future depends on how flexible we can be in our industry.
  • Joseph A. Taylor, Tile Heritage Foundation: As King Nebuchadnezzar II dazzled his citizenry by adorning the city of Babylon with glazed decorative tiles in 575 B.C., the architects of the future will look to local ceramic artisans to provide the inspiration and material for both grand and grandiose development in the years ahead.