Decorative wall tiles can make an ordinary room shine, and no one proves this better than Motawi Tileworks. Their ceramic art tiles combine charming surface motifs with the beauty of age-old craft. Finding illustrative inspiration from the likes of Mid-Century design, Art Nouveau, and the famous Japanese block printer Yoshiko Yamamoto, their exquisite tiles go well beyond your conventional one-color creations.
Motawi Tileworks treats every tile as a hand-made work of art. And, better yet, each one is a modular piece, meaning you can mix and match different types of designs. In many of their installations, they feature a few statement-making tiles that are framed with solid or alternating colors; the arrangement, however, is up to you and your desired aesthetic. Regardless of the tile art, each is made with the same hands-on approach. First, a pug (block of clay) is pressed into a plaster mold and formed into a tile sheet. Then, a Motawi Tileworks artisan trims, smooths, bisque fires, and glazes it. Afterwards, the tile is fired again and finally goes through a quality-control check.
Motawi Tileworks is the brainchild of Nawal Motawi, a formally-trained ceramicist who felt a strong calling to strike out on her own. She started her career in another tile studio, but it wasn't a great fit. “While I was working there,” she told Forbes, “I was chafing at things I thought they could do different and better, and I saw things other people were doing that I wasn’t going to get a chance to do.” Essentially, she says, “My goal was to make a living making the kind of tile I wanted to make.” She started producing them in her garage and selling them at local farmers markets.
As Motawi’s tile art gained popularity, she learned a series valuable business lessons. It started with simply paying attention. “I didn’t want to be the cute little art tile place that never delivers on time and whose paperwork is all messed up.” She used resources like conferences to teach herself how to run Motawi Tileworks while investing in state-of-the art equipment. Eventually, the tight-knit team transitioned to a lean Toyota-style production to “make the right things when needed,” and not get caught up in excessive inventory. Their profits increased, and now Motawi Tileworks pulls in an impressive $2.7 million a year. In 2017, they were named one of Forbes’ 25 Small Giants.
The operation is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you’re local and would like to learn more about the ins-and-outs of tile making, Motawi Tileworks holds workshops that anyone can try. They also host a free weekly public tour so you can see their amazing craft in action.