In the post-pandemic world, where millions of erstwhile office workers are now telecommuting, beige is the enemy of joy.
The work-from-home reality has reoriented people around their homes (necessitating home offices, home gyms) and spurred homeowners to reassess design choices — often made by a faceless developer or previous owner. A shower wall or kitchen backsplash takes on more import when you’re looking at it all day, every day. And the mosaic — an ancient art form popularized during the Roman Empire — is experiencing something of a renaissance amid the pandemic-spurred home design boom.
Before the great isolation, says Cean Irminger, a mosaicist and the creative director of Virginia-based mosaic company New Ravenna, resale potential was top-of-mind when customers chose mosaic tile.
“People went for beiges and neutrals. They didn’t want anything with too much personality because they’re thinking, I’m going to sell this house in a couple of years, I should do something that will appeal to the masses and just be happy with that.”
“Everybody’s realizing they’re going to be in their homes 365 days a year. They want it to be something that brings them joy,” she adds. “They are no longer designing for a future unknown person.”
Even before the pandemic, the minimalist aesthetic of the 2000s — which churned out so many white marble kitchens — was beginning to give way to color and creativity. “The whole 2000s it was white and gray, white and gray, maybe a little beige. But now it’s color, it’s warm tones, it’s things that catch the eye and have a lot of personality,” says Irminger. “People aren’t scared of color anymore.”
New Ravenna stocks more than 1,000 made-to-measure stone and glass mosaics. The recently released Biome collection includes patterns inspired by nature such as Gingko, Reptile, Sea Foam, Sassafras and Geode. Each pattern is available in multiple colorways. All are hand-cut stone; a blue Geode ($715 a square foot) is made with honed Thassos, polished Indigo, Orchid, Cornflower, Hydrangea, Aloe, Lotus, Periwinkle, Celeste, Carrara, Blue Macauba and Aurum.
“We consider Geode like a painting,” explains Irminger. “It does not have a pattern that repeats. Every time somebody orders the Geode, we’re going to give them their own, one-of-a-kind piece of art to fit their space.”
If the pandemic has inspired a reassessment of our interior spaces, for Irminger, more time at home also has animated her professional life. When the world went into lockdown in spring 2020, she found herself thrust into the role of teacher and playmate to her young daughters, then 7 and 9. Luckily they live on a 100-acre farm in Exmore, a tiny agrarian community on Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula where New Ravenna is headquartered. The outdoors became their classroom; there were “science walks” in the woods and plenty of space for messy crafts like tie-dye. Those experiences became the inspiration for Irminger’s newest collection of mosaics called Heyday. To Dye For evokes the burst of color and pattern of a tie-dyed shirt. There’s also Fire Fly and Phase to Phase, a geometric mosaic that mimics the phases of the moon.
Says Irminger: “For me, it was just a matter of how to translate that inspiration in a way that might be a little more sophisticated and less on the nose; to create something that can still enliven somebody’s living space with a jolt of childhood joy.”
New Ravenna ships about 16,000 square feet of mosaics each month and has seen sales of its made-to-measure mosaics spike 20 percent compared to the past three years. (Made-to-measure mosaics represent 70 percent of orders; New Ravenna also has a ready-to-ship line.) Irminger is among five in-house designers, while New Ravenna also regularly partners with guest designers including NewYork City-based interior designer Sasha Bikoff and architect and designer Caroline Beaupère, whose association with New Ravenna began several years ago when she worked with the company to create bespoke glass mosaics for her clients, including a meandering cherry blossom vine in the master bath of a Jersey City residence and a bird-and-vine motif for a kitchen backsplash in a small Kips Bay apartment.
“That is the silver lining of the pandemic — people are spending a lot of time in their homes and they want their homes to really reflect them, instead of simply living in a space and then maybe one day selling it,” says Beaupère, who is working on her second collection for New Ravenna.
Beaupère prefers to design with glass for its infinite color possibilities, from subtle pastels to the vivid jewel tones that have become more popular and that are not always achievable with natural stone. (Basalto, a common volcanic rock, can be glazed to achieve bright tones.)
Unlike wallpaper or paint or a piece of mass-produced furniture, mosaics are customizable and durable.
“That’s something that clients love,” says Beaupère. “A mosaic can bring life and energy into a space, it’s unique and something that no one else in the world has.”
New Ravenna has seen a pandemic-era spike in bespoke customization requests; from incorporating family names into a floor medallion to incorporating a customer’s local flora and fauna into one of the company’s Chinoiserie-esque patterns. Bird motifs are particularly popular at the moment and costumers are requesting very bold color changes to existing patterns.
But off-the-wall requests are also not uncommon. Irminger has designed several quirky bespoke mosaics, including a 5-foot-tall rabbit for the bottom of a pool, a portrait of a cat shaved to look like a lion and a silhouette portrait of a man and woman wearing nothing but cowboy hats. “It’s the greatest outdoor shower installation of all time,” she says.
And truly one-of-a-kind.