Around the World in 30 Days

November 15, 2012
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Looking into a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton

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The view from the Ritz

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New factory in Chengdu

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New factory in Chengdu

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The block cutter in Wuhan

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The Fans house

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Making the soup dumplings

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Tile showroom Shanghai

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The woman with “golden hands”

Every year we wait excitedly for the tile show in  Bologna, Italy (Cersaie) and the stone show (Marmomacc) in Verona Italy. It is not only a chance for us to search for new products, but also to meet with vendors, longtime industry friends, and enjoy the outstanding Italian food and hospitality.

The friends, food and hospitality were, as always, incredible. We found a new favorite Amarone wine, and had a great visit to the vineyard when the shows were over.  However, Cersaie was a major disappointment to me this year.

As always, I started the show, by going first to see current vendors to view their new offerings.  Luckily for me, three of my favorites were in the same building. I was pleased (not thrilled, but pleased) with the products they were showing, and put together orders at all three. There has always been an issue at Cersaie, that as soon as one factory makes an interesting product, the other manufacturers copy it. But this year it was a joke.  The entire show was about 4 styles in porcelain:

-Fake stone

-Fake cement

-Fake wood

-And fake combinations of the above combined into one mixed product.

I use the word fake intentionally.  Italy has a long history of design innovation.  They pride themselves on the “made in Italy” label. The new technology that the Italian porcelain factories have is incredible. Why not combine the Italian love of design, with their leading technologies?  It baffles me that all they want to do is copy. I want innovation – not copies. I even saw porcelain manufacturers at the stone show, searching to see what stones were selling well so they could copy them.

So after walking the whole show, and seeing more and more and more and more of the same, I went back to the first three suppliers to review what I had selected.  I cancelled two of the orders, because the product was just not distinctive enough, and then went back to different manufacturers and selected what I felt was the very best of what was the very worst selection in years.

Most of Artistic Tile’s products are designed in house, and we seek vendors to manufacture for us. In porcelain technology, however, we cannot buy the enormous minimum quantities that are required for proprietary products, so we must purchase what we feel is the best of what is out there.  I eagerly await the day when Italy gets back on target and again leads the world in ceramic design.  Until then, I would suggest looking at stone, glass and handmade ceramic, unless you are working on a commodity project!

Marmomacc, the stone show, was better than Cersaie but again I saw no new technologies or developments. It is hard when you are always ten steps ahead.

After the show we spent days looking at slabs and blocks in the Carrara region. It seems that most of the Calacatta Gold that we will be receiving in the next year will have a rust (orange) stripe going through it.  Of course some pieces will have the orange stripe and others will not.  It is a fact of life. It is where the quarries are right now.  We can not change what nature has made. To keep the record straight – what we in the USA call Calacatta Gold, is actually from the Statuary quarries. It is Statuary with a gold vein in it.  The real Calacatta is from two other quarries and is more brecciated and colorful.  The stone does not come out of the ground with labels on it, and there is a lot of “misnaming” of products. The rule is – if you love it, who cares what the name is. “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just be careful when comparison shopping that you are comparing apples to apples. I saw at least 30 variations of “Calacatta Gold” in three days.  At Artistic Tile, we get a photograph of every lot of stone before we release it for shipping.  Upon arrival, an executive in our company rechecks all crates before we will receive material into inventory.

We were home for ten days and then off to China and Vietnam.

Our first stop in Asia was Shanghai. The fantastic skyline was starting to light up as we flew on elevated roadways to our hotel in Xian Tian Di. What a nice surprise to find a warm welcome and interesting design details at The Langham, although I am fairly sure the Barovier and Toso chandeliers were not original. We met up with friends and enjoyed a jet lagged dinner in one of the many restaurants just across the street from our hotel. None of us had trouble falling asleep that night.  We spent our first day in China checking out the tile showrooms of Shanghai, led by Henry Fan, my son Zachary’s closest friend who relocated to Shanghai several years ago. We saw a few friendly faces but not much of great interest design wise, although the local market seems to be booming.

We did manage to explore the Bund and the newly renovated Peace hotel. The original art deco style looks as glamorous today as it must have done in its heyday.   New to me was the proliferation of “luxury” brand stores, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, etc.  There seemed to me to be multiples of each in every neighborhood. I think have may have more “luxury” stores than they have Starbucks! And each one of them is huge in size. Little did we know that was to be the theme during the entire Asia experience. We were introduced (once again) to the wonderful world of Shao Long Bao, the local favorite soup dumplings. The chefs were behind glass and had a glorious assembly line of dough makers, dumpling fillers and “molding of the dumpling” finishers. I do not know that much about the various Chinese cuisines but I can say these dumplings are my new favorite. Someone should open a branch of this Taiwanese chain in New York.

Another great evening with dear friends, The Fans, at their beautiful home filled with unusual décor and fine art, and the next morning we were off on our whirlwind trip.

I am a person who travels a lot and has a pretty good grasp of the world but the array of 20 million+ cities in China still shocks me. We arrived in Wuhan (population 26 million) into a sea of mist, rain and cloud and proceeded to drive on empty super highways for over an hour. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at the factory to see a very comprehensive facility processing large volumes of material. While I still hope more vendors will put in color corrected light to QC material, I was extremely pleased with the product we are buying from them. After a full tour and a very unusual lunch, we were back in the air and onto our next destination.

Chengdu suffered terribly under the 2010 earthquake, but it was great to see the vibrancy and new development popping up all over town, including the never ending supply of all the international luxury brand shops. Our local supplier there is in the process of finalizing an enormous new and modern facility and it was a joy to see how proud his management team was in their new space. Once again, the size and scale of our suppliers, and their quest for innovation and technology is really inspiring. Perhaps the idea of “made in China” will soon become as desirable as “made in Italy” is! Another whirlwind of factory visits, both small and large, and we were on our way to Shenzhen.

I always thought this area was in the vanguard of development in China, and while that may have been true ten years ago, Shenzhen seems to have been left in the dust compared to its northern comrades. Roads and signs were only in Chinese, and buildings looked worn and dated. However, despite the confusing directions and somewhat long driving distances, we met up with several new factories and came away thrilled with our developments. Stay tuned for exciting new introductions in furniture and mosaics in 2013! After two super busy days in Dongguan we zoomed into the luxury and comfort of Hong Kong. This is a city that never sleeps and is never finished. New architecture and design are visible everywhere and the harbor was filled with boats, ferries, dredgers, cruise ships and more as we crossed yet another super bridge and tunnel. This city still seems to retain its edge and importance even as the rest of China continues to boom.

Our last stop was Vietnam, a country I have not visited in more than ten years. Ho Chi Minh City was still filled with scooter riders and you do take your life in your hands trying to cross the street. The city has changed so much, and the local authorities seem to be both knocking much of it down while building a totally new skyline all at the same time- and I don’t think urban planning is a high priority in this process. I don’t know what Ho Chi Minh will look like when it is finally finished but I would image it will look and feel nothing like what it does right now. We managed to meet a new supplier for the traditional art of cement encaustic, a technique introduced to Vietnam by the French over 100 years ago. This supplier is the largest and most well known in the country and many of their long standing employees have over 20 years experience working there. This technique is considered an art in Vietnam, and we met two different women who were awarded the Vietnamese “golden hands” category and their stories were told in the national press. It is so rewarding to meet people who love what they do and are nationally recognized for their artistry. That is the kind of experience that makes these long trips extremely satisfying.

Our final day was back in Hong Kong, where we toured the new hotels and luxury malls, to see the realization of many great interior designers and architects.  We were blown away by the new Ritz Carlton on the 108th floor of International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon, Hong Kong’s tallest building.  After seeing the stunning Palisandro Bluette installed in the hotel’s common areas, we could not help feeling that their interior designers had spent some time in our 21st street NYC showroom. Each and every restaurant in the hotel is spectacular, and the views of Hong Kong are not to be believed.  Our hats are off to the hotel’s designer firm (Singapore’s LTW Designworks) and the firm that designed the hotel’s six dining venues (Japan’s Spin Studio) – they both did a spectacular job.

We arrived back to the realities of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it caused in the North East. Some of our employees have suffered severe losses and we are trying to help them, as well as others who have suffered losses right here in our local community. It is always inspiring to travel and find new products and opportunities around the world, but as I always say when I land back at Newark Airport, I am truly thankful for my life in the USA and appreciate everything living here offers us; hurricanes, power outages and all!.

See you next time.

The Brains Behind Our Beauty

October 12, 2012

Many of you know that Artistic Tile has gorgeous, unique tile that is of the highest quality. What many people do not know is that behind all that beauty is a lot of brain power. In addition to the design focus that Artistic Tile is known for, we put an equal amount of time in to our technical focus.

Our resolve to make sure our products perform as magnificently as they look affects how we look at new products before we introduce them; how we test them; the time we take to look at how to install them properly, with the right products; and the way we provide all the information necessary to make sure they are installed properly.

We test our products in house and send them out to be tested by a third party when needed. We send the setting materials we match to each product to an outside company to test them. We created a setting material matrix as an industry tool and we stock a full range of setting materials at Artistic tile

We train our staff extensively and provide training and ongoing education to the design community. We conduct quarry tours so architects and designers get to know how the materials comes from the earth and becomes a slab or tile. We provide articles to trade magazines. Whether it’s providing CEUs to designers and architects, CTEF and NTCA training to contractors and installers, and education opportunities for end users, we are here to provide knowledge.

We encourage clients to consult with contractors before a product is specified and certainly before it’s installed and are here to facilitate that process. We know that our products can last and look great for an extremely long time if installed the right way and we go to lengths to avoid problems while there is still time to fix them.

To be honest, from my perspective it can be a pain! In addition to being Founder and CEO of Artistic Tile, I am the Chief Product Designer and really focus on bringing our clients the most beautiful and innovative tile from around the world. Luckily for me, our President of Wholesale, who is also my cousin, is Joshua Levinson. Josh is as passionate about the technical side of the business as I am about design and he makes sure we deliver the technical ability to support our product.

On a daily basis, Josh oversees the technical and logistical operations of the company, and works to insure the timely, safe and successful installation of Artistic Tile’s beautiful product on job sites worldwide. He is a frequent presenter to the trade, speaking at conferences, trade shows, universities, and at firms around the world. Years of practical knowledge gained through job site visits, quarry tours, factory inspections, and educational seminars have made him a sought after resource.

As a result of this passion and knowledge, Josh has been recently elected to The Tile Council of North Handbook Committee. Already MIA Education Committee Chair, a Voting Member of the Joint Committee on Dimensional Stone, an NTCA Technical Committee Member, and now a member of the committee that standardizes installation specifications for tile, Josh volunteers his time and efforts on the technical side of our business to ensure that installers have access to knowledge, guidelines and techniques that make products like ours look and perform as perfectly as all clients deserve. Not only is Josh a leader at Artistic Tile, he is an innovative leader in the industry.

So next time you think of us as just another pretty face, please think again!

 

Hola!

June 21, 2012

Hola from Mexico. I have been in Puebla and San Miguel de Allende working with some of our favorite suppliers developing new glass products as well as looking at a potential new partner for hand made ceramics. The weather has been extremely warm and sunny, and then fantastic rainstorms made great cloud watching in the evening. Our glass factory has been fantastic, as usual. While here we have developed new colorways and patterns to add to our already successful Jazz Glass lines. Now that I am the proud Grandmother of three girls I am florally inspired. We designed a delicate handcut mixed floral pattern that we might even be able to offer in brilliant colors. I am missing color!

As always there have been plenty of “happy accidents” occurring (quoted by my Director of Design, Jill Cohen, who is here working with me). We are studiously taking lots of photos of the developments and sending images back to home office for feedback. One thing is for sure, if you ask for an opinion from the A.T. staff, you get a diversity of opinions.

Jill and I had a productive five hour car ride with Sergio, our trusted driver, on smooth highways past beautiful high mountain scenery. The local volcanoes were very accommodating and showed off their picturesque summits, some covered in snow, and some spouting ash. Miles of greenery and high plains desert plants accompanied us on our ride. Sergio seemed to have the directions in his head, but I braved my iPhone roaming charges just to be sure we made it in to town OK. The one way roads in San Miguel de Allende are a force to be reckoned with!

 

A quiet dinner with an old friend and we were ready to review this new factory. The new factory is Oustide of San Miguel by about 30 minutes, in Delores Hildago, a town historically renowned for it ceramics. On the way we just had to experience roadside cuisine – gorditas a la carte! The surroundings may have been rustic but the food was anything but. Pre made fillings of Nopal (prickly pear cactus), potatoes, sausages all stuffed into a super fresh corn tortilla. Fast food takes on a whole new meaning.

Our factory visit was enlightening, and the hand made quality of the ceramics was on a new level for me – foot made – by mixing the clay in a winemakers dance. You have to see it to believe it. Our supplier was a charming host and hopefully will be a strong partner. He is certainly seems to know how to get things done in Mexico. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration. Stay tuned for new introductions coming in the fall.

It was a long and warm week, but I feel truly energized by the developments we saw and the potential for new and innovative Artistic Tile programs. Mexico continues to be one of my favorite places to visit, as the scenery, the food and the company were all outstanding. I hope you will soon get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

Hello Delhi

February 10, 2012

I recently returned from a trip to India where I got to visit our first dealer showroom located outside of North America. FCML, located in Gurgon, India – one of the fastest growing upscale communities outside of New Delhi. In addition to having an aesthetically beautiful showroom, it was heart-warming to hear the workers discuss their business philosophies, as they mirror our own. We share a client-centric viewpoint and the desire not to sell not just tile, but solutions. And like us they believe vignettes are the best way to sell products.

The world truly is getting smaller and the gratification I got from designing products that are admired in a world so far from removed from ours is immeasurable. It gave me an incredible feeling of accomplishment, that the company I founded in my hometown of Tenafly , NJ has grown to become a global supplier in the luxury market

One huge difference between the luxury Indian client and the luxury American client is the kitchen. To us, the kitchen is the center of the home, the place where family gathers. In India, the kitchen is a room for staff, not family.

Our product development in India was successful. Look for three to four new hand carved products, and for the first time one of our favorite stones Bianco Antico is being introduced in this great technique. We are working with our manufacturers daily to diversify materials and formats in our designs.

While there, we had the great luck (and great discount FCML arranged for us) to stay at the Oberoi Hotel in Gugan. This is the third Oberoi I have been fortunate enough to stay in. In addition to being spectacularly beautiful, the service was over the top. If you have a chance to visit India, you must stay with them.They are a benchmark of luxury service.

Despite the natural beauty of India, the warmth and friendliness of the people, and the wonderful accommodations, it is hard not to be saddened by the profound poverty. Whenever I travel overseas, I am joyful to come home. Not just to my home, family and business, but to the United States of America. For nowhere else is life as good for its citizens than the US.

On a separate topic, I’d like to take a moment in this blog to mention my cousin, and President of Artistic Tile’s Wholesale Division, Joshua Levinson.

I just read an article he wrote for Interiors & Sources magazine, the respected commercial design publication.

Allow me to quote from his first paragraph: “Natural stone is the sustainable building material of choice. It’s longevity, versatility, aesthetic beauty and performance characteristics are the attributes that have been prized since man’s very first building. The use of natural stone conjures up many emotions ranging from a sense of timelessness to a deep connection to the natural beauty encountered on our planet.”

Josh could not have said this better. He puts in to perfect perspective our thoughts and feeling about what we are selling. We are selling the future generation their memories of home. We are rooting people to their foundations, their families. We tie them to past and present.

Please read all of Josh’s article in the News>Editorials section of this site.

I am sure you will understand my pride in having taken my “little ” cousin from a fresh out of college to the incredible businessman and person he is today.

Best,
Nancy

Welcome to Nancy Epstein’s new blog!

December 23, 2011

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the new www.artistictile.com.

Artistic Tile has always been dedicated to inspiring your unique taste and lifestyle by offering quality products and custom alternatives. Our website’s mission is to simplify the process of turning your dream in to reality.

Welcome also to my first-ever blog, where I look forward to sharing my travels, inspirations, experiences, thoughts and the occasional photo of my grandchildren. From global travel and collaboration with artisans to overseeing the day-to-day operations and design at Artistic Tile, my life and work is infused with energy and a commitment to Bringing Art to Life. This blog is created to reflect that, and to invite you in to Artistic Tile’s world.

I hope you will provide feedback on what you think of our new look, I welcome your comments!

Nancy Epstein
Founder & CEO
Artistic Tile


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