Telling a Story Through Tiles

One daring personalization through glass can be found in the Manhattan apartment of Babak Hakakian, a partner in Ddc, the high-end contemporary furniture company. Mr. Hakakian hired Mr. Chen to design the loft space, and together they covered the walls of a powder room in bright red glass — “Massimo Vignelli red,” as Mr. Hakakian called it.

Mr. Hakakian selected glass from the venerable Italian company Bisazza because, he said, it’s harder to achieve real true colors with stone tile, and because he knew the firm’s high-end, artisanal tile would wow guests.

The project wasn’t cheap. Though Mr. Hakakian received a trade discount, the glass tile he used costs $84 a square foot, far more than the $5 to $15 price of more basic stone tile. (Bisazza’s glass mosaics, meanwhile, can cost from $20 to $550 a square foot, before installation). But describing the effect, Mr. Hakakian said: “It’s all the things red is — it’s energizing, vital, fun, lively. It’s really sexy.”

A representative of New Ravenna said homeowners who use the company’s tiles can expect to spend from $300 to more than $1,000 a square foot for a patterned installation, depending on the intricacy of the design and the specific tiles selected. As one might expect, 24-karat gold glass will send a budget skyward.

Glass mosaics certainly have the power to stun, especially after two decades of shelter magazine spreads of spare, midcentury modern interiors. To walk into Bisazza’s Manhattan showroom is to feel like a visually starved person being treated to a banquet. There are kaleidoscopic mosaics of Renaissance-esque floral bouquets, geometric patterns, the giant face of young Napoleon Bonaparte.


A powder room in the New York City apartment of Babak Hakakian, by Eran Chen. Credit Frank Oudeman

Piero Bisazza, the chief executive, said the 62-year-old company has never wavered in its love of color and pattern. “You do not change your identity because fashion goes one direction or another,” he said. “We enjoy decoration, there’s no denying it.”

Nevertheless, he is finding that fashion is coming to them. “Flower power is very, very strong,” Mr. Bisazza said when asked about his most popular designs. “The pendulum is swinging back to rich — not opulent — but rich interiors.”

Annie Elliott, an interior designer in Washington, has been trying for years to get clients to embrace glass tiles for more than an accent strip in a bathroom or kitchen. It’s an investment not only of money, but also of structure and permanence, she said, and many homeowners are concerned about resale value or a design choice they’ll later regret.

“I understand it is a commitment,” Ms. Elliott said. “But when a client is bold enough to use glass on a whole wall, the effect is stunning, stunning.”

Ms. Elliott followed her own advice. Inspired by Gracie, the firm known for hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper, she commissioned an artist to create a reverse-painted glass backsplash that is 8 feet wide, runs the length of her kitchen wall and replicates the look and fine detail of Audubon bird illustrations. The art glass, made up of three sections, gives her backsplash wall depth and brightness of color.

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