MEET THE MAKER SERIES: TESS TILE
#Designinthetimeofcorona has given me the opportunity to step back and connect with several artists and creatives that I have personally worked with to build my business or for client work. This week we have the ever wonderful and endlessly talented Marnee Good of Tess Tile. Tess Tile is based in Minneapolis (yay!) and creates handmade tile with glazes that are remarkable and versatile. Tess Tile handcrafts and thoughtfully curates their shapes and tile to be relevant to any design style. I discovered Tess Tile while I was sourcing for #jmidrewave (see the amazing tile below!), it was love at first sight. Read on for my interview with Marnee, her journey to tile maker and how to incorporate Tess Tile into your next project!
jmi: Tell us about your passion for handmade tile!
tt: My love for clay came before the passion for tile. My love for clay began during childhood, and it matured in college where I received a BFA in sculpture. I have found joy and success working with many mediums, but I have often returned to clay. Clay has the ability to tell a story and keep record in ways that other materials cannot; objects made from clay often have a presence and humanness that draws us in to tell that story. It is a challenging medium that forces its handler to slow down, pay attention, be patient and gentile.
My passion for tile, like so many things, was born from need. I needed tile for a bathroom remodel. I have a tiny bathroom in a small 1940’s home, and I wanted tile to be the focus. As I researched tile options, I was immediately drawn to the tile that had been made by hand. I quickly went from wanting to purchase the tile, to knowing I wanted to make it, not just for myself, but for my career. I slowly converted my then woodshop into a clay studio, and tile became the perfect marriage of my love of clay and my love for thoughtful, inviting and enduring design.
Going forward, I will mostly use we instead of I. I am currently the only employee of Tess Tile and it is my baby, but I hope to grow this business, offer employment and a creative work environment for artists, designers, and craftspeople. There is also no way I could have created Tess without the help and generosity of many friends, family members, and my very supportive and skillful partner.
jmi: What types of tile do you make?
tt: We make ceramic tile. Our tile is fired to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, we fire to what is considered mid-range; generally speaking we fire hotter than you would for earthenware and cooler than you would for porcelain. We make field tile, trim and dimensional (or relief) tile. We also have one-of-a-kind dimensional offerings in the works.
jmi: Tell us about the different clay bodies you make and how they differ.
tt: We use commercial clay bodies made by Continental Clay Company here in Minneapolis. We offer two clay bodies, the first is a groggy white clay, that once fired, reveals a sandy, speckled surface. It is really lovely under our transparent glazes. The second is a dark iron clay body that is much smoother and is almost chocolate brown once fired to vitrification. The clay bodies we use are very durable and have low absorption rates.
jmi: How long does it take to make custom tiles?
tt: Every Tess Tile is made by hand and made to order, so there are lead times associated with each job. The lead time generally depends on the shapes chosen and the size of your order, but it can also be affected by a number of other circumstances.
When making our field tile, we either extrude sheets of clay or roll-out large slabs with a giant rolling pin. For some shapes, we use specially designed cutters to pop out shapes, or we individually measure, trace and cut our custom shapes. Our dimensional tiles are made by hammering clay into custom-made plaster molds. Each tile is then left to dry for a number of days, because allowing the tiles to dry slowly and evenly prevents them from warping. Once dry, they are loaded into their first firing (bisque fire), then individually glazed by hand, and fired again (glaze fire). Each firing takes around 30 hours between loading and unloading.It is very important to us that we make a uniquely beautiful, high-quality product, that is worth the wait.
jmi: Grout can be complicated, any tips for choosing grout?
tt: Grout decisions are almost as important as your tile choices, especially with handmade tile. Handmade tile is imperfect. It is this imperfection that makes it so compelling, but it can also make it more challenging to install. Choosing a high contrast grout color will emphasis pattern and make your tile and grout lines pop. Choosing a more neutral tone or matching grout will turn your tiled area into a more cohesive field. This choice will emphasize depth and surface finish.
With larger tiles (3”>) we recommend a grout line of 3/16” or greater, and for smaller tiles (2” <) a grout line of 1/8" or greater. Having a wider grout line will help visually absorb some of the inherent variation.
The color of your grout may also bring out or emphasize similar tones in the glaze color.
With our custom, more angled shapes like the Boot or the Leaf tile you will not find uniform grout spacers helpful. These shapes will have a varying grout line which can create an attractive pattern of its own.
It is always advisable to get samples and make tests. Tests will allow you to see what the tile and grout look like next to each other, next to surrounding materials and in its environment more generally.
Samples and tests will also let you see what your tile looks like when the room is filled with light, and when the light is dim.
jmi: Tell us about all of your gorgeous glaze colors and how you select your glazes.
tt: We are endlessly enchanted by the outdoors. The north woods, our countless bodies of water, our dynamic seasons, the lichen and fungi --all give guidance for the colors and names of our glazes. We try to find glazes that can bring the spirit and the mood of the outdoors- indoors. Our love for the outdoors also insists on a dedication to protecting it, so we want glazes that can stand the test of time, buck ever changing trends and age gracefully within its residence. Our tile choice today, if allowed, could live on far longer than any of us. It could tell stories about our culture, our creativity, and our families. So, no pressure right?
We currently use commercial glazes, some made locally, others made throughout the country. A number of glaze lines are mixable, so some of our offerings are mixed here in the studio. Commercial glazes have many benefits, but I do hope to begin making some of our own glazes down the line.
jmi: How can we place an order or connect with you?
tt: All of our tile can be purchased directly from our website, but reaching out in an email or on the phone is recommended. We want to make sure you are getting exactly what you need to make your project a success. We also have a “How to Order” page with some helpful information regarding lead times, and how much overage tile to buy.
If you are looking for glaze samples, they can be easily ordered online here.
If you choose to order tile directly from the website, we will still reach-out to confirm your choices, and the projects lead time before we begin making your tile.
If you are a designer or architect looking for samples for your library, please contact us directly for trade pricing and sample packs. Get in contact with us here!
jmi: Any other information we should know about your tile or specifying tile for a project?
tt: We are also very excited about our give back program. We donate 3% of our sales to support regenerative agriculture. The donations go to the non-profit, Farmers Footprint. We love their mission, and the beautiful way they tell the story about the incredible farmers that sustain us all.
THANK YOU to Marnee and and all of the goodness behind Tess Tile! Go give her a follow on Instagram and file their name away for your next project!