Living_Landscape

Field Tiles’ DTC, Digital-First Model is Reinventing the Tile Industry, One Imperfect Square At a Time

This piece is part of Sight Unseen’s 2020 Offsite Offline coverage. To view Field Tiles’s virtual booth on Offsite Online, click here. Renderings by Stefano Giacomello

A former architect, sculpture assistant, and longtime designer for The Standard and Rosewood Hotel brands, Alex Bertman recently had the idea to harness his combined knowledge from all of those careers into a single company: Field Tiles, a new DTC tile brand whose debut HM01 (Handmade 01) collection celebrates the beauty and craft of tile-making while embracing the inherently imperfect interplay between science and color. “I have always loved ceramics,” explains Bertman. “The home I grew up in was filled with brightly colored ceramics from the ’60s that my mom collected, so there’s some nostalgia involved working with brightly colored tiles.” But the real reason Bertman started Field Tiles came from the feeling that there was a gap in the market when it came to a go-to ceramic supplier for young, up-and-coming interior designers who wanted an updated customer service and purchasing model. “Most tile distributors’ business models are outdated — purchase stock, warehouse, mark up the inventory,” explains Bertman. “We are using a DTC model and focusing on digital first, making it super easy to specify and purchase tile through our online showroom.”

Bathroom_Portrait

Each collection of Field Tiles will fit certain criteria: high fired, which means the tiles can be used anywhere (interior, exterior, wet, or freezing), interesting colors (and lots of them), a good price point for trade clients, and standardized formats. But the plan is for each collection to be made in a different factory in a different locale, knowing that handmade tiles can vary wildly depending on where they’re made due to differences in the soil — and that that is part of the fun. HM01 is made in Mortágua, about two hours north of Lisbon, while HM02 will be made in the US, and HM03 in Mexico. “We can offer specialties based on what a factory’s capabilities are,” Bertman explains. “Like for HM01, the metallic and oxide finishes are unique to the Portuguese factory we’ve worked with.”

The pilot collection, which launched at Offsite, is simple and appealing: 113 solid colors and 16 standard formats, all handmade in Portugal from natural clays with the help of an in-house factory colorist — an important addition as Bertman is colorblind. “I don’t see color, so it’s important to work with someone who understands the science and art of glazing — as well as where the two meet, such as in producing on a mass scale while also interpreting acceptable variations in a style,” he says. In Field Tiles, no two pieces are exactly the same — subtle nuances in shading details or irregular edges and surfaces create a unique character and deliberately imperfect property. “We don’t have machinery doing the molding during the manufacturing process,” says Bertman. “All of the discrepancies and tolerances are based on the hands of the person that’s making them. That’s why we list on some of our products that there is a high variation in the color, because if you apply a yellow or red glaze to a natural tile, it doesn’t look anything like how it will turn out after it’s fired in a kiln at over 1000 degrees Celsius.”

Kitchen_Portrait_modified

Pool_Portrait

In addition, even if the same glaze oxides are used at a factory in Portugal and a factory in Mexico, the results of the firings will be different because the clays and processes differ from factory to factory.  By working in this way, Field Tiles helps emphasize the unique qualities of the origins of the tiles and uses those differences to market the products. “It’s very inspiring to use a product that’s unique to your space,” says Bertman. “Like two people could order a cobalt blue tile but their installations will look totally different because of the variant in the glaze. People are gravitating towards that experience.”

The design market loves anything tethered to tradition, empathic to craftmanship, or sustainably produced, and Field Tiles ticks all three boxes, recycling clays to reduce impact on the environment. But perhaps Field Tiles’ biggest innovation lies in taking the guesswork out of specifying tile. “It’s disappointing when you’re an interior designer, and you fall in love with a product, but then you learn that it can’t be installed in a shower, or outside, or in hotel lobby because it’s too fragile, or simply because it’s too expensive,” says Bertman. “All of our tiles are super high quality and can be installed anywhere because they are high fired, and our prices are among the best for this quality because we are made to order and ship direct from the factory to the client.” The digital showroom is also incredibly simple to navigate, and enjoyable at that: Virtually step in and be rewarded with a serious feast for the eyes and senses — taupes and pastels, vibrant oranges and ocean blues, all of them showing the mark of impeccable quality. “I wanted to offer a very simple but premium product and make the experience better too,” says Bertman. “We’re on the boutique side of hospitality and higher-end adventurous homeowners or residential interior designers, all seeking something that feels authentic and timeless but with character.”

Living_Portrait