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HomeContentArtisanFIRECLAY TILE – Defining artisan at scale, from tile manufacturing through installation

FIRECLAY TILE – Defining artisan at scale, from tile manufacturing through installation

California tile maker adds installation component managed by former NTCA President Martin Brookes

Fireclay Tile has showrooms in San Francisco, Berkeley and Aromas, Calif., and at its Spokane factory, with showrooms in New York, Southern California and additional locations coming soon.

First, some history. And many firsts!

The company now known as Fireclay Tile hearkens back to a family tradition of artists, and the Stonelight Tile company, a San Jose-based tile factory with roots going back to the 1920s. When he was 10, eventual Fireclay Tile founder Paul Burns started apprenticing with his uncle, owner of Stonelight. In 1986, with a team of three friends, he started making hand-glazed tile in San Jose, establishing Fireclay Tile. 

Roots for the conscientiousness and commitment that Fireclay exhibits and exemplifies today were evident early on. Fireclay became the first tile company to introduce 100% lead-free glazes in 1988. The company eventually moved most of its production to its Aromas, Calif., factory where it now produces its Original Ceramic, Handpainted, and Glazed Thin Brick products. 

In 1999, it developed its first recycled clay body, and recycling continues to be a foundational characteristic of the company. In fact, last year Fireclay recycled one million pounds of tile waste, plastic waste, PPE, and compost waste, achieving a 91% diversion rate. And by selling its Factory Sale Tile online, it diverts overproduced tile away from landfills and into inspired projects at a significantly discounted rate.

Two donations to Detroit schools from Fireclay Tile. Pictured below is Detroit Prep, with a 2020 tile donation and the above photo features another Detroit school with a wainscot of San Gabriel Thin Brick made in the Aromas, Calif., factory. One percent of all Brick purchases are donated to the National Parks Conservation Association. Photos: Stylish Detroit
Photo by Stylish Detroit.

Current CEO Eric Edelson joined the company in 2009 and put the company’s evolution into hyperdrive, creatively utilizing technology to streamline production and business processes. In 2014, Edelson drove the move away from wholesale selling to a direct-to-consumer model, online and through its San Francisco showroom and commercial sales team. And opportunities to purchase direct have grown, with showrooms springing up in Berkeley, at the Aromas factory as well as the Spokane, Wash., facility (after acquiring the Quarry Tile company) where the company’s Natural Press Ceramic Tile and Glass Tile lines are made. Later this year, showrooms will open in New York City and Los Angeles, along with other soon-to-be-announced locations. 

Hennepin Antique Light graces the wall at the Fireclay Berkeley showroom, with Antique Hexagon on the floor.

As the company grew, so did the commitment to stakeholders. In 2014, Fireclay claimed the distinction to be the first B Corp Certified tile company – standing among impactful companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s and reflecting unwavering commitment to social and environmental performance, accountability, transparency, and a sustainable, inclusive future. 

Advances kept coming, with a Climate Neutral certification in 2018 and a move to a 30% teammate ownership Certified Employee Owned company in 2020, after an initial foray into that concept in 2013. In 2021, the company broke ground on expanding its existing Aromas factory to produce tile at a greater scale, offer more Quick Ship stock and make more “Made for Good” sustainable tile for homes and businesses than ever before. Today, the company boasts a team of 320 among its two factories, showrooms, and distributed teammates.

Fireclay CEO Eric Edelson (l.) and Martin Brookes, Fireclay Director of Installation.

Installation to scale

The newest effort in bringing “artisan to scale,” as Edelson says, is the acquisition of Heritage Marble & Tile and the hiring of Martin Brookes as Director of Installation and his team to introduce the company’s installation services. The goal is to provide a “concierge experience” for Fireclay customers from tile selection through installation. Brookes, a past president of the National Tile Contractors Association, ran NTCA Five-Star Contractor company Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Ca. Edelson saw an opportunity to incorporate the experience that Brookes created for his clients, and scale it for more Fireclay Tile clients, starting initially with a team in California, and eventually aiming to scale it across the country. The way Fireclay scaled artisan tile manufacturing and brought it direct to clients, it is now aiming to raise the bar of residential tile installation across the board. 

The before and after shots of a Four Oaks home renovation by Jenna Roberts Design, now outfitted with 8″ x 8″ Vintage Leather tile by Fireclay Tile. Photos: Amanda Jane Jones.

“We are trying to do what no company has ever done before: make, sell, and install tile,” Edelson said. “We believe we can successfully train our craftsman installers on our products, and by incorporating our Design Services and our manufacturing excellence, we can set our team of installers up for success. As the largest artisan tile company in the U.S., we are in a unique position to deliver this, and the impact on our product and service for all installers across the country will only improve that much further.” 

Some installers have struggled or recoiled from installing artisan tile due to irregularities or time investment, but Edelson’s belief is that selecting and installing Fireclay Tile can be the “single greatest experience in your project – whether residential or commercial.” 

Brookes chimed in. “We are building a team integrated into the Fireclay culture,” he said. “We are trying to give the client the experience they deserve: for artisan tile to be installed as a piece of art, from hand boxing a piece of tile and handling it in the same way it is manufactured, with control over the process.” Brookes brought his entire crew to Fireclay, including 2022 Residential NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Gabriel Cortez.

Fireclay Tile’s San Gabriel glazed tile, vertical straight set adorns this brick backsplash. Photo by Maria Del Rio.

“I was excited when I started to talk to Eric over beer and pizza,” he said. “Everything Fireclay is doing, Heritage can complement. Everything in my business is parallel, but I wasn’t able to scale the way Eric can. Eric is a very smart man.” He said Edelson’s vision was able to elevate both Brooke’s intent for his company – while bringing Fireclay to the next level – in a way that Brookes couldn’t do alone. “It’s the next step up the ladder,” Brookes said, with ample resources of energy, tools, and people to create an integrated installation experience.

Even before this big step, Fireclay was dedicated to installation excellence, with a trade program for its A&D customers and installers and guides, materials and resources for recommended craftspeople across the country who install Fireclay tile. 

Made for good

In March, Fireclay Tile reintroduced its Glass Tile line, now produced in the state-of-the-art factory in Spokane, Wash. It was previously produced by a partner in Canada that has since closed its doors. Fireclay can now claim all its products are 100% manufactured in the U.S.

Part of the vision of the company extends beyond sales and installation – to doing good in the community, supporting the industry. 

“We give away a lot of tile,” Edelson said. A Pledge 1% partner, Fireclay donates one percent of tile it produces to non-profits – over 25,000 sq.ft. of tile last year. And Fireclay has long been a sponsor of Tile Heritage Foundation, supporting the essential work of ensuring historic tiles and their legacy will live on in posterity.

What’s on the horizon? New showrooms, an integrated comprehensive service model that reflects the understanding that a truly exceptional tile project relies not just on the quality of the materials but also on the proficiency of its installers, and current manufacturing of tile for the Obama Library in Chicago, which will be installed next year. 

The pride possessed by Fireclay as a team and a company extends beyond manufacturing to standing as an innovator and leader in sustainability and design. As a vertically-integrated company with 100% of its products made in the USA, Fireclay ensures that every piece of tile it produces meets its exacting standards for aesthetics and durability. 

“Above all, we believe that we make the most beautiful tile in the world,” Edelson said. “From the richness of our glazes to the artisan qualities of our designs, each tile tells a story of beauty, passion, and sustainability. When you choose Fireclay, we don’t just match your vision – we match your values, too.”

This kitchen backsplash, designed and photographed by Claire Tomas, combines Fireclay handpainted Alameda Cuera Seca tiles, Mini Star and Cross field tile and 1″ x 6″ Flatliner trim.
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Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor.

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