A unique take on a subway tile backsplash, featuring Rookwood’s Selene tile. Installed by David Sass.
Think you know everything there is to know about Rookwood Pottery?
“I love our history, our proud past, our reputation for innovative ceramics and glazing, but I also love our future focus, moving more into the architectural piece and creating Rookwood in new homes or restorations of older homes,” says Jennifer Berger, Rookwood Pottery’s Director of Sales. Berger, a native Cincinnatian with more than 23 years of experience, was hired last fall to lead Rookwood’s architectural tile teams.
Berger’s resounding rescript: Today’s Rookwood tile is not only for a fireplace, a backsplash or a shower, but for every room in a home. And it’s affordable.
“I think there is a misconception, just because of Rookwood’s legendary name and its history that Rookwood is a premium – and therefore untouchable – product, financially,” she says. “Homeowners may not be sure they can afford to install Rookwood.”
Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
“Rookwood tile is so versatile. Different colors, different glazes, different installs – they all result in different effects. It’s not an all-or-nothing product. Each unique tile is a piece of art – approximately 13 sets of artisans’ hands touch every tile from beginning to end. Yet Rookwood is reasonably priced.”
Berger shares the story of one customer who decided to install Rookwood behind her desk in the cozy nook between her kitchen and living room. Another customer installed Rookwood behind a bookshelf. The “wow” effect following both installations? Off the charts. Berger recently did a walkthrough at a home in Eden Park where the owner did a phenomenal job of reintroducing Rookwood throughout the entire house.
“Cincinnati is experiencing such a resurgence, such a revival, in OTR and Downtown,” Berger says. “Cincinnati is on the map, so if there is a perfect time to become reacquainted with Rookwood, it’s now. It fits so well into the excitement surrounding our city. We’re excited to work with homeowners, designers, installers, and others in creating our stunning, hand-crafted ceramic tile and architectural elements. Our new showroom features both our new releases and our heritage tile designs.”
Not Just Another Tile Job
Installing Rookwood tiles is akin to hanging invaluable works of art in customers’ homes, says David Sass, Castle Keep owner and general contractor.
“They want the tiles just so, and rightfully so,” says the Rookwood installer. “I have to respect the art that has been entrusted to me. Each tile is a work of art, in and of itself. Each tile is unique in size, shape and coloration because they’re handmade, handcrafted products. As an installer, I can’t presume, then, that they are perfectly aligned. I have to pay attention to each piece and place it where it needs to be. When you do that throughout the entire installation, you get an accumulative effect that is not attainable any other way.”
Typically, a Rookwood installation takes Sass three to four days to complete, and his customers’ input plays an integral role in the process.
“They are sharing in the creation of this unique work of art,” Sass says. “It’s not just another tile job, another remodel job. If you’re paying attention to the product, its history, and the people involved; if you’ve been onsite at the Rookwood production facility and have seen the faces of the local Cincinnatians putting these tiles together, you want to honor their work. They are not robots on some distant assembly line. They are Cincinnati people – vibrant folks – putting a lot of effort into producing an extraordinary product.”
Most of his customers are well-aware of historical Rookwood, Sass notes. Rookwood’s ongoing challenge, he believes, is to retain its historical aspects while meeting the current demands of the modern homeowner. “It’s difficult to keep one foot on your heritage and one foot on tomorrow,” he says. But if anyone knows how to stretch across that span, it’s Rookwood.
Rookwood Dreams Come True
Homeowner Karen Dorn grew up surrounded by Rookwood, and she chose to incorporate Rookwood into their kitchen renovation project because, well, she has always wanted to.
“We had talked about Rookwood for a long time,” she recalls. “I attended the former School for Creative and Performing Arts in the old Woodard Building down on Sycamore Street in OTR. There was a beautiful Rookwood tile drinking fountain and other Rookwood installations throughout the building, so it was always kind of a dream of mine. I just always associated Rookwood with beautiful things.”
Once they visited the Rookwood showroom and worked with the design team, Dorn realized her Rookwood dream was affordable, hence, attainable. The Whitman Rook Medallion tiles were really the starting point, the inspiration, for their color scheme, melding blues and greens.
“We saw the Whitman Rook tiles in the showroom – I believe it was a fireplace – and I got a feel for the way the blue and the green could play together,” Dorn explains. They decided to do their entire backsplash in the green and customize it by incorporating the blue. “This influenced pretty much everything else in the project, all the way down to the shade of the Calcutta marble we chose, and one of the custom cabinets we painted.”
What is it about Rookwood that most adds value to customers’ homes and their lives?
“It added value in the sense that it cost us the same as any other high-quality ceramic tile would have cost,” says Dorn. “We don’t feel we paid a premium for it, but we got the premium product, with the ability to customize throughout the process – it’s beautiful. It’s historic. It’s uniquely Cincinnati. And it’s a dream come true to have it in our home.”
When it came to remodeling her authentic 1929 bungalow in Milford, Ohio, Rookwood was destined to be a part of the project, says Susan Gates, an interior designer with Hueber Homes. “I knew I had to have it somewhere. Being an interior designer, I knew we wanted something that was a little different. I talked to the design team, found the pattern and a color I loved, and branched off from there.” Gates ended up choosing the Rookwood Tree of Life pattern for her wine bar back splash and fireplace, and the outside colors of the house all go with it.
“I love it!” says Gates. “It’s a conversation piece, having Rookwood in our home. We already had some little collectible pieces of Rookwood Pottery, so that just added to it. I am thrilled to show it to anybody. Rookwood is such a Cincinnati heritage. I’ve always loved the look and the history, and we have the perfect home to use it in. Now I wander around and think, ‘Hmm, where else can I put Rookwood tile?’ Maybe on a bistro table top on my front porch? That would be fun.”
Thank you to Lead Cincinnati for sharing the story of homeowners who have been delighted by their Rookwood installations.