Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcome to our Gift Gallery!

In the spirit of the holiday season, I've collected items and events in this Holiday Gift Gallery! It's a great way to find creative gifts for everyone on your list and an opportunity to support the talented artists in our community.
Many of you know that  I have been affiliated with the Handmade Tile association for years. As a designer and lover of handmade tile, I have promoted many tile artists who are also members and included in the Handmade Tile Directory. Last year Josh Blanc, owner of Clay Squared to Infinity, opened a fun shop downtown in Gaviidae Commons for the Holidays. He is doing it again this year! Stop down for some very unique and local artisans gift - plus, 5% of all sales are donated to the Northeast Minneapolis Art District! Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.  Visit for more information.

I love the tile from Mercury Mosaics! Check out my Before/After  section on my website, photos 23-28 for a fantastic transformation on a "Spiff-up" using Mercury Mosaics as the centerpiece of the project! Their custom studio at the Casket Arts Building (681 17th Avenue NE, Mpls.) is open for the holidays on Thursday, December 6, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. and Saturday, December 8 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

I have used Northern Prairie Tileworks beautiful tiles in two installations and I am always amazed at the variety of designs, colors, glazes, patterns and everything they can accomplish in their local shop and factory. I have a new project I just completed that is a combination of Roger's 2" x 2" and 4" x 4" tiles - it's called the Not So Fancy Kitchen, and you can see photos of it on my Facebook page.

Fire On The Greenway Gallery & Studios, next door to North Prairie Tileworks, will be having their annual Holiday Sale this weekend, December 1 from 1 p.m. - 10 p.m. and December 2 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This is a collective of 17 potters and sculptures who utilize North Prairie's gas kiln for some of their work and includes two members of the North Prairie Tileworks staff. Check it out this weekend at 2845 Harriet Avenue, Minneapolis.

Check out this new Water Colorist!
In November, I met a new tenant and artist at the Cache event at the Casket Arts Building  who is working in the Interior Design field and she is a fantastic water colorist. Check out her studio in the Casket Arts building,  #109, on Thursday, December 6 and Saturday December 8. Her name is Bonnie Folkerts and her website is:  You can also purchase art and notecards on her website at

Give the gift of health and exercise to your friends! 
I have recently joined a great workout studio near my house in the Kingfield neighborhood. It's called Four Gates, and they will be offering Gift Certificates from their website.Consider giving your friends an unlimited pass for 30 days for $60! It was a great way for me to try all the classes and pick the ones I love that best fit my schedule

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I encountered beautiful tile art everywhere in Lisbon, Portugal—in the streets and pedestrian walkways, on the interiors and exteriors of buildings, in fountains, at railway stations…literally, everywhere. The designs draw on ancient art, contemporary design and everything in between. For a tile enthusiast like me it was an amazing experience. Please enjoy my impressions of the pavement and building tile art I experienced in my travels.

Pavement Art

Known as calcada Portuguese pavement art is everywhere in Lisbon and throughout Portugal. The art form is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia. Later it was brought to Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, Portugal is the centerpiece of the art form. Rocks and various locally obtained stone materials were used in ancient times – and still today. In fact, many of the original techniques are still in use, too. Part craft and part arduous labor, calcada involves long hours of laying stones from a prone position for low pay. The results, while picturesque, can also be hazardous (slippery when wet), prone to breaking up, and costly and time-intensive to repair. Sadly, this may be a dying art, giving us all the more reason to treasure and savor it now.

See more Lisbon pavement art in my Facebook Album.

Tile Art on Buildings

The exteriors of buildings in Lisbon Portugal are covered with tiles known as Azulejos, an Arabic word meaning “polished stone”.  They were introduced to Portuguese artisans by Spanish Moorish invaders early in the 15th century. The Moors, in turn, learned the craft from the Persians. The geometric designs featuring inter-locking, lace-like patterns and floral motifs are strongly influenced by Moorish art. Portugal also readily adapted the Moorish taste for completely covering wall and floor surfaces with decorations in the tradition of “horror cacui” or fear of empty spaces. In modern times there is no other country that has embraced tile to the extent that Portugal has. It was such a privilege to be there and experience it in person. Following are some of my photos and impressions…

This fountain was created for the site of the World’s Fair Expo. The water flowing over the individual colored tiles made some amazing patterns.

I love the way this doorway is framed in tile that blends with the door color and the unique terra cotta archway over the door. The design is composed of a combination of striped tiles tipped diagonally and a geometric star pattern.

The fa├žade of this tile factory (above) is from the 1800's. The blue and white patterns show a lot of Dutch influence because many tile artisans migrated to Portugal from Holland. In turn, both Dutch and Portuguese tile artisans were greatly influenced by Chinese porcelains. 

The wall pattern in this courtyard contains floral motifs, however, the overall design looks geometric. The primary border is a very traditional geometric pattern. The blue and white background at the base looks more free form in design—almost "sponged."

This tile exterior is quite elaborate with many colors introduced throughout the patterns: yellow, blue, green, pink, and white. I especially appreciate how the stone border around the door opening takes several jogs and the tile follows the jog pattern. The border tile truly accentuates this French-style door frame!

Why does this wall remind me of Amish quilt patterns? With bold geometrics and vivid use of color this pattern also has the extra diamonds that are created by the corners of the four tiles coming together. Note the goofy repair job in the border around the door’s upper left corner, vertical side. 

Here my favorite lime green color is mixed with a teal green, an unusual combination which I like! Again, the pattern becomes more intricate with the edges of all the tiles creating another pattern to make diagonal stripes across the entire wall. 

This wall looks modern to me... however, it was applied to a very old building. I did not see subway style tile (popularized by the New York subway system, early 1900's) very often. I especially like the beveled edges of the individual tiles. The green textured spiral border is fantastic. 

This was the front of a restaurant. This pattern almost looks Art Nouveau style. The wood grid pattern around each tile creates a stained glass window look.

Look at this great color combination, so popular for today, aqua and teal!

These tiles and colors are good examples of Moorish influences. 

This tiled wall at Sintra, at the World Heritage Site in Portugal, is another example of Moorish influences.

The photo on the right is a close up of the tile that surrounds the arch. 

This tiled wall was also located in Sintra at the Palacio National de Sintra. According to National Geographic Traveler, Portugal, by Fiona Dunlap: "It is Portugal's oldest palace which spans more than 8 centuries of history from it's Moorish origins until the end of the monarchy in 1910. 

From Azulejos, Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon: "This pattern is called enxaquetados which is a linguistic archasim associated with checkered compositions: geometric ceramic pieces obtained mainly through the alicatado process, the forms being cut from previously baked monochrome (blue, green, white) ceramic plaques. This is a composition that was practiced in the late 1600's." 

I first saw one of my favorite patterns in the Azulejos Museum. Seeing it later at the Palacio National de Sintra was a fantastic bonus. 

From Azulejos, Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon

"The star motif shown here seems to be a stylized version of the original Islamic models, as initially the themes that were known with this configuration, included knots, referring to the idea of the firmament as an immense carpet on which the stars are embroidered." 

I love the strong diagonal line of this beautiful tile as it follows the upward “movement” of the steps. 

Portuguese azulejos artisans left no surface undecorated for our viewing pleasure. I know they inspired me, and their influences will no doubt turn up in my future designs. I hope my photos and impressions have inspired you too!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Central European Travel Adventures

This month my Color Blog is all about the sights and colors of Central Europe. My husband and I just returned from a three-week motorcycle trip through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Naturally, my mind and imagination are filled with vivid images and my heart is full of passion for the places we visited, the natural beauty, architecture and art we saw, and of course, all the amazing people we encountered.

The weather was almost perfect with only one day of rain. The terrain varied from mountains to foothills; from the Adriatic sea to teal-colored mountain lakes with stunning waterfalls; from medieval walled seaside villages to the vastness of the rolling countryside near the Bosnian border; from lush, green hills with evergreen trees to sandy barren landscapes with olive and fig trees. It was all spectacular and memorable. Seeing the varied architecture, the quaint villages and medieval walled cities, and the people working in their gardens with rustic implements preserved from another era often gave us a sense of timelessness.

I want to share just some of my photos and impressions with you – though anyone who knows me, understands it was definitely a challenge to narrow it down to these few!

Plitvice Lakes National Park

This is a beautiful park with 13 interconnected lakes, punctuated with waterfalls between each lake. The color was the teal blue/green often seen in mountain lakes. It reminded us of our beloved Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area – and we felt at home…with a difference.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Most of the waterfalls rushed over green vegetation, including ferns, moss or trees and some and logs and rock formations.

Near the Bosnian border 

We saw constant reminders of the 1995 warfare. It was startling to see that the exteriors of many homes in this area still bore the scars of bullet holes.

Near Klagenfurt

We began and ended our tour in this city. We spent our first day bicycling around part of this lake, watching sailboats and Harley motorcycle riders. Harley is the best selling bike in Europe. All motorcyclists and scooter operators are required to wear helmets. Motorcycling is a great way for Europeans to travel between their countries. With fuel costs of $10 per kilo it is the economical way to go. We spoke with Italians, Spaniards, and Germans who enjoy this low-cost method of traveling as much as we do. 


The mountains here were snow capped and that kept us from riding through the passes but it was fantastic to see their beauty all around us. 


The countryside is very lush with lots of shades of green, from the spring green grass to the forested hills thick with the deep color of the evergreens. 

BMW was the preferred motorcycle for our tour and we totally enjoyed traveling on this spacious bike. 


Isn't this fun and colorful? Pairing yellow with grey is such a popular combination now. I was constantly on the lookout for the perfect troll to bring home to my garden in Minneapolis!


This photo is from our first day in Austria. We saw several churches and fortresses on hills along the way. So picturesque. There was always something new to capture our attention on the road.

Opatija, Croatia
On the Adriatic Sea 

The coastal area of Croatia is very hot. It is covered with rocky beaches and quaint little fishing villages. We experienced this sunset from our hotel room, which was in a very old coastal city once ruled by the Hapsburgs. The houses and mansions here are very grand, their ornate decorations reminiscent of an older, more elegant time.

Rovinj, Croatia
Walled coastal town

We traveled by motorcycle across the peninsula of northern Croatia to this walled medieval village on the opposite coast. The streets in the central area and harbor are walking only -  which really makes the pace of life seem much slower and more calmly measured. 

Coastal towns

This was our view on the way to the islands of Croatia. There are many picturesque villages all along the Adriatic sea.

Goats in the hills

As we were leaving the coast and heading into the foothills and mountains it became a common occurrence to encounter livestock on the single laned roads. Cars constantly had to pull over to allow other cars to pass. We saw many older women out working in their gardens wearing their traditional black outfits with aprons and babushkas. 

Otocec, Slovenia

On our last day of traveling I admired the quaintness and open landscaping of this area. 

It was sad to leave these beautiful and very interesting Central European countries!  We hope to return to these areas again one day and explore them further.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Designing with Tile

Minnesota Tile Festival September 15, 2012

It’s September and that means it’s time for one of my favorite events – the Minnesota Tile Festival, the best and one of the largest handmade tile festivals in the country. This year’s festival is being held at American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, in the beautiful outdoor courtyard created by the addition of the new Nelson Cultural Center. Meet over 30 tile and mosaic artists. Participate in “See It, Make It” demonstrations and creation opportunities.

I’m excited to be one of the sponsors of the Tile Bucks Drawings, an opportunity to win $125 to spend with participating artists on the day of the festival. Drawings will be held at noon and 2 p.m.  Check my Facebook page for a Tile Bucks entry form you can download, and bring to the festival to enter the drawing.

Other highlights of the day include:

  • Handmade Tile Art Fashion Show / Competition (1 p.m.): A unique collaboration of 15 local fashion designers and the talented handmade tile artists. The show is emceed and judged by Melinda Nelson, Senior Editor of Mpls. St. Paul Magazine.
  • Art Car Creation: Using tiles donated by members of the Handmade Tile Association, Lori Greene of Mosaic on a Stick invites one and all to help “tile” an art car.
  • Silent Auction of art tiles
  • Guest speakers
  • Artists’ Award Presentations 

This year’s festival is better than ever. Don’t miss out on this fun-filled day!

Creative Ways to Use Ceramic Subway Tile

1904 New York City subway station: This Old House
Recently I read a fantastic article called, “ All About Ceramic Subway Tile” in the August issue of This Old House Magazine. The author, Laura Fisher Kaiser, explains that Subway tile, true to its name, was originally designed for New York City’s subterranean train stations in the early 1900’s. The tile quickly became popular with homeowners and moved into prewar bathrooms and kitchens. The epitome of sanitary; it is easy to clean, stain resistant and reflects light. The most common size was 3” x 6”. Today it is available in many rectangular sizes. The rule of thumb is that the length is twice its height. Traditionally the tiles were set horizontally, but many contemporary designs are being installed vertically to achieve interesting effects. Materials now vary too, including glass tiles.

In 1995 Josh Blanc, currently of  Clay Squared to Infinity and the president of the Handmade Tile Association, worked with other artisans of North Prairie Tileworks to create reproductions of Guastavino 6" x 12" grooved tiles (in colors ranging from turquoise green to a turquoise blue) for the tunnel under the main staircase of the Minnesota state capitol building. So classic - so beautiful!

In my own kitchen and bath designs I have used handmade subway tile from three local tile artists: North Prairie Tileworks, Mercury Mosaics, SoMi Tileworks. See samples of our collaborations below — then plan to meet the artists and see more of their work at the Minnesota Tile Festival.

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design
with North Prairie Tileworks

North Prairie Tileworks

I worked with the artisans of North Prairie Tileworks to create this kitchen backsplash featuring subway tile with a beautiful Morris inspired medallion insert. The switch plate covers were also made to match. The installation uses a 50% stager pattern with the tiles lining up in at the mid-point of the tiles above them. This is a very traditional installation pattern.

Mercury Mosaics

This kitchen backsplash was created by Mercury Mosaics for one of my Kitchen Spiff-Up projects. By using a non-staggered (or stacked) installation method—where all the tiles line up evenly at the outside edges—we gave the old cabinets a more contemporary look.

Spiff Up project designed by Christine Nelson Design 
with Mercury Mosaics

SoMi Tileworks

Here the color of the subway tile melts into the color of the countertops, allowing the eye-catching poppy medallion and flower tile accents created by SoMi Tileworks to really pop. The medallion is removable for cleaning ease, or to move to a new home. 

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design 
with SoMi Tileworks

Grout Matters

Bathroom designed by Christine Nelson Design
shows contrasting grout 
Grout color makes a huge difference in the visual outcome of every tile installation. It is available in a wide range of colors. Sometimes it is nice to match the color of the tile. When more contrast is desired for interesting effects I like to experiment with lighter or darker grout choices. Make sure to have the grout sealed so stains cannot collect on the grout.

In this bathroom design I chose a darker grey grout to offset the white subway tile—making the checkerboard pattern stand out more. The matte glass subway tile in the tub area has a lighter grout for the same contrasting effect.

Here is an example of a bathroom design where I used the same white subway tile as in the example above but chose a near-match grout for a more unified, subtle effect.

Bathroom designed by Christine Nelson Designs
showing a unified look with matching grout

Creating Patterns With Subway Tile

Running board or 50% stagger
This pattern is noted in several of the photos above. With this type of installation it is necessary to make multiple cuts at the ends of the tiled walls. This works best with walls that are slightly out of square.

See the Mercury Mosaics / Spiff-Up kitchen backsplash above. This method creates a more contemporary look.

Installing subway tiles vertically creates an even more contemporary look and works well in small spaces to give the illusion of taller ceilings. The vertical installation can use either the staggered or stacked method. The tiles shown in the photo to the left are glass tiles. 

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design with vertical staggered tiles

In this example, vertically set tiles create aqua and black stripes on a bathroom wall. Also in this bathroom wall you can see how different sizes were used; the tiny subway tile on the bottom with the horizontal staggered installation, and the much larger subway tile above the sink with the vertical stacked installation. These variations add a nice contrast in size, colors and direction.

Vertical stripes installation: 
This Old House magazine

Either a focal point or an entire backsplash can be installed in a herringbone pattern for a very intricate and interesting effect. Allow at least 15% extra tile to account for the numerous cuts with this pattern.

Herringbone stove backsplash:
This Old House

Other Design Details

Framed focal point - as in the SoMi Tileworks poppy medallion (see above) or as in this example, where subway tile is set in a different direction inside the medallion area.

Famed tile pattern: This Old House 

Contrasting base and cap often includes a border tile with a design to add a great deal of contrast and color punch! 

Decorative inset tiles by North Prairie Tileworkx
Similar color base and cap usually means that the caps are glazed around the entire top for a finished look. 

Borders are a fun way to bring in more color and pattern into the space. Both of my bathroom designs shown above include tile borders.

Scattered accents are a great way to display very special handmade tiles surrounded by subway tile. 

Obviously, I love handmade tile! I hope that seeing the enduring beauty and versatility of handmade tile has inspired you to attend the Minnesota Tile Festival and to start planning your next kitchen and bath project. Let’s do it together!