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Installation Stories: River Rock Goes Mid-Century

By Kali |

Our River Rock handpainted tiles have found a home in a recently updated Mid-Century Eichler and they make for a beautiful pairing. Opting for River Rock in a Neutral Motif, this soft, subtle pattern compliments the space while also paying a quiet homage to the house's roots. Amie Neff, the homeowner, said it was important to them that they honor their Eichler but also that they make it theirs as well.

Below, we talk with homeowner and architect, Amie Neff, about her experience with her Eichler and our tile (of course):

1.) How did you hear about Fireclay Tile? Who here helped you, what did you enjoy about the experience?

I’m pretty new to California and when I move to a new place I like to learn about the local artists and artisans doing dynamic work. Fireclay was a part of that research. The best part of my experience with Fireclay was heading down to the (now sadly closed) boneyard and talking with the guys in the yard. They were passionate, knowledgeable and just downright kind. We sped over there one evening during the project construction to see if we could buy some more of the white “H” tiles (Chaine Homme, see image below), after we came up short, and happened upon a company BBQ—did they rush us? no! They invited us to eat with them! We had amazing grilled flank steak, chicken and fish, they made us tacos with homemade tortillas, offered us beer and lemonade. You could feel the Fireclay family is very tight.

Tile Shown: Amie Neff also used our Chaine Homme tiles in White Wash to make her bathroom flooring.

2.) Can you tell me about the space? Is there any story behind it and the project that you want to share? What did it look like before? What did you change?

We are the 3rd owners of the house which was built in 1951 by Joseph Eichler. I think Eichler also did the first renovation in 1968. Over the years there were a number of additions which moved away from that simple 1950’s style. Just before we bought it, the owner did a cosmetic update which enabled us to live here quite comfortably for a couple years. Our hope was always to make it more ‘our’ space, and as a designer, I wanted to make sense of the multiple add-ons.

Image: The kitchen before...

We uncovered a lot of hidden gems as we did the demolition—like the original front door and side light, sandwiched in the kitchen wall! It helped us figure out how the house had changed over time. Because the kitchen had been built in what had been the 1950’s courtyard, there was an awkward double entry into the house. Trying to re-jig the flow, and harmonize the two front doors of the facade was an interesting challenge.

We bought the house in March of 2013. When we started the interior work we knew we didn’t want to change the footprint. I love the outside and having lived in a place where our outdoor lives were limited by extremely cold weather (Montreal for 7 years), I feel lucky to be comfortable outdoors for so much of the year. Tract #795 also has a one-story height limit, so there is no way to add a second story—nor did we feel we needed the extra space. We added walk-in closets in the master, increased the size of the master bath, added a full scale walk-in pantry, a guest bathroom, storage in the kids bathroom, and built-in closets and shelving for the guest room all within the existing footprint. When our friends come to see the house they are always shocked to learn that we added 0 square feet.

3.) What type of look or aesthetic were you going for?

Neither my husband nor I are purists about Eichler houses, that is to say, we don’t want to live in a museum to the 1950’s: It doesn’t represent us, or the rich experiences we have had in our lives. But we wanted to pay homage to this iconic style and to the uniquely California feeling of an Eichler house. These houses are not only classically California, but tell an interesting post-war story about our country’s quirky history. Modernism was alive in part because of the war; because of the subsidies the government gave to help returning veterans afford a home, and because of the outstanding designers and visionaries fleeing Germany who found a welcome home in our universities and design houses. To ignore that aesthetic wouldn’t feel right. Fireclay has an amazing pallet for patterns and color schemes which cross decades and cultures. The Sakura collection is at once Japanese, and also deeply 1950’s.

Tile Shown: River Rock in Neutral Motif

4) How did you come up with your color scheme and design?

Actually, the color scheme and design came after we chose the tile. So I guess you could say we designed the kitchen around Fireclay. We didn’t want maple, oak or cherry cabinets, which is what most kitchens that aren’t painted are. We both love walnut and walnut gets top billing in lots of Mid-Century modern furniture, along with teak. Too much walnut would be dark though, so we chose a painted door panel that matched one of the colors in the River Rock tile. We also had to work around the existing structure: big support beams span the kitchen and dictate where the cabinetry would go.

Image: The Kitchen now!

5.) Why did you choose the color/pattern?

My husband and I visited the San Jose showroom before choosing our tile. We had a few samples of field tile and some glass tiles, but we wanted to see a larger selection. We were flitting from one amazing tile to the next, but when we finally found the Neutral Motif River Rock pattern we knew we had found the tile we loved. At one point while the tiles were in production, I second guessed my choice, that lasted all of about 3 minutes, and I haven’t had one regret since it was installed. Ultimately we wanted something that made sense stylistically, but wasn’t overly formal. We like fancy, but we also have a sense of humor, and two kids. We found something that was fun and elegant.

Tile Shown: River Rock in Neutral Motif

6.) How did the installation process go? Did you face any challenges? Did you work with a tile installer or contractor?

The installation process was fairly easy. We had to do some cabinetry adjustments after we had already ordered the tile. With the new cabinet dimensions, the backsplash was 1-1/2” taller. Rather than ordering more tile and cutting it at a place that would break the design, I had the leftover space painted instead. I think it turned out really well—it blends in with the cabinets, and is the same color as the kitchen ceiling.

Things to keep in mind when ordering Fireclay tiles; Ordering handmade tiles requires planning and patience, it isn’t like going to a big box store and picking out tile. Fireclay pieces are really organic. If you were looking for machined perfection, you’d be disappointed. If you were looking for something with the character of the artist present in each tile you would absolutely find it. We had a G.C. for the project who hired a subcontractor to do the tiling. We were fortunate to work with some incredibly knowledgeable and talented guys for this project. Renovation work is hard to get perfect—especially in an older house that has withstood earthquakes, time, termites, and DIY remodels. The guys we worked with made it look easy. The G.C. was North CurrentBuilders, and The cabinet builder was Made2Measure.

Do you like any of the featured colors in our River Rock? Order color samples online now.  Keep in mind that all our handpainted tiles can be customized with our COLOR-IT Tool. Need some help? Simply call, chat, or fill out our Design Assistance Form and one of our talented Design Consultants will get back to you shortly.