In this “clé conversations” series, we spoke with jordan brand, a serial entrepreneur and house renovator to learn about his distinctive design philosophy, and why he prefers the “perfectly imperfect” over the status quo.
above: zellige subway tile in weathered white
Inside Tile Design with Jordan Brand
clé: You’re involved in a lot of projects, Jordan. What have you been up to lately?
Jordan: I’m part owner in a few restaurants and hotels in Philadelphia and I've been engaged with the design process with our in-house designers, amazing local makers and creators, as well as some really talented architects. ROOST, which is an Apartment Hotel with three locations in Philadelphia, and currently expanding into several other cities. There’s HIROKI, a Japanese restaurant in Philly, and also Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, which is a restaurant and hotel. I've also been renovating a house, my seventh house in about 12 years, so I'm always moving and everything is always under construction. So, I've gotten a lot of practice at it, working with designers and architects, I also have an art background. And I'm an engineer, so it kind of all goes together.
clé: What would you say your design “philosophy” is, going into these projects? Is it consistent, or does it change per project?
Jordan: Going into my latest renovation project, the day I finished the project, I wanted the house to feel like that was the worst it would ever look. Every piece of material I selected, I wanted to patina with age and wear, and look nicer over time. Most designers design for a perfect look. And then within a year, things start wearing. Eventually it just turns into something you didn't want.
I was embracing that, accepting the plain fact that, “Alright, this is going to get damaged. What is it going to look like when it's damaged?” So it was a lot of un-lacquered brass and concrete and things that had imperfections already and were made to wear nicely over time.
clé: So more of an authenticity to your approach, then?
Jordan: When you are out there in the world, the most familiar things are natural things. And if you go into your “box,” into your house, and everything feels plastic and fake, it doesn't feel comfortable. I do this with furniture as well, everything's got to feel natural. You want people to come into the room and feel comfortable. Like they just want to be there. I think with a lot of designed things and things that designers do, you walk in and it's like a museum. Everything is very intentional and all the pillows have these patterns and everything is in the right place, but you don’t want to be there. My whole goal is to create environments where you want to be.
above: zellige squares in battled armor
clé: And how do you think colors fit into that? Can they? Is there a balance between those environments and what might be perceived as too “trendy”?
Jordan: I spent a lot of time looking back at things that aged well and things that are still beautiful later on. And I do believe you can still use color. That's what I liked about clé’s fired tiles, especially the eastern earthenware collection, because the colors that come out are more natural. It's not a synthetic color. It goes well with natural metals, colors, and natural wood colors. So you're able to take some chances on color. You can have these colors that have character and then once you put it all together in the room, it almost becomes a beautiful painting.
clé: When you first started working with clé, how did you find that experience to be?
Jordan: I liked that I was able to talk to the owner, Deborah, and that they gave me design assistance, like, “This tile goes well with this flooring and this grout color.” We talked about patterns and how to pattern the floor if you're going to pattern the wall like this. Their philosophy on trim. Things like that. I'm usually very controlling. But then every once in a while you'll find someone who is aligned with what I like. I started using clé for certain things, and then I realized that I like their whole palette of what they sell. So then I just started using everything from them. I wasn't going to use cement tiles at first and then started using all their cement tiles. I realized the whole house is going to be more cohesive if I just used all their stuff.
Deborah's also very on trend. You know, you see pictures on Instagram or Pinterest and everyone's kind of copying off each other. But she is one of the people doing the trendsetting.
above: cement scallops in metal, architect's pallette planks in blotter
clé: You've worked with many designers across different kinds of residential and commercial properties. If you were telling them about clé, what would you say?
Jordan: The first thing I would say, is that for the price, it is the best tile I’ve found. Because I've seen what else was out there and it gets nuts. Back to eastern earthenware, the price point is half as much and it still has a nice translucent feel. I think because they're specialized in these few types of tiles, like zellige, or the terracotta tiles--the architect’s palette collection, the belgian reproduction--and they're selling a lot of them, and they’re selling direct, they are able to keep the prices decent. You are taking out all the middle men and you're dealing with the owner of a company. I don't think you can go wrong. As long as you install correctly, it's going to look amazing.
clé: Talk to me just a bit about that installation piece. What considerations might a designer or an installer need to think about?
Jordan: Well, for example, the installation I recently did is very complicated. I had to get really good people. They were all very highly skilled. They lasered everything, because it's all hand clipped and different variable sizes and you have to maintain a line. But, at the same time, we were almost doing a butt joint. So, there was not a lot of room for playing with the joints. It was like a puzzle to lay the tile. It wasn’t the easiest installation, but the grout that they sold me really worked well, and everything turned out perfect. But, you could hire a bad installer and screw it up.
Another thing is that the product often sells out quickly. But, you know, it doesn't feel as mass produced when it's selling out. It's like they do a batch, and that firing looks different than the next, which is appealing. You only get this exclusive batch. It's like a piece of art.
above: zellige squares in weathered white, cement rectangles in basil
clé: Which might not be right for everybody, right? But there are people for whom that is really important.
Jordan: Everyone's so different and people’s value systems are different. For me, I always want the best. But, as far as quality and value, I won't just buy it because it's expensive. Yet, I'm sometimes shocked at other people's value system, you know, the “I don't care. I’m fine putting 99-cent tile in my bathroom.”
Also, people who maybe don’t have as much experience would think, for example, if tile stains, it is crap. It makes me think of that luggage line, Rimowa. An aluminum bag that's made to get dents, so basically every time you travel, and it gets more beat up, that's the whole point of it. “Look how beat up my bag is; I travel all the time.” But some people want their bag to be perfect. And then they get a scuff on it and now it looks like this fake bag with a scuff on it. Even the perfect things are going to get worn in some way or another. I’m not sure how you educate someone who doesn't appreciate that.
above: zellige subway tile in weathered white