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clé conversations: Inside Tile Design with Elizabeth Ashley Homes

Chicago designer Elizabeth Ashley has been a long time fan of clé and is particularly enamored with the character and handmade quality of the tiles offered. When the not-so-run-of-the-mill nature of clé’s tiles challenged her installers, Elizabeth took it upon herself to do the research and legwork to ensure a perfect tile installation.

In this clé conversations series, Elizabeth Ashley talks with us about her love of mixing the “old with the new,” why she uses an old-school vision board, and why seeing is believing.


clé: You’ve been in business for just about a year-and-a-half, but it sounds like you’ve really accomplished so much in that time. What made you realize you wanted to embark, officially, as a designer?

Elizabeth Ashley: After we built our home, there was so much interest in it that I decided I wanted to start a design business. I just have a passion for it. It’s fun to design. It gets me away from my kids for a bit (wink). I love the challenge of making a space both beautiful and functional—because you have to look at it anyway. Why not have it be beautiful, too, aside from functionality?

clé: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve done so far?

Elizabeth Ashley: I’d have to say my kitchen. It was hard work, and there were some things I couldn’t budget for, but I knew I had to have brick. Being from Chicago, it’s all about the brick and the black windows. It’s kind of industrial, but also a bit “bistro.” I loved the texture of the Foundry Flats collection, and the color—the sawdust color—it’s just perfect. Almost like a whitewash or a lime-wash to it. It’s the perfect texture. And then the way we grouted it, we just did a slight over-grout with a rub-off to give it tone. I really just fell in love with it.

clé: When you’re starting the design process for a project, how do you begin? And where does tile fall into that process?

Elizabeth Ashley: I love making vision boards, to lay everything out. It’s kind of old school, but it’s the best way for me to start to visualize color schemes, textures, patterns. It also gives the client an idea of where we’re headed. We did some CAD drawings with my kitchen, but I really feel like the project is brought to life when the client can really touch the tile; feel the texture, see the color. It’s almost like you could look at the finished project and look at the vision board and say, “That’s exactly the way it turned out.”

clé: Do you have a certain strategy for starting with the elements of the vision board? Maybe going into nature or something like that?

Elizabeth Ashley: Honestly, it’s always happening. If I’m on a walk, I’ll snap a picture. Or if I’m in a furniture store, I’ll see a chair and just know I have to use that chair somewhere. When I travel, if I see something inspiring I have to stop. I’m constantly annoying my family, asking to pull over to the side of the road so I can take a picture of an old, cool barn or some interesting flowers. I also love vintage, so I’ll go into thrift stores and pick out different pieces and create vignettes. I’m not someone who can just sit down and “create.” It’s a process that’s always happening, but it’s also very much a part of my everyday life, because I’m always thinking about it. It’s like I can’t get away from the creative side, because it’s just always there.

clé: So you used clé tile in your kitchen, but how did you first find out about the company?

Elizabeth Ashley: When we started our building process a number of years ago, we would get samples from different places. That’s key. Our choice really came down to the samples. We were trying to choose vendors we liked best, and we really felt the quality of clé was just so much better. I’m also inspired by the other designers that use clé, seeing them featured on the website, social media. 

clé: Once you decided to go with clé, how did you learn more about the product? Did you have help from your installer?

Elizabeth Ashley: To be honest, my installer didn’t really know how to work with this kind of tile. So I was the one who did the research and brought him the information, because I wanted it to be perfect. It’s such a statement piece in the room that I wanted to make sure it was right, in terms of grout, grout color. I didn’t want to just throw something up on the wall. I knew I wanted to have a clean look with the texture still coming through. 

clé: Since that first project, have you found other clé tiles you love to use?

Elizabeth Ashley: I used zellige tile on the fireplace, in battled armor. It’s actually a “faux” fireplace. I knew I wanted a place to hang our stockings at Christmas, and this works great--all the decorative look without the fire. I love the white color of zellige as well. I’m working on a project now with weathered white. These tiles are like jewel pieces. I love it. The same with eastern earthenware, they have so much character. I also did a bathroom with the cement hex tile, creating a bit of an ombre effect. It just turned out so beautiful. 

clé: When you recommend clé tile, do many of your customers go with that recommendation?

Elizabeth Ashley: It’s not a hard sell! I’ve never had anyone turn it down, actually. But the samples, and the walk-throughs that I’ve done, that’s key. Seeing is believing. A picture can tell a thousand words, but holding something and really seeing it; feeling the texture—that’s what translates for customers. With the zellige tile, it has such a shine, a sheen. By bringing people into that space, you can see the colors just bouncing off it. 

clé: So you can really let the room do the talking.

Elizabeth Ashley: I truly think so… If you have a beautifully tiled room, you don’t have to hang a lot of things on the wall and cover it up. You let the room speak for itself. Architecture inspires me in that way, too. You’ll see these beautiful Italian places with all the columns and no furniture. It’s just the beautiful tile. That’s how I like to decorate. Minimal. Clean and classic. Not having too many other elements added in. 

clé: Which is the great thing about enlisting a designer, right? To have that guidance where they might not be able to envision the finished space as clearly as you. 

Elizabeth Ashley: You know, I think a lot of people think we just go to a big box store to get tile and that’s it. They don’t even know there’s a whole world of tile out there, with different colors and textures and patterns. By hiring a designer, they can be opened up to more than just commodity options. There are so many better options out there. And it’s a custom process. A designer has the ability to take customers into a whole different world.


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