The clé guild. Revisited. 

by clé tile | published: Nov 10, 2023


clé guild colors

the world of clé has always been a study in materiality: how varieties of materials have come to form the most profound surfaces, surfaces that have clad (and embellished) the shelters of our lives from the earliest of times. It's no small matter, and we take our explorations very seriously.

While many of these surfaces, such as stone, come to us as unaltered as possible, still others have evolved through centuries of discovering and processing a variety of materials to form surfaces, whether structural, decorative or both. It is this process of discovery and formation that has intrigued mankind through civilizations and still compels us at clé. We are enraptured with tiles, not just because of what they can do in (and for) a space, but how they came to be and why so many have stood the test of time and even shaped history.

clé has had the great privilege of re-introducing many of these ancient surfaces that have remained relevant century upon century. We refer to these as the prima materia of surfaces. and it's been our drive to establish a "new" library of surfaces that not only reflect this level of reverence but are also capable of becoming new tile and surface icons as they change the course of the design world.

clé artisan

These were the sensibilities that brought about the formation of the clé Guild many years ago. It all started when clé founder Deborah Osburn was looking for a glazed thin brick that could hold its own in any space because of the integrity of its materials and the expertise and constant pursuit of mastery of its makers. Unable to find it, she resolved to create it. And thus the clé guild was born in a humble building behind the clé studio.

Since the first two lines — clé Guild Fundamentals and clé New California — were launched in 2019 and 2020 respectively, they have already become icons in their own right. Long waitlists due to high demand have not deterred clients from this ultra-small batch tile, handcrafted by Eric VanderMolen and his team of artisans at The Guild. We are honored to be adding our own Guild tiles to our library of prima materia.

The philosophy of the Guild is rooted in integrity, manifested in the purity and restraint of the materials, process, and the product. Purity runs through all things Guild: purity in materials starts with the clay (a single clay with minimal additives) and extends to the minerals and natural stone powders used in the glazes. And restraint is manifested in the way the clay is made (you can often see the work of the hand — quite literally — in the handprints in the clay), the way the glazes are formulated and applied, and the tile fired to bring out a range of expression — not perfect, cookie cutter uniformity.

Scarcity has always been an inherent part of the Guild’s artisan making process, not an artifact of strategy. While the Guild has recently added to its original state-of-the-art kilns (lessening but not eliminating lead times), the kilns are less about efficiency than making deep artisanship more available.

As VanderMolen says, “Our kilns are beloved for their efficiency and neutrality. We rely on the quiet wildness and variability of our materials for their effects and subtle surprises. The kiln, however, is beautiful in that it becomes invisible, we can set it with great precision and allow the subtleties of the materials to softly sing their own song without being drowned out by the kiln effects.”


bricks in the studio


clé guild colors

As befits an artisan endeavor, every day at the Guild is a bit of an adventure, the opposite of a tightly engineered, set-it-and-forget-it production process.

It’s the (al)chemical reactions between the simplest of materials — clay and glaze and heat — that creates that quintessence. One small, simple change in the natural clay composition, for example, will have a dramatic effect on the glaze (because glaze is not “just” a surface applied to a clay body), and thus a dramatic effect on the look of that entire look or floor. And orchestrating all this takes mastery, integrity. And lots of practice.

color studies + tile

Color studies are crucial for interiors where lighting can change throughout the day. materials, texture, and finish can all play a part in how a color “reads” in a room. tile is especially complicated for this very reason. variegation and variation can soften the intensity of a color — but also magnify the differences between adjacent colors.

but fear not, we’ve got you covered! we believe that redesigning your space shouldn’t be arduous. successful color pairings shouldn’t feel like a code to be deciphered, but an opportunity to tap into emotions and tell your story. you can’t do this by following trends. instead you need to find the story that you want to tell.


clé guild new california brick in mallow at the caymus suisun winery. design: the bureau / photo: yoshihiro makino

The result? A sense of aliveness in each tile, made even more evident on an entire wall or floor where the infinite variation comes to the fore. Happy accidents in color and texture formed by creating the conditions for them to happen — rather than through mechanical intervention. It’s the literal power and mystery of nature, molded only slightly. You feel it before you see it, the way a Bach cello suite played by Yo Yo Ma sounds just so or the way that overcoat from The Row folds in that specific way when lifted by the breeze.


clé guild fundamentals in gloss white. design/photo: gillian stevens

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clé guild new california in fennel. Design: sarah solis / photo: magdalena wosinska

It’s a process of which VanderMolen is infinitely aware… and grateful for. “it’s a gift to be able to take materials that are so simple and raw and humble and elemental and gently guide them through a process that both fundamentally changes them on every level (visually, chemically)... winding up with something beautiful, different, that has a sense of the maker but stays true to the source, not pushing it so far that it becomes entirely something else.”


clé guild new california in manzanita. Design: jamie haller / photo: jenna peffley

And that’s the essence of the Guild — and perhaps the magic of its tiles — and the spaces they form.

shop clé guild new californiashop clé guild fundamentals