Monday, July 30, 2012

No.2 Mixing It Up with Dana Berkowitz of Hacienda Design Studio

Who: Dana Berkowitz
What: Hacienda Design Studio - Cement Remixed
Where: Nation-Wide 
(and soon to be Internationally)
When: They launched just this year, and are already on fire

One afternoon in Yucatan's Historic District of Merida, Mexico, not so long after the last hammer and drill were packed up and the final contractor left, Dana Berkowitz sat in the uncanny quiet of her newly restored mansion drumming her fingers together slowly. Sitting on the edge of the couch, unsure how to relax just yet, she realized she'd done it, she'd accomplished her dream of restoring her very own beautiful, historic home in Mexico. The 1840's carriage house she'd bought in ruins just a few years before was now her very own pristine, restored historic home. Her drumming fingers came to a stop. 
"I literally remember looking around and the first and only thing I could think of was: now what?"
The restored Yucatan home with original cement floors
Dana's gaze landed directly on the colorful cement tile floor in front of her. She'd looked at it a million times, it was, afterall, the only part of the original house from the 1840's that was completely in-tact among the ruins when she bought it. She'd always enjoyed the colors and how the cool, smooth cement made sense in Mexico's hot, tropical weather... Then Dana looked a bit closer. And well, the rest, they could say, remixed history.

Being intrigued by the beauty and durability of the tiles in her own home, and what she was noticing more and more in her surroundings, Dana began to do her research. Over two centuries ago cement tile made its way from Europe (Dana notes, most likely France) to Mexico where it grew in popularity and was quickly utilized as a regular part of building and decoration.  
Cement floors during restoration in Yucatan
Making a mental note of cement tile around Merida and beginning to visit multiple shops where cement tile was made, she found that the utterly versatile and durable material her floors were made of was relatively simple and straight forward to produce, and even better, it was green. 
"Not only did the tile in my 170 year old house last nearly two centuries, but during the restoration, ceilings and walls were demolished right on top of the unprotected cement floors. When the rubble was carted away the floors were polished and still looked fantastic. And then I find out that on top of all of this: it's eco-friendly and LEED certified."

As the pebbles of inspiration began taking shape (and color) in Dana's mind she found herself talking to more people about cement tile and eventually asking some of the local shop and factory owners she was meeting in Mexico if they would work with her on some designs she had brewing. 
Some of HDC's original dried color samples up close. 
Much to her disappointment, not many were interested. Why change and grow? Things are fine as is... Challenged with the mellow thinking that can be found at times outside America's encouraged high-speed individualism, Dana sighed, but did not stop. She kept mulling things over in her head. 

Dana was no stranger to what a refined design aesthetic looked like. Prior to her journey to Mexico she had worked in the architecture + design industry at Pierre Frey, and for ten years as a Senior Design Consultant at Waterworks  in [New York City's] Midtown location. With all the knowledge she had from her years in design, and now as a freshly minted home restoration veteran, 
Espresso from the side
she was starting to see all the elements of design coming together- she was beginning to see a much bigger picture. 

A lover of Mexico and the aesthetic of their traditional tiles, she knew for certain she did not want to replicate what has already been artistically mastered there. However, she did absolutely want to utilize the green, brilliant and simple manufacturing process she had now seen produce a product that could stand the test of time...
"It was very important to me to maintain the ancient handcrafted techniques, but not mimic or repeat the magnificent array of historic patterns already available. [What] I was intent on reinventing [was] the Look of cement tile...
HDS' Sydney pattern adorns new counters at NYC's Salon Hecho.
"I wanted to develop a modern, focused color pallet, going away from the typical rusts, greens and yellows- trying hard to pick the perfect greys, taupes, blues- and create simple modern designs that would work as a collection and fit more contemporary architecture and design. This way any space can have cement tile, not just historic, Spanish colonial spaces."
A playful use of HDS' Monaco pattern adds a jovial sophistication to a children's 'mudroom' and never gets ruined!

Metal frame and template for the Prague pattern
The original craft of making cement tiles, mixing and hand pressing each layer, remains relatively the same today as it did in its beginnings. It is a three part process wherein three cement mixtures are layered atop one another, each hand pressed so all moisture is extracted, and the final tile is let air dry for 21 days. Today the only real difference in this process is the optional use of a hydraulic press, which might expedite the process just a tad.
Cement in various pigments are mixed prior to their pour.
"Once the tile maker pours the cement into its respective sections, he or she places each tile into a hydraulic press with 1700psi to aid in the compression and elimination of moisture." 

A craftsman in Vietnam smooths moisture out of a tiles second layer.  

The final product was a tile that would last a lifetime and sustain a buildings character and story for generations to come, not to mention at an extremely modest price tag for the quality of the product. Dana wondered how many historic American buildings lost their luscious details and decor to time and poor upkeep- 'but imagine if they had been done in cement tile...', she thought, 'Perhaps more of the past could have naturally been preserved...' This was a product too good to let go without trying her hand at it. 
Cannes in Cloud + Sky

While Dana continued to play with colors and design ideas that were growing steadily into a cohesive collection, her search for a factory she could utilize to make her new cement tile vision come to life continued. Now also beginning to plan her trip back to the Big Apple to take on what would soon become Hacienda Design Studio,  Dana booked a meeting with a long time, trusted colleague of hers to get some feedback. She was blown away by the positive response and support of her designs. And she was even more taken when confiding in her colleague how
A craftsman works with custom colors and layers in a tiles frame
hard it'd been just to find a place she could utilize for manufacturing, her colleague relayed that in Vietnam they actually had many factories that were utilizing the same techniques she saw used in Mexico to create cement products. And there it was, just the piece of the puzzle she needed to get started. It turns out that a factory half-way across the world from where she had first explored cement tile was making it in the exact same quality, character and technique.

Bruges in Cloud + Thyme
So at this point, Dana had taken a bit of the Old School of the Mexican cement tile craft, designed an entire collection with modern, sophisticated colors and designs, found a top- notch manufacturing facility in Vietnam and still wasn't done earning the already poignant sentiment behind the company's slogan: Cement Remixed. She brought the New School all the more by implementing technology via Hacienda Design Studio's most incisive feature: The Mixer. This is one of my favorite features that truly brings the renewed cement tile vision and energy full circle- everything is customizable. You are not limited to a collection as merely as Dana saw it (granted we definitely like what's there!), you can re-envision it again and again yourself. You can play with the tile/ pattern of your choice, the tile size, the colors in each detail of the patterns you see on the screen (and save them privately or publicly for viewing) and
Bali in Marina, Bark, Cloud, Pebble + Pumpkin
arrange each of them in a different manner, offering a totally different shape to each pattern (or in solid colors, mind you!). This feature allows the collection to expand beyond what is shown and serves as a key tool to the revitalization of cement tile's possibilities to be used anywhere. Thanks to Hacienda Design Studio we all now have a new resource for both residential or commercial decor that is a green product, water and fireproof, can be used indoors and out, for walls, ceilings and beyond (the product's only limitation is in outdoor use in a freeze/thaw climate- it's the only time cracking is a risk); and all for a modest price. The tiles are only the slightest bit thicker than an average ceramic tile, and are better for a buildings overall durability.

HDS cement color samples for a mix + match session
 Whether you yourself are redoing your entry foyer or your architect or interior designer is redoing your summer home or bathroom, The Mixer allows for a premeditated and well thought out design process that inherently gives one the time and space needed to creating a beautiful outcome. It's true that one could feel inspired and get sucked into The Mixer just for fun, but a trained eye might also find a place to successfully create a custom masterpiece all their own. 

Thank goodness Dana took on her lifelong dream of restoring a historic home all her own in Merida; now we can all enjoy and appreciate her journey into a renewed vision for cement tile. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what she has in store next!
Left: Provence tile prototype, Right: A cement rug designed with a Provence field and Vienna Border in Pebble, Shadow, Lily, Sky + Cloud.

HDS' Yolanda Lewis shares about finding inspiration everywhere, including stellar photography. Drawn to the movement and colors of the photo [left] she went into The Mixer to create a beauty of her own [right] with HDS' Seattle pattern.

Hacienda Design Studio officially launched itself in January 2012, it's website in May of 2012 and has since been featured in the Stylist Home section of the Huffington Post. Their product is in use in numerous projects still in production and can be seen completed in Salon Hecho's new NYC digs. To order samples, tiles or to learn more about Hacienda Design Studio you can visit them at: or follow their Blog.