Appliances: Glass Houses

Enter the unassuming building in New York’s historic Flatiron District, and you are immediately transported. The lobby of Bisazza, a leader in the art and craft of glass mosaics, dazzles with its deep blue floor, copper-tinged mosaic pilasters, and walls hung with a dozen panels dedicated to the signs of the zodiac, all in sapphire shot through with sparks of gold. Inside is a virtual gallery of tiles in various displays, from floor patterns by Italian architect Alessandro Mendini to furnishings by American architect Michael Graves.

These days, it’s not uncommon to see entire rooms sumptuously clad in glass mosaic. But the 46-year-old company had humble beginnings. “When it was founded by Renato Bisazza in Vicenza,” says Doug Harris, U.S. sales manager, “glass mosaic was not the high-end item it is today.” At the time, glass mosaic, notable for its resilient colorfastness, was used primarily to clad the exteriors of buildings. Bisazza recognized its potential and developed techniques to make the tile smooth and uniform. Vetricolor, the groundbreaking tile introduced in the 1950s, has since become synonymous with the look and quality of Bisazza. It is significant for its palette of 63 colors and reliably square cushioned beveled edges. “The intrinsic beauty of this tile,” according to Harris, “attracted the design community, which began to use it in more intimate applications such as kitchens, bathrooms, and swimming pools.”

Bisazza has also upheld the traditions of Venetian glassmaking. The production of the precious Oro mosaics, for example, uses a process that dates to Byzantine Venice, in which 24-karat gold leaf is sandwiched between layers of glass. Avventurina, a man-made semiprecious stone, was formu-lated by 17th-century Murano glassblowers. Remarkable for its sparkling silica elements sus-pended in rock-hard glass, it is crushed, melted, then swirled and allowed to set in order to produce Le Gemme, a line of translucent mosaics streaked with golden coppery threads.

Spearheaded by Renato’s eldest son Piero, Bisazza continues to innovate with products like Logos and Metron, terrazzo-like slabs and tiles distinguished by granules of glass, and Opus Romano, satiny tiles of opaque enameled glass durable enough for heavy traffic. Bisazza has turned to the computer to investigate fresh ways to use mosaics. Installations such as a replication of the solar system at New York’s Rose Center for Earth and Space exemplify this endeavor.

On a smaller scale, graphic designer Marco Braga developed three computer-generated patterns. Pois, a playful series of giant polka dots, was created on a grid and is available in red on white, light blue on dark blue, or gray on black. The space-age Pulsar radiates circular gradients of blues, greens, or reds within a ring of deep bronze and an outer perimeter of black. Tartan, a plaid in six versions, makes the ultimate fashion statement with Tartan Classic, a glassy variation on the Burberry theme.

Bisazza, 212.463.0624, www.bisazza.com

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