When Ann Sacks founded her company in 1980, she was intent on displaying her tile in a manner that would stir the emotions of designers and their clients and compel them to have it installed in their homes. Sacks initiated this marketing plan in her own Portland, Ore., home, where she covered the walls, floors, even her dining room table in terra-cotta and decorative tile. A year later, her business had become so successful that she had to move it out of her house and into a shop that showcased a mix of Mexican tiles from regional artisan factories.
Today, the company that bears Sacks’ name–purchased by the Kohler Co. in 1989 and now a division of its Interiors Group–continues to reflect her penchant for gripping designs and presentations, although through many more venues and with a vastly expanded product line. In addition to custom-colored tile, the 17 Ann Sacks showrooms across the country carry stone, plumbing fittings and fixtures, lighting, and accessories for the entire home. The Ann Sacks inventory now features designer lines from Barbara Barry, Clodagh, and Michael Smith; the Ann Sacks Collection, which includes made-to-order ceramic and mosaic tile and stone; and a growing number of exclusive collections from some of the world’s finest artists and craftspeople.
“We have a whole stable of different artisans,” explains John Hart, Ann Sacks’ chief merchandising officer. Among them are the third-generation mosaicists from Israel who created the Minos Mosaics Collection. A number of American artisans approached the company with ideas to transform their work into functional art. They include North Carolina concrete specialist Andy Fleishman, Los Angeles arbiter of Chinese antiquities Robert Kuo, and glass masters Erin Adams of Albuquerque and George C. Scott of Seattle.
“They come to us because of our reputation for having the best,” Hart notes, adding that the integrity of their work is assured because each studio manufactures its own collections. Scott, who has been making glass art for 30 years, controls the fabrication of his stunning, one-of-a-kind Artglass basins, which feature layers of intensely colored glass. Adams, too, oversees the crafting of her designs, including the latest, Quilt, a series of fused-glass with a colorful retro appearance that is distinguished by its offbeat shapes and patterns. Fleishman produces four concrete tile designs for Ann Sacks–two with large-scale geometric patterns and two with intricate floral themes etched into the body to create an exotic Moorish effect when grout is applied. For a collection of copper bath fixtures, Kuo revived the ancient Chinese art of repoussé, which involves hammering decorative relief into sheet metal. Kuo also has a new cloisonné tile that incorporates this ancient enameling-on-metal technique.
“We want to be able to offer best-in-class materials regardless of design style,” says Hart. “Our customers demand that. They don’t want the same room, the same look, or the same materials that they might find in their neighbor’s house. They really want something that is or seems made just for them.”