Stone World

Developing custom designs with mosaics

September 24, 2010
With a variety of mosaics on the market today -- including custom color blends and sizes -- these decorative pieces remain a leading choice among designers, architects and even homeowners. Michelle Griffoul, owner of Michelle Griffoul Studios, Inc. in Buellton, CA, recently drew inspiration from the sea when designing custom mosaics for a children’s bathroom. Designer/Tile Manufacturer: Michelle Griffoul Studios, Inc., Buellton, CA; Stone Supplier: Stone Age, Anaheim, CA (granite vanity top). Photo by Mike Mesikep


With a broad range of custom color blends and sizes, mosaics continue to be a leading choice for designers, architects and even homeowners in making a design unlike any other. Whether mosaics are taking on an artistic form or providing a complementary element to a granite countertop or large-format tile floor, the different varieties of mosaics have allowed designers and architects to provide an artistic touch to their projects.

From framing a bathroom mirror to creating decorative accents for an outdoor swimming pool, mosaics can offer unique and custom looks that many homeowners desire. Specifically, hand-made mosaics can be prepared “site specific” - providing an unrivaled design.

Designer and tile manufacturer Michelle Griffoul, owner of Michelle Griffoul Studios, Inc. in Buellton, CA, offers her clients custom blends and made-to-order designs that call for true craftsmanship in each mosaic. “We buy raw clay, and we make everything by hand,” she said. “Most of our projects are site specific, made for that particular installation.”



The designer recently completed two custom mosaic projects. Both were inspired by elements from the outdoors.

All of the mosaics used for the children’s bathroom were handmade in Griffoul’s studio. The custom pieces, which not only replicate the ocean but also sea wildlife such as turtles, fish and seaweed, were employed for the walls, floor, shower and mirror frame.

“Under the sea” bath

Inspired by the Pacific Ocean, where her client lives, Griffoul was recently asked to design a children’s bathroom that brought the ocean and sea wildlife indoors. “The client and his sons surf a lot,” said Griffoul. “It’s a big part of their lives, so [the client] wanted something really ‘oceany’ and fun.”

Griffoul was presented with the opportunity of a “blank canvas” for the room. As a result, she was responsible for the entire decision-making in the selection of all of the hard surfaces, including the granite vanity top, which came from Stone Age of Anaheim, CA. Mosaics were chosen for the shower, mirror frame, floor, door and walls - all of which Griffoul handmade in her studio. “Everywhere I could use them, I did,” she said.

From turtles, fish and seaweed to different shades of blue for the ocean, the mosaics are sized from ¾ inch up to 12 inches for larger wildlife components. With all of the different varieties in mosaics, Griffoul’s studio prepares everything for the installer.

“We lay out the tiles for the entire design on several tables so they flow together,” she said. “Our goal is to have the finished installation look as if the tile installer installed each piece by hand, but we want to control the end result. We put clear-face tape on it, cut it in approximately 1-square-foot sections, number each section, make a layout map for the installer and keep a copy in case the installer loses it. We then send a layout map to the installer and digitally photograph everything before it gets installed, so we can E-mail what the finished product will look like to the client and installer. The installation is pretty simple if we are given the correct measurements. The installer should not even need a tile saw.”

The bathroom project took several months to finish, and Griffoul says the client was ecstatic with the final result. “When the installations were first complete, he would call me every two weeks to tell me how much he loved it,” she said. “He’s thrilled.

“I’ve always loved swimming in the ocean,” she continued. “I go to Hawaii every year, to do research and [the design in the bathroom] is something I see when I’m swimming. You take a shower and you feel like you’re under water.”



Another recent design completed by Griffoul is a mosaic-clad fountain, also influenced by the outdoors. Featuring patterns of leaves and plants, Griffoul explained that the concept was to design a fountain that had a feeling of being grounded and growing upward, as plants naturally do. Designer/Tile Manufacturer: Michelle Griffoul Studios, Inc., Buellton, CA. Photos by Michelle Griffoul 

A mosaic-rooted fountain

Keeping with inspirations from nature, Griffoul recently designed a mosaic-clad outdoor fountain, also influenced by the outdoors. Featuring patterns of leaves and plants, Griffoul explained that the idea was to design a fountain that had a sense of being grounded and growing upward, as plants naturally do. “The client wanted leaves and plant-like designs on the outside,” she said.

Griffoul created handmade mosaics for the entire project. “I made a paper template for the leaves [that was] 10 percent bigger than the finished job because porcelain shrinks 10 to 12 percent in drying and firing,” she said. “This job was a very fast turnaround, and we designed and made it in one month. I drew out the design after seeing a rough draft from the client and got approval of my interpretation of what they wanted. We then went to work very quickly. The clay has to be cut out by hand and dried slowly to prevent warpage.”



Since the mosaics were going on the outside circumference of the fountain’s curved wall, a challenge for Griffoul came in making sure the tile pieces were small enough that they would not stick out when wrapping the curves. She sized them between ¾ inch and 2 inches.

Additionally, her craft and carefulness in tile making had to be on point. “Because each leaf is glazed differently, if one part of one leaf broke in the firing, packaging or shipping process, we would have to remake the entire leaf to have it match perfectly because of glazing and shrinking,” she said. “When custom tiles are made by hand, you don’t have a mold that you use a thousand times to use for a perfect fit.”

Aside from intricate details in the tile-making process, Griffoul was still able to have a quick turnaround time and a well-received end result. “The client loved the tiles and was totally surprised that we could do such a beautiful, creative job in one month,” she said.

The recent construction of Lodge 3000, which is part of The Wilderness Club® at Big Cedar in Ridge Dale, MO, features six presidential master suites with luxury master baths. All presidential master suites feature a freestanding pedestal tub accented by a floor-to-ceiling glass mosaic mural wall depicting autumn foliage. Designer: Design Point of View, Knoxville, TN; Tile Manufacturer: Hirsch Glass Corp., Edison, NJ; Tile Distributor: Tri-State Tile Distributors, Monroe, OH. Photos by Jeff Herron Photography

Inspired by autumn foliage

For the recent construction of Indian Creek Lodge Building 3000 at The Wilderness Club at Big Cedar, which is nestled on the shores of Southern Missouri’s Table Rock Lake in Ridge Dale, MO, mosaics were used to create a floor-to-ceiling mural in the master bathrooms. The design was created by designer Ann Borrelli Smith of Design Point of View in Knoxville, TN, who was contracted by Lauderdale Design Group in Louisville, TN, and worked in collaboration with Melena Chase from Chase Collaborative in Houston, TX.

Conceived to be a unique experience, different from any other lodge at the resort, Lodge 3000 features six presidential master suites with luxury master baths. Heated tile flooring at the vanity, spacious walk-in showers with heated towel warmers and a television within the lighted mirror all come standard. In addition, a freestanding pedestal tub - accented by a floor-to-ceiling glass mosaic mural wall of leaves inspired by the colors of autumn - help define the overall design concept, which Smith said was “refined rustic.”

“The client, Timothy Schwering with Bluegreen Construction & Development in Orlando, FL, wanted to construct a new lodge that was upgraded from their other lodges on site at The Wilderness Club at Big Cedar,” she explained. “Carefully planned, all the units showcase natural materials, custom furnishings and original artwork, stained glass and a mosaic mural.”

For the mural, designer Ann Borelli Smith selected hand-cut custom glass mosaics from Hirsch Glass Corp., which were distributed by Tri-State Tile Distributors. “After reviewing another glass mosaic company, Hirsch had the best glass chips and layout technique,” she said.

For the mural, Smith selected hand-cut custom glass mosaics from Hirsch Glass Corp. of Edison, NJ, which were distributed by Tri-State Tile Distributors of Monroe, OH. “After reviewing another glass mosaic company, Hirsch had the best glass chips and layout technique,” she said. “Besides the quality of the product, Hirsch and Tri-State Tile Distributors were responsive to our budget needs and worked closely with us to find the most cost-effective method.”

Altogether, the interior mosaic wall unit measures 7 x 9 feet, and the end unit tub area, which is cantilevered, was designed as two panels measuring 3 feet, 6 inches x 9 feet. Smith explained that the only concerns came with the size of the mural and how to install it.

“Hirsch originally made the panel in one piece with a mesh back,” she said. “However, to help with shipping and installing, they split the panel into two sections with a ‘zig-zag’ cut. The installation company, Stoneridge Flooring Design, who was contracted by Quality Structures, had to take extra time piecing panels back together on the wall. Hirsch did send extra glass pieces to fill in any gaps.”

Construction of Indian Creek Lodge Building 3000 began in the summer of 2009, and the project was completed in May 2010. Details such as the mosaic murals have led to an overwhelmingly positive reaction, according to Smith. “It was mentioned that the building ‘raised the bar,’ “ she said.

Part of a multi-purpose building’s renovation, Pura Vida Fitness & Spa in Denver, CO, was designed with Daltile’s 1- x 1-inch Maracas Glass series as accent walls throughout the spa treatment rooms, spa bathrooms and locker rooms, including shower walls, vanities and at the makeup areas. Additionally, Daltile’s Keystone Penny Round 1- x 1-inch porcelain mosaic tiles were selected for the flooring within all of the locker room wet areas and bathrooms because of their aesthetics, slip resistance, durability and price point. Designer: Semple Brown Design, Denver, CO; Mosaic Supplier: Daltile, Dallas, TX. Photo by Michael Mayo 

A contemporary fit

Part of a multi-purpose building’s renovation, Pura Vida Fitness & Spa in Denver, CO, was designed to be more than the average health club. Incorporating lifestyle, health and fitness into a space that lived up to its name, “Pura Vida,” was a vision sought by the owner J. Madden. And to complement the fitness center’s contemporary design, mosaics were used throughout various areas of the spa.

The exterior of the facility features a glass facade to connect the outdoors to the indoors. And the ultimate goal for the interior space was to craft quality, lifestyle and the right temperament to make the fitness facility unlike any others in town. The designers for the interior, which were from Semple Brown Design of Denver, CO, developed a material palette that reflected Pura Vida’s identity, while integrating the structure’s glass walls. 

Glass mosaics were selected for interior areas to complement the building’s glass exterior. Photos by Ron Pollard Photography 

Helping accentuate the spa areas within the fitness center, while not taking away from the interior’s focus of natural light, Daltile’s 1- x 1-inch Maracas Glass series can be found as accent walls throughout the spa treatment rooms, spa bathrooms and locker rooms, including shower walls, vanities and at the make-up areas. Additionally, Daltile’s Keystone Penny Round 1- x 1-inch porcelain mosaic tiles were selected for the flooring within all of the locker room wet areas and bathrooms because of their aesthetics, slip resistance, durability and price point, according to Sage Case, LEED AP of Semple Brown Design.

“We zeroed in on these products really quickly,” said Sage Case, LEED AP of Semple Brown, regarding the decision to use Daltile mosaics. “We looked at other glass manufacturers to find the one with the best quality, price and color range.” 

“We zeroed in on these products really quickly,” she said. “We looked at other glass manufacturers to find the one with the best quality, price and color range.” Moreover, Case explained the added value of utilizing smaller-sized mosaics, specifically in 1- x 1-inch formats, which she says is a trend that never goes out of style.

Pura Vida was recently one of eight commercial projects recognized by Daltile nationwide as top “real life” applications using Daltile products, which is part of Daltile’s inaugural “Visionary Design Award” commercial design contest. Case, along with Dalton Davis, also of Semple Brown Design, were specifically acknowledged for this achievement. 

Custom color blends of mosaics were recently used to construct a new outdoor pool and spa area of a private residence in Houston, TX. The designer and builder for the pool area, David Pavlesic of Paragon Pools in Houston, TX, took custom-blended glass mosaics and mixed them with travertine, a trend he says is becoming increasingly popular in his work. Pool Designer/Builder: Paragon Pools, Houston, TX; Mosaic Supplier: Custom blending services from Cactus Stone and Tile, Phoenix, AZ, and Sicis Glass; Stone Supplier: QDI, Houston, TX. Photo by David Pavlesic 

Utilizing custom blends

Custom color blends of mosaics were recently used to construct a new outdoor pool and spa area of a private residence in Houston, TX. The designer and builder for the pool area, David Pavlesic of Paragon Pools in Houston, TX, took custom-blended glass mosaics and mixed them with travertine, a trend he says is becoming increasingly popular in his work.

“We have seen a strong trend towards glass mosaics with custom blends, particularly in earth-tone colors that blend well with natural stone,” he said. “We are using such stone as travertine and limestone. We also have many customers who desire blends with blue glass keeping with customary blue tones - while blends that include opaque and iridescence bring out a more modern look.”

For the pool and spa of the Houston residence, the blend of these two materials - mosaics and stone - help form a dramatic water feature, complementing the newly built home’s elegance and architecture. The pool is visible when entering the front door of the residence.

“The primary design plan was to create a seamless flow of water from the home as one enters the front door,” said Pavlesic. “To accomplish the overall look, a geometric design was developed to match the home’s straight lines, which has a perimeter spillover aligned with the home’s front entry. The elevation of the spa was critical. As you enter the home, the spa appears to be floating with water flowing from the home.”

Additionally, Pavlesic designed a secondary water feature cascade clad entirely in glass, which spans the length of the pool. “With subtle sound and minimal disturbance to the water’s surface, it creates a gentle visual effect,” he said.

To meet the various goals of the project, Pavlesic selected mosaics from Cactus Stone and Tile of Phoenix, AZ, and Sicis Glass’ custom blending services all throughout the spa area, the pool’s waterline, the cascade wall and the pool’s steps. Additionally, travertine - supplied by QDI of Houston, TX - was his choice for the outer veneer of the raised back wall, planters, coping and deck.

“A glass mosaic tile was the essential component needed to create the sophisticated look the customer was seeking,” he said. “With the spa being the focal point of the entire pool, there was no question that glass was the choice of materials. Travertine was the material of choice from the start for the coping, deck and outer raised walls to complement the home’s light earth tones both inside and out. Combining both glass and travertine would provide the refined elegance sought by the customer.”



“A glass mosaic tile was the essential component needed to create the sophisticated look the customer was seeking,” said Pavlesic. 

Pavlesic further explained that he waited for the client to finalize their interior decorating plans of the new home prior to deciding on colors for the pool area because the outdoor pool would be visible upon entering the home’s main entrance. “The color of the mosaic glass tile and pool’s overall appearance was to create warmth and serenity, yet be invigorating and inviting,” he said. “One color would not accomplish the customer’s goals. We needed iridescence and a combination of light and dark hues of blue. Sicis Glass and Cactus Stone and Tile’s custom blending services came through, providing us with four custom blend samples that were created based on the colors sought by the customer. This really helped to simplify the final mosaic makeup.”

As he always does, Pavlesic brought his client into the selection process early on. “After all, it is their pool we are building; not ours,” he said. “It is important to have them be a part of this process while we provide guidance and suggestions.

“The material choices were never a question,” Pavlesic went on to explain. “Mosaic glass and travertine were in right from the start. The challenge came down to color.”

While the client had originally sought an earth tone color pallet for the mosaic glass, the customer ultimately gravitated back towards shades of blue, according to Pavlesic, adding that the mosaic pieces were supplied in a variety of sizes.

“For the glass mosaic tile, we used a 5/8- x 5/8-inch glass on a staggered joint to create a more dramatic pixilation and break up the continuity of the rows of glass,” said Pavlesic. “The travertine veneer for the raised walls and planters is a 4-inch by random split-face travertine. For the travertine coping, we used a 16- x 24- x 2-inch bullnosed edge to create length and clean lines, while the bull-nosed edge provided a softer and more subtle appearance. The deck is travertine pavers in a Versailles pattern to flow with the geometric design while breaking up all of the straight lines.”

Aside from the geometrics that went into the showcasing of the pool and spa area, Pavlesic noted difficulties that came with the geography of the land as well as the weather that occurred during the installation. 

“For the glass mosaic tile, we used a 5/8- x 5/8-inch glass on a staggered joint to create a more dramatic pixilation and break up the continuity of the rows of glass,” said Pavlesic.

“The finished project does not reflect the space constraints that we dealt with,” he said. “The homebuilder built the home as a [speculative property] in a highly affluent area of Houston and had tremendous difficulty selling the home due to the lack of space for a pool and the location of trees. The space we had to work with became more challenging as we were forced to work around one tree that our customer wanted to keep, from the many that had to be removed. The pool’s inside dimension is 32 feet long and varies in width from 12 feet, 3 inches to 26 feet.

“Houston for the most part has a mild winter climate,” he continued. “This past winter was the exception. We were dealt a severe blow from Mother Nature as we were faced with multiple days of rain and below-average temperatures. There were many days where we never peaked 40 degrees. For setting tile, especially glass, this is a definite project stopper. We tented the jobsite to continue work in the onslaught of rain that never let up. The cold weather also added to the cure time for many of the stages.”

As with all projects, Pavlesic was on site during the installation, which helped address some of the difficulties involved in mosaic glass installation. “With all of our projects, there is a high level of detail that comes with a high level of expectation from both us and our customer,” he said. “As a custom pool designer and builder, the ‘custom’ does not apply to the design only, but also the entire construction process. I know how the pool has to function and how the pool has to look. A tremendous amount of time was spent on site working with our tile setter to be sure that every joint, angle and piece of glass had the exact cut and tolerance needed to make this a true work of art.”

The finished results have not only been admired by the homeowners, but guest of the home, neighbors and even the City Inspector has praised and complimented the project, according to Pavlesic. “One of the greatest compliments we received for this project was from the City Inspector of this small affluent community who oversaw this project,” he said. “Upon the final inspection, the inspector told our customer, ‘You have an amazingly well-built pool. I must say, this is the prettiest pool I have ever seen in all my pools I have inspected or seen.’ To see my customer’s eyes glimmer like that of the iridescent glass mosaic tile we had just installed, was priceless.

“As more consumers see glass mosaics in pools, commercial architecture and homes, they are exposed to the true beauty, brilliance and look that only glass can deliver,” Pavlesic went on to say. “There are still many builders who do not want to install glass, however, the glass and material manufacturers have done a wonderful job educating those willing to learn. We also owe a great deal of thanks to a few pioneers who learned about glass installation the hard way and have shared their years of knowledge in working with glass. We have created beautiful art features in and around pools with glass that many builders wouldn’t even try with some porcelain.”