Back when they lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, David Clark and Mary St. John — the husband-and-wife team behind Beacon-based ceramics studio ModCraft — were lucky enough to call a roomy loft home. While living there, they set up a kiln — where Clark (who specialized in custom lighting) and St. John (then a Fisher-Price toy designer) began experimenting, mixing bone china from scratch and making their own clay.
The smaller apartment that followed was more of a “work space than a place to live,” Clark recalls; yet amid cramped quarters the ambitious couple managed to perfect several lamp and tile designs, which they ultimately unveiled at New York City’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair. Soon, a Williamsburg shop started selling their pieces; eager for more space, a buoyed Clark and St. John moved to the Hudson Valley in 2006.
“We read an article in the New York Times on Beacon, and it sounded like what Williamsburg used to be,” Clark points out.
Clark and a friend from his native Virginia constructed a two-story timber barn on their property. That is where the couple — grad-school sweethearts who met at Pratt Institute while pursuing degrees in industrial design — hones their craft, firing stoneware clay and churning out durable porcelain tile collections for the kitchen, bath, and other spaces. “One woman used our tiles to frame some paintings and a mirror in her house,” says Clark. “People will sometimes use them as accents, behind a wood stove, around a fireplace, and of course in pools and fountains too.”
These days, the pair works with close to 50 distributors nationwide, and Clark notes that their tiles are popping up around the globe. “A designer in Russia; P.F. Chang’s restaurant in Texas,” he says. “But we’re happy to work with local people one-on-one by appointment too.”
Clark concedes that their wares are not cheap. “They’re handmade and priced like it,” he says, estimating that the tiles sell for anywhere from $45 to $90 per square foot. “This is not the kind of stuff you are going to find in Home Depot.”
Their latest tile, “Roundhouse,” graces the bathrooms in the two penthouse suites at the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, the newly opened boutique hotel. This concave tile — “it has a unique shape, the tiles are long and thin and they taper towards the ends,” says Clark — looks decidedly glamorous in the iridescent stannic glaze. “It’s almost like a black chrome with oxidized highlights,” he says.
There’s also “Dom,” which summons a vintage game of dominoes and cleverly reimagines grout lines behind bathroom sinks; and the multidimensional “Valley,” which can infuse, say, a kitchen backsplash with a retro vibe. While the pair often design together, St. John was solely responsible for the “Hudson”: A perennial favorite for its versatility, it uniquely melds the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles. “Moving from grid-like New York City to Beacon, and being surrounded by curvaceous mountainscapes and riverbanks, inspired a mix of nature with my own modern aesthetic,” St. John says about the tile. “The lines are reminiscent of the contours the Hudson River makes as it widens and narrows.”
The architecture of modernists like Eero Saarinen, and the design features of automobiles and airlines also subtly influence the work of Clark and St. John. “We take pieces and hints from things,” Clark notes, as seen in “InterLock,” which resembles large jigsaw puzzle pieces that can be placed in horizontal and vertical permutations alike. In 2013, the couple plans to debut six tile lines, spanning the ultramodern and classic, as well as softly curved lamps that embrace a bold color palette — which is a departure from their current roster of elegant, clear gloss-glazed pendant lighting.
Adding artisanal intrigue to installations is ModCraft’s array of glazes. Since tiles are hand-sprayed and fired in small batches, there are variations between each one, revealing layers of color and an alluring organic feel.
“The focus becomes more how our tile will enhance someone’s living environment,” explains St. John, comparing the art of designing tiles to toys. “It’s a nice feeling, and fascinating to think our tiles can do that for someone.”
Click on the photos in the gallery below to view some of ModCraft’s tile designs.
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