Mosaic Tile Cabinet

Saarinen-Mosaic-Tile-Cabinet-Full-Bar

Inspiration for My Mosaic Tile Cabinet

The inspiration for my mosaic tile cabinet came while sitting in slow traffic on the Queensboro Bridge heading into Manhattan.  I had a chance to study the elegance of the United Nations building and noticed it’s white exterior “framing” the stacks and stacks of mottled green windows.  As someone who’s intrigued by structure, I often wonder if the design elements of a building, like the UN tower, could be scaled down and re-imagined on a piece of furniture. What would it look like and would it be appealing?

Another Source of Inspiration

Thinking about the project at hand, I found it necessary to expand my search and consider other buildings. Thankfully, one I knew as a child in Milwaukee came to mind. It has a lot of interesting architecture and on the eastside, stands the beautiful Milwaukee War Memorial, designed by the Finnish architects Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero. It was meant to be a living memorial to “Honor the Dead and Serve the Living” by remembering the veterans who served and by providing a public space with an extensive art collection.

As a kid, I really only knew it as the art museum, but every time passed by, I made sure I studied it closely.  The four-sided cantilevered building appeared to “float” on mighty stilts, with Lake Michigan in the background.  I thought it was so cool!

Milwuakee-War-Museum

It was only much later in life, that I looked into the story behind the mosaics adorning the upper facade. The younger Saarinen tabbed Milwaukee artist Edmund D. Lewandowski for the task of ornamenting the most visible side facing Memorial Drive. Thousands of purple, blue and lavender tiles spell out the beginning and ending dates of World War II and the Korean Conflict in large Roman Numerals. So I think you know where I’m going with this. I simply merged the qualities of the UN’s exterior with the decorations of the War Memorial to create my mosaic tile cabinet.

Pitching My Ideas

I had a pretty good idea of what my mosaic tile cabinet should look like: Something glossy white with tiled doors and polished stainless steel accents. So I quickly put pen to paper and drew a small cabinet, then shared it with my clients, who I met at the 2018 Architectural Digest Design Show http://ADDesignShow.com.. They enjoyed my ideas and gave me free reign to create the liquor cabinet they were seeking.Mosaic-Samples-1

I began with a small mock-up of the mosaic door for my clients’ to review, but my first attempt was too dark. So I brightened up the colors and then sent them a second sample, which was well received.

Beginning Production

Table-of-Colored-Tiles

As you can tell by now, the story is all about the tiles. Over five hundred were cut, shaped and lacquered by hand using small pieces of sea sponges. All from scratch! Some even received a dusting of silver leaf to create a faux lapis lazuli appearance. 

Once the tiles were finished, a very specific recipe was used to arrange them.  Not only did each vertical column have to be the same length, but a certain randomness needed to be established.  So you can imagine the re-arranging that took place before they were set in place.   Then, to enhance their appearance and add a bit of sparkle, the doors received their polished stainless steel edging.

Building the Cabinet

Saarenin-Cabinet.jpgBecause “everything had to fit just so,” it was necessary to complete the doors and then establish the cabinet’s overall size. With these dimensions, I was then able to produce my shop drawings and build the cabinet. Compared to the doors, this was easy. The pull-out trays, on the other hand, were a  bit more involved.  I wanted the grips to be perfectly formed and have this “molded” appearance.  So they needed sanded and primed several times before they were ready to be finished.

Adding the Finish

Applying the white polyester finish was kind of tricky because it had a tendency to run and create unnecessary drips. So each surface was laid flat, like a table top and with some luck, two surfaces could be sprayed per day. The whole process took about two weeks.  Then the buffer came out and the finish was buffed to a high gloss.

Lighting

Open White Bar

I just love when liquor bottles are illuminated.  Everything just comes to life. The sparkle, the reflections, etc. And, in this case, it just took was a little extra planning. Everything was hidden, so the interior is totally clean. As an added bonus, I purchase a hand held remote so my clients could operate the lighting from anywhere within the apartment. They really liked this feature. 

Parting Thoughts

Open-Bar-3-Glasses

And so my mosaic tile cabinet now sits in my clients’ home, along with several other artistic pieces of furniture, all of which are “set off” by the dark teal walls of their study.

A couple of days after I made my delivery, I received a nice note from the client saying, “Mark, the more I sit and look at this piece, the more incredible details I notice. It’s exquisite. As you repeatedly said, the polished steel around the doors is a crucial aspect, while hardly there. I love how the top screws were tightened to a perfect cross and not randomly.  The speckles on the tiles… I think I could spend months discovering new things about this piece.  Thank you again!”