In conversation with: Ian Reynolds

I met Ian at the Surface Design Show earlier this year and was intrigued to learn more about the Japanese tiles he sells through his company Raven

When did you start the business and why? We were searching for the origin of this image (below) as we wanted to purchase the tiles. The investigation led us to Australia where the gorgeous bathroom had been designed and installed. From there, we found the tiles were Japanese.

We discovered there was no one dealing with these in the UK and jumped at the chance to represent them. From there we added other suppliers and we now have tiles from more than 20 factories.

The tile that started it all

Do you hold stock? Our full catalogue now has 650 variants and we stock 350 of them in sample form for immediate dispatch. For the bulk tiles, larger projects and those with designers our lead time from Japan seems to work well (we have a regular quarterly stock order) However, for those who need faster service, we hold 50 variants in stock. They can be on-site in one to two weeks.

Koyo Ibushi Japanese tiles
Koyo Ibushi tiles made using ancient Japanese techniques

Why Japanese tiles? Japanese tiles are very special, like most things Japanese. The quality of production, longevity and understated beauty is without compare. Some of the glazes need to be seen and held to be truly appreciated.

Japanese Ceramic production entered its golden age in the 16th Century with military commanders being gifted tea sets; the higher the quality of ceramic/glaze, the greater the honour and social standing. The competition for the best commanders resulted in innovation and skills in the master craftsmen of the time that are still evident in the tiles we offer today.

There are two parts to any tile; the body, which is made from clay and the surface glaze. The type of clay and the way it’s fired is crucial to the final quality of the tile – strength, durability and frost resistance. Our tiles are produced using the finest clays, most of them in the porcelain class and are suitable for outdoor use and will remain looking wonderful long after the building around them fades.

The character comes from the glaze and a common feature in our tiles is the traditional Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection. For the tile glaze, this means the patterns, colours and textures are developed naturally in the kiln during firing. Even though all the tiles receive the same wet glaze, the position within the oven will create natural variation rather than a flat modern factory finish. We see some extreme examples of this in the ancient Yohen kiln that some of our producers still use. The mixture of natural glaze ingredients results in truly dramatic effects which are then individually sorted by hand and mounted manually to produce stunning mosaic sheets.

Yuki white Japanese tiles
Residential project in London using the Yuki White tile

Who is your target customer? We deal with a range of clients across Europe and beyond with a new resort in Mauritius designed by Kelly Hoppen recently opening including a selection of our tiles in villas and public areas.

We work closely with architects and Interior designers, but also cater for discerning private individuals purchasing directly.

We tend to find our tiles in medium to high end residential and hospitality projects although this is constantly evolving as more designers discover us.

Have you noticed a more creative use of tiles in both residential and commercial projects?

Yes, tiles are moving out of the normal ‘wet’ areas and into decorative areas both interior and exterior. This is more normal in Japan and Australia and it seems Europe and the UK are moving in this direction.

Designers are taking advantage of our format to create some gorgeous curves in bathrooms.

Hand made Recuerdo tiles from Raven
Handmade Recuerdo tiles in cobalt blue

What is your favourite tile in the collection? Oh, that’s like asking a mother who their favourite child is! However, if I had to pick one today, it would be Recuerdo.

This range is from a very small manufacturer in the heart of Japan’s ceramic region in Gifu. It has elegant dimensions, 200x20mm, and a stunning range of colours with each tile of the same colour being unique. It’s very new to us, so we don’t have any installation images yet and the manufacturer is so small, they don’t even have product images of the tiles; we had to take these ourselves. The colour variation is produced in the kiln during the firing process and the highly manual production process ensures the essence of wabi-sabi wherever they are used.

Raven specialises in Japanese tiles you can find out about the company here

And for more tile ideas click here

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