WeNo guide to… Mosaic Workshop!

 

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Turn­ing into Chest­nut Road, just past the fruit and veg stall, our Intrep­id FEAST report­er found Harry Day Mews. This hand­some former fur­niture ware­house built in 1922 is now flats. Once you’ve buzzed the inter­com, metal gates glide open and the Mosa­ic Work­shop, London’s only spe­cial­ist mosa­ic shop, is across the court­yard.

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If mak­ing is your thing, a visit here is like being a five-year-old in a sweet shop, drawn to an array of bas­kets and invit­ing jars full of col­oured tiles. Notice­able are the edible-look­ing mil­li­fiori, glass with a pat­terned interi­or, remin­is­cent of sea­side rock. Then there are the pack­ets of hand­made smalti, tra­di­tion­al, richly col­oured mosa­ic glass impor­ted by owner James from the same Itali­an fam­ily for 20 years.

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Here also are ‘the treats’ as James calls them – bronze, cop­per, sil­ver and gold leaf tiles that an artist uses spar­ingly to embel­lish a piece. They shim­mer when sun­light passes across them. The urge to touch is strong.

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The shop is a large space with shelves con­tain­ing all the work­aday tools to make a mosa­ic: tile cut­ters, grouts, tiler sponges, adhes­ives and wood bases in vari­ous shapes and sizes, mir­rors and table tops. But it is the unglazed ceram­ic and vit­ri­fied glass tiles sourced from Mex­ico, China, India, France, Por­tugal and Italy in every col­our ima­gin­able that leave a last­ing impres­sion.

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So why is Mosa­ic Work­shop in West Nor­wood? The busi­ness was launched in Hol­lo­way by mosa­ic artist Emma Biggs in 1987. Back then the focus was on mosa­ic com­mis­sions. Selling mosa­ic mater­i­als evolved into an addi­tion­al income later. James joined in the early 90s, even­tu­ally tak­ing on the shop side of the busi­ness. Being local to West Nor­wood, he set up in the cur­rent premises nine years ago. He recalls some of the com­mis­sions they did in those early days – mosa­ic pieces for Sir Ter­ence Conran’s flag­ship res­taur­ants Quaglinos and Mezzo, res­tor­a­tion work at the Nation­al Por­trait Gal­lery, and a pair of box­ing gloves for the bot­tom of Frank Bruno’s swim­ming pool! One of the high­lights has been fix­ing a mosa­ic in a 13-storey cruise liner in Ger­many. James describes it as a float­ing tower block – from the top the people work­ing below looked like ants. The mosa­ic was 20 square metres and took a week to install.

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Who fre­quents the shop? About 10 per cent of cus­tom­ers are in the build­ing trade. And, of course, Mosa­ic Work­shop has artist reg­u­lars pro­fes­sion­ally work­ing on com­mis­sions, com­munity pro­jects or run­ning courses. Tessa Hunkin, a trained archi­tect, also part of the ori­gin­al Mosa­ic Work­shop team and respons­ible for some large-scale mosa­ics in West­min­ster Cathed­ral, now runs Hack­ney Mosa­ic Pro­ject. This group has cre­ated some of London’s finest com­munity mosa­ics, often work­ing thera­peut­ic­ally with people in the pro­cess of mak­ing. Examples of their work can be seen at Lon­don Zoo.

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But the major­ity of cus­tom­ers are people under­tak­ing dec­or­at­ive pro­jects for their home – a hearth for a fire­place, garden pav­ing slabs, bird baths, fea­ture mir­rors, and splash­backs for kit­chens and bath­rooms. Because it’s import­ant to see the col­ours in per­son, makers will often visit deep­est West Nor­wood, des­pite the mail-order ser­vice. What James enjoys most is meet­ing his cus­tom­ers, hear­ing about their pro­jects and shar­ing ideas. It’s a bonus when they send in pho­tos of the com­pleted pro­ject. James com­ments that there has been a resur­gence of interest in mosa­ics as an art form. Maybe this is due to the fact people are enhan­cing their homes rather than mov­ing house. He pon­ders, “but also mak­ing requires con­cen­tra­tion – it’s a good way of block­ing stress, it’s a moment of peace”.

That sums up the exper­i­ence of Mosa­ic Work­shop. There is a kind of serenity in the space and …some­thing oh-so-deeply attract­ive about those col­our­ful tiles.

 

Mosa­ic Work­shop

Unit 2 Harry Day Mews

1 Chest­nut Rd

SE27 9EZ

www.mosaicworkshop.com

 

Tue to Fri 10 to 5.30pm

Sat 10 to 4pm

Monthly Late Night until 8pm (1st Wed­nes­day of every month)