Since the 1920s, Fireclay Has Been Reinventing, Redefining, and Radicalizing the Ceramic Tile Industry in California

Of the earth.

  • Category
    People
  • Written and Photographed by
    Heidi Lancaster

Walking into Fireclay San Francisco is a feast for the eyes. Colors in every shade from “Boundary Waters” to “Persimmon” fill the room with a creative energy. The company’s factory is in Aromas (the agricultural heartland of California), but the showroom in SoMa is abuzz with designers who are busily dreaming up projects for the next incredible restaurant or a stunning backsplash in a fabulous home kitchen.

Top businesses in the Bay Area are using the tiles to make a statement and spark conversation. Mister Jiu’s undeniably Instagrammable powder room is Fireclay heavy and a must-see part of this go-to restaurant. An enormous Fireclay mural is a centerpiece in the state-of-the-art Salesforce building in San Francisco. The assortment of hand-painted tiles, glass tiles, and brick tiles are catching on all over the world, from Australia and Japan to the Philippines and Dubai.

When Paul Burns (Fireclay’s founder) was only 10 years old, he started as an apprentice in his uncle’s tile-making business. That original business had begun as a trade-only operation. By the mid-1980s, Burns had his pulse on design trends and decided to strike out on his own and create a company dedicated to making custom tile. Since then Fireclay has grown with a distinct emphasis on being stewards of the land. The firm prides itself on ruthless examination of the materials Fireclay uses, as well as its manufacturing process. In 1988, the team developed lead-free glazes and has never looked back.

In the best artisan tradition, each Fireclay tile is touched by no less than seven craftspeople before it is finished—each person lending his or her unique expertise to the process.