Motawi tiles

Published On: Jun 10 2014 11:00:55 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 10 2014 11:52:43 AM EDT

This home grown tile company knows how to put hunks of clay to great use.

What started off as a small operation in Nawal Motawi's garage has now grown to more than 12,000 square feet and more than 20 employees. It’s called Motawi Tileworks, and they focus on making beautiful one-of-a kind tiles.

"You start off very spread out and the piles[of tiles] are kind of low, and as you fill the place up the shelves get stacked higher and higher and pretty soon you are working in what feels like canyons and so when the garage was canyons, it was time to move,” Motawi said.

Even though they are now a much bigger operation, they still make every tile by hand.

"I started motawi tiles with this idea that I wanted to make a certain kind of tile for a living," Motawi said.

Motawi tiles all begin as pugs, not the dogs, but as 25 pound bricks of clay - which is made just a mile down the street. They put the pugs, along with any other scraps of clay they might have, into a large machine - which grinds, compresses and cuts the clay into smaller cubes.

The clay is then pressed into a plaster mold and a worker cuts off any excess clay before he puts the tiles into the kiln. The tiles are then fired at upwards of 1000 degrees and they come out hard, ready to be painted.

The painting, or glazing, to be more specific, is a very delicate process. Glazers gently squeeze bulb syringes with metal tips to carefully inlay the glaze into the grooves of the tile. The glaze looks nothing like the final color so the follow a picture that details what glaze to put where, think paint by numbers. They bake the tiles again, transforming them into vibrant pieces of art.  

"Some days you'll open the kiln and the glaze application was perfect and the firing temperature was just *mwah* and they look even better than usual," Motawi said. 

The quality of her tiles isn't Motawi's only concern. She really cares about her employees as well.

 "It's a quality of life thing," Motawi said. "I want to be around people that are fun to be around, that are really good at what they are doing, that get along really well, it's really important."

Motawi Tileworks has monthly birthday parties, and will even shut down production early to celebrate an employee's success.

"It's just better business, to take care of your people because truly, they take care of your customers," said Motawi.

Throughout all of her success, Motawi never once thought about leaving Michigan saying, "I don't even think seriously about going anywhere."

Although she makes her tiles in Michigan, you can see them all across the country.

"Every once in a while someone says 'Oh Nawal I saw your tiles in, you know the Deyoung Museum in San Francisco and I go I know that tile and I know her,' and it makes them really happy to tell me that and I think that's really adorable" says Motawi.

If you would like more information about Motawi Tileworks, you can visit their website at www.motawi.com.

Their store is at 170 Enterprise Drive in Ann Arbor, near the Dexter border.

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