Motawi Mojo

Making beautiful things for everyday places spins a shared sense of purpose and infectious air of fun. Photography by Justin Maconochie
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Motawi Tile - KitchenTHERE’S NO SUCH thing as a tile emergency.”

That’s founder, Nawal Motawi, talking about a day on the job at Motawi Tileworks. In other words, employees here are encouraged to relax, have fun and enjoy what they do. Motawi’s Ann Arbor-based business is family-oriented and her team thrives on a shared sense of purpose.

“That,” says Marketing and Communications Coordinator Christa Quinn, “fosters a community where the staff are as satisfied as their customers. It’s what’s known as Motawi Mojo.”

Motawi Tile - BathroomWith a Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan, Nawal Motawi developed “an infectious enthusiasm for clay,” which prompted further study at Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery. In 1992 she began producing decorative tiles in her garage, eventually expanding to the company’s current location on Enterprise Drive.

What began as a one-woman operation now boasts more than 30 creative minds.

Motawi Tileworks specializes in three distinct types of tiles: Polychrome (created using the “Cuenca-style” technique); Relief; and Field. Polychrome tiles incorporate multiple colors separated by tiny ridges of clay. Relief tiles, on the other hand, use a single-hue glaze and have a raised, sculptural quality. Field tiles are monochromatic as well, but are flat.

In a modern era where machines often outnumber humans, there’s an intentional hands-on element here. Up to 10 artists are responsible for each tile that’s made.

Tiles begin as a clay “pug” and are flattened under 60 tons of pressure, then trimmed, edged, smoothed and dried. After they’re fired in a kiln and cooled, the tiles are glazed, fired and cooled again. Start to finish, the process takes about 13 days.

Motawi Tile - FireplaceMotawi customers often team up with installation designers. “It’s a creative process with endless possibilities,” says Quinn. The finished tiles are well-suited for fireplaces, kitchen backsplashes, bathrooms and flooring, but folks find other applications for them as well.

“Our tiles forge a rich connection between people and specific places or events,” Motawi notes.

A former TV news personality who understands the demands of high-stress work, Quinn relishes that her role at Motawi — and the artisan-fueled vibe of the company itself — is the flip side of that coin.

“Our job,” she says, “is to bring beauty to people’s homes. It’s what we love to do.”

To learn more about the company’s design services and art, visit motawi.com.

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