Heath Ceramics : San Francisco Tile Factory

heath-sf-ceramic-studioThe San Francisco Design Studio. 

While in San Francisco last month I visited the new Heath Ceramics Tile Factory with Alexandra of The Merchant Home. It was fitting that this visit would follow my day at Faribault Woolen Mill; inarguably, Heath has set the standard for reinventing American classics and preserving traditional production methods. The two iconic brands share a similar history and are alike in ethos and meaning; I’d imagine that Faribault today is in a place similar to where Heath was a few years ago.

Heath was founded in 1948 by artist Edith Heath and her husband, Brian, and became known for minimalist tableware and tiles. In 2002, Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic stumbled across the factory while walking in their new neighborhood in Sausalito. The couple were consultants, in industrial design and engineering, respectively, looking ‘to build a more satisfying and tangible design life highlighting designing and making.*‘ Though they thought the factory and the business looked interesting, they also could see that it needed some attention, so they built a plan to preserve the brand while growing the business. In 2004, they purchased the brand from Edith Heath, retaining the 24 employees working at the factory at that time*

heath-sf-ceramics-red-vasesBeautiful, broken bud vases. 

heath-sf-ceramic-studio-collectionTung’s ceramics collection. 

heath-sf-ceramic-studio-bud-vasesThe collection of Heath bud vases.

heath-sf-clay-studioThe entrance to the studio. 

Today Heath Ceramics employs over 100 people, and along with the original Sausalito factory, has opened an LA store and design studio, a shop in the Ferry Building, and most recently, a state of the art tile factory, retail space, and design studio in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.

Alexandra and I had the opportunity to speak with Tung Chiang, the San Francisco Studio Director, in his incredible, light-filled workspace. The Heath Studio serves as a creative space to explore what Heath is and what it can be. The studio is self sufficient but set within the factory to increase interaction between the artistic, manufacturing, and selling processes. Heath is a perfect example of an end-to-end and wholly vertical process – there is no distance between making and selling.

heath-sf-factory-machinesBrand new, state-of-the-art machinery. Donna is petite, but that kiln is enormous. And this tile cutting machine reminded me of a transformer! 

heath-sf-tile-factory-3Working in the factory. Though the space and machinery is brand new, the process is still primarily the same as it was many years ago. The employees were methodical, attentive, and clearly happy and proud of their work. Likewise, Heath is equally as proud of their people.  

heath-sf-tile-factory-2Moving the tiles to the drying rack. 

heath-sf-tile-factorySmoothing the edges of the tile. Heath tiles are a little trickier to use than your typical tile due to the inconsistency inherent in hand-finished pieces and are typically installed by experts. Tile specialists at the retail space are available to help customers choose the right tile for their space. Edith Heath hated consistency, particularly in glazing, as it took away from the handmade effect. 

Although new colors are the norm for the traditional Heath ceramics (per Tung, color is Heath’s modus operandi), the brand is cautious to add new products. After seeing an opportunity to add candle holders due to the amount of handmade candles sold in Heath shops, Tung worked for an entire year developing candle holders, merging traditional Heath aesthetics with contemporary techniques. At the end of the year, the products were reviewed as an exhibit, in order to evaluate which items worked within the context of the Heath assortment. Along with the new products, prototype sets were also sold to the consumer, as a way to explain what exactly it takes to get to a final, sellable product. To me, this is the absolute fulfillment of Catherine and Robin’s quest to make design tangible. As someone who once worked on monthly product launches and refreshes that were focused on newness and trend as opposed to viability and sustainability, this attention to detail and focus on doing the right thing is astounding and amazing – and likely a driving factor in why Heath has become the incredibly innovative yet still classic brand it is today.

heath-sf-store-dinnerwareThe shop carries the entire Heath line and an incredible assortment of products from like-minded brands : Faribault, Commune, Matteo, Non-Perishable Goods, Iacoli and McAlister, Ladies & Gentleman Studio, Lodge, etc. While you are shopping, or drinking a cup of coffee at the Blue Bottle, you can see the light-filled factory through glass walls, allowing you, the consumer, to feel in touch with the maker and the process. 

heath-sf-store-vasesMy favorites from the shop… Garza Marfa leather chairs, test vases by Adam Silverman, the Los Angeles studio Creative Director, traditional white Heath vases. That grey Adam Silverman vase absolutely came home with me.

The San Francisco Factory will also be home to a new, exciting aspect of Heath – a creative campus for artists and makers. Heath has plans to fill the block with creative businesses (currently, Small Trades, an ethical apparel line,  The Aesthetic Union, a letterpress studio, and Blue Bottle Coffee have opened); it is designed to foster collaboration and facilitate communication, not unlike the relationship between the design studio and the factory. For this campus, for collaboration opportunities, and for retail products, Heath seeks out brands and businesses that not only fit aesthetically but are also run with a sense of integrity and value-driven goals. This, to me, was one of the most interesting takeaways from this exciting visit – it’s incredible to see a brand like Heath, which can and has aligned with some of the best brands in the world, focusing on developing the community of makers and designers at large.

Heath is an incredible example of what can be – if Faribault served to remind me why focusing on conscious design, production and commerce matter, Heath’s purpose is to teach us all that is possible and what can be. Ten years ago, Catherine and Robin did not intend to turn Heath into what it is today – they thought it was an interesting opportunity that would allow them to make design more tangible. Today, Heath is at the forefront of this movement, and instead of sitting back, the team is focusing it’s collective efforts on strengthening and building the community. That’s pretty amazing. And I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Thank you to Donna Suh and Tung Chiang for taking the time to meet with us, and to Alexandra for setting up this visit!

Original photography by The American Edit.

Heath is a TAE A-List Brand. Visit and follow:

The Edit: Clare V. Love Shop

I’m not typically into Valentine’s Day… and we certainly don’t exchange presents for the holiday. But these little Love Shop monogrammed items from Clare V. may be making me change my mind! Always happy to add another pouch to my collection.

Send a little link to your significant other Order today for guaranteed delivery by Valentine’s Day!

Katy Skelton

Katy Skelton launched her collection of gorgeous, modern furniture and home accessories earlier this fall. As a self-taught designer for an Austin-based furniture company, she spent quite a bit of time traveling to overseas factories and learned how products were made. She loved her work but wanted to build her own brand, so she went to SCAD, received her masters in furniture design, and moved to New York to start her business. Read on to learn more about her line! katy-skelton-media-cabinet


It’s important to put jobs back in to the economy. Also, it’s easier to manage product development locally, and there are better standards, social responsibility, and sustainability processes in place in the U.S. My furniture is made by Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania – we have developed a great relationship, and the makers are so invested in my pieces, which is really exciting.


I loved my work for the furniture store, but my personal aesthetic was very different from what we sold. I had a lot of freedom and started to pitch more modern designs and they did really well. I wanted to build my own line for myself, where I could control every aspect of the supply chain. katy-skelton-arrow-blanket


Danish design. Vintage furniture, translated to a modern functionality. Multipurpose pieces – I live in New York so that is very important. Wooden furniture can be so simple and classic, like a great pair of jeans. I want to build really high quality pieces that will last forever. The American-made movement is fantastic – the more people we can get on board and show how amazing American-made can be, the better.


I get out of the city. I love to take long weekend hikes and visit the Storm King art center. New York can be so hectic – it’s hard to come up with new ideas, I need to get out into nature to do so. Even a quick visit to the park can help. katy-skelton-captains-tray


My husband, he’s so supportive and I couldn’t do it without him. I have great family and friends that are super supportive. Taking a little bit of time for myself – I didn’t do that for a long time and I realized that it was so easy to get burnt out. Working for yourself, it’s really easy to never leave the house. Every time I make a sale, it’s validation.


Comfortable but cute shoes. A new pair of jeans, I love AG. Sofas that don’t necessarily look comfortable but are. Furniture that looks great and is also really functional.


The Future Perfect. Lindsey Adelman. BDDW.



From a business perspective, Everlane. They work to be transparent in their manufacturing and with their costing and I strive to do the same. The goal is to make classic things that will last – but you don’t have to pay a lot for them. Also, Emerson Fry – she is an amazing businesswoman, she works hard and doesn’t need any attention for it.


When you are trying to start a design business because you are a designer and you love to design, it turns out that you really only spend 10-15% of your time designing. Starting a business is so much more work than you thought, but so much more rewarding. You have to wear all of the hats – designer, maker, packaging, shipping.


I’d like to grow the company a little bit. I’ve expanded the product line with textiles, and I’ll be adding more furniture to the collection.

Eventually, I’d love to have my own factory and employ more people.


Thanks, Katy, for taking the time to chat! Can’t wait to see what comes next for your line! Follow Katy Skelton:

Illume Candles

I’ve always been obsessed with understanding how things work… so it’s no surprise that I love a good factory tour. After years of touring factories all over the world, learning how products are made and seeing production and take place, I’ve come to appreciate the process and the amazing amount of work it takes to produce product on a huge scale. That’s not to say that I don’t love small batch or handmade products – obviously I do! – but the dedication and commitment to quality needed to produce huge quantities of product in a responsible manner is incredibly impressive.

Even more impressive – companies that can do this, and make amazing product, right here in America – more, 15 minutes away from my home in Minneapolis! I’ve been a fan of Illume Candles for years – the candles smell incredible, look beautiful, and are affordable and available at all of the major retailers. As much as I love to seek out American-made, it’s even better when it’s easy to find. I visited the factory and met with the team last month and am excited to give you a peek into the factory… and the inspiration that leads to some of our favorite candles!
illume-burn-roomThe burn room… Illume burns candles in a controlled setting to test for safety and quality – flame height, smoke points, etc. It’s a bit of an overwhelming room (all of those candles burning at one time!) but a great example of Illume’s dedication to putting out amazing product. Did you know that candles have a cold throw and hot throw scent? Cold throw is the way the candle smells when it is not burning… hot throw is the smell when it is burning. Illume combines the cold and hot throws to create the ideal scent for their candles.

illume-waxJust a little bit  of wax… hard wax is melted and then colored and scented. To add perspective, I believe there were 4 vats of liquid wax running when I visited.

illume-wicksI can’t say I ever thought about all of the different wick options that existed… Now I find myself checking all of our candles and trying to figure out the difference!

illume-metal-capWick tabs hold the wick in place and ensure your candle is as safe as it is pretty.

illume-candles-pouredCandles are poured by hand! Seeing this never ceases to amaze me… so much takes place before we bring products into our homes.

illume-factory-candlesCandles after they have been poured… the ombre effect is due to the wax drying. Jenny, Illume’s Marketing Manager, has far better instagram skills than I do and shot this little video that day – it’s amazing!

One of the most exciting aspects of my tour was the contagious excitement and passion everyone had for their work. I had the opportunity to speak with the Creative Director and CEO after my tour and their belief in American manufacturing and the positive impact it has on the business was incredibly motivating and inspiring.

Illume has tons of gorgeous candles, but I’m currently obsessed with the seasonal options.  Everyone I spoke to raved about the combination created by burning a balsam + cedar candle with a woodfire – and after testing it for the last month or so, I agree!

If you are still on the hunt for holiday gifts, I highly recommend the following:

Inspiration for next season…. Trust me, good things are coming!


Thank you so much to the amazing team from Illume for letting me visit and learn for the day! Thank you for all that you do!

Be sure to follow Illume for more behind the scenes information.. and tons of great sales and discounts! (even a contest!)