Craftsmanship is, as it always has been, a synonym for individuality. Now the Artefactur in Mettlach is demonstrating that individuality can indeed encompass the most time-proven and cutting-edge techniques alike. Be it tailor-made, individual tile design or demanding, perfectly-executed mosaics made, set and cut by hand; be it decorated using a unique hand-painted design or digital printing technology; be it cast or pressed moldings and exquisite glazing – for architects and designers the Artefactur’s expertise is more and more frequently proving itself to be indispensible. All of this is guaranteed by a long tradition, knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation and a vast fund of high-quality, at times quite unique materials and techniques, including historical sample sheets as well as stones and colors that are no longer available in abundance. And so, a love for detail bears a synthesis of craftsmanship and design. Thomas Wagner spoke to Jacqueline Bauer, Head of Marketing, and Heike Koltes, Head of Development and Quality Management at Villeroy & Boch Fliesen.
Thomas Wagner: Ms. Koltes, the production of mosaics is an ancient cultural technique. Is its return to prominence today due to the fact that it allows us to depict patterns and images in a similar way to pixilated digital images? How do you work in the Artefactur?
Heike Koltes: More and more planers, architects and property developers are looking for that personalized interior design concept. Thanks to the plethora of possibilities offered by the Artefactur, we are able to implement their ideas exactly as they want them, no matter how unusual they are, whether they are more traditional or modern. As regard the technical side of implementing such ideas, nowadays this tends to consist of the scanning and gridding of an artwork, which is then subject to digital processing, and is finally put back together again onsite; a combination of 60x60-centimeters pieces. The challenge here consists in adapting the pressure-glaze colors to correspond precisely with the template. The up-to-the-minute equipment in the Artefactur allows us to realize even most historical templates in line with today’s state of the art. This way, materials that live up to today’s requirements for example, can also be printed with classic patterns, while the use of large formats reduces the joint ratio to a minimum from the very beginning. When it comes to cleaning, safety and surface feel, we are in a position to produce special editions for any area of use that are both practical and useful.
Do you tend to focus on the restoration of historical mosaics or on the development of new patterns and shapes?
Koltes: When requested, we do have the capacity to work using traditional techniques. We have a history of manufacturing stencils and designing patterns and motifs that spans centuries, as well as a large stock of pieces from past productions that we can always go back to, allowing us to restore or add to existing pieces using original materials; we can even create the exact colors our clients need by readjusting those already available. We leave it up to the commissioner to decide whether to use a design created by an artist, or an idea of their own. When it comes to implementing these designs, they can then choose between traditional or modern craftsmen techniques.
Ms. Bauer, what is the Artefactur’s particular role within the company?
Jacqueline Bauer: In a technoid mass society characterized by consumerism many people seek out something special and unique that will set them apart from the rest. In a sea of predominantly standardized products this undertaking is only ever limited in its success. They may search worldwide, across the disciplines, or online, but they always find the more or less the same things on offer. But humans instinctively strive to find something unique and that is precisely what we want to offer them at the Artefactur.
How does that work – in architecture, for example?
Bauer: If you take the time consider how people, uniqueness and architecture are connected, you will come to the conclusion that in principle people possess three layers that envelope them: Firstly, their own skin, which is of course unique, plus a second skin, which is identical to the first; secondly, their clothes, which cover their bodies and act as a signal; and thirdly, their architectural surroundings. It is this third layer, architecture, that the Artefactur takes into consideration, in order to provide the individual with a personalized environment that is customized to his needs and is therefore unparalleled. This is the Artefactur’s primary mission.
Ms. Koltes, what do you see as the special aesthetic appeal and particular merits of mosaics? Which areas of application do you encounter most frequently? Could I have you design my bathroom or swimming pool for example?
Koltes: For us, the most important thing is designing an individual mosaic that will endure the test of time. Each and every mosaic that we produce and set by hand is a one-off, the only one of its kind. The format of the individual images is unlimited and the clients can have them any size they wish. Based upon self-developed installation plans, we are able to install anything – from the smallest patterns and artworks to wall or floor coverings of several 100 square-meters. Furthermore, we are also able to closely follow and support the entire process of tendering for such services using our own application technology and with the aid of our “Technology and Design” department.
The implementation of someone’s own idea, in a bathroom or swimming pool for example, always presents a particular challenge for us. Our comprehensive program of basic tiles also enables us to install a handmade mosaic surface with a perfect fit to the adjacent tiles.
Which historical mosaic do you admire the most? And which do you consider the most elaborate and most beautiful mosaic produced by the Artefactur thus far?
Koltes: A wonderful example for the realization of a hand-set mosaic from the Roman period would be the flooring in Villa Nennig, which is 160 square-meters in size – still the largest Roman mosaic north of the Alps. The floor in the former villa was re-laid in 1874 and restored in 1960, following documents from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. In terms of our own projects, among other things, we are currently working on the completion of an 1883 fret on the Royal Bavarian Post Office in Pirmasens. The existing mosaic is still in very good condition; it is very elaborate and extremely colorful. Then, as now, around 250,000 individual pieces were needed to complete the piece, which then had (and still have) to be carefully set in place covering a surface area of around 16 square-meters. This piece is great proof of the durability of our mosaics, even in the outdoor space. This project therefore concludes an artistic work that was started 129 years ago.
What is the Artefactur’s function within the company? Is it to be viewed as a kind of art laboratory where you experiment with new patterns and materials?
Koltes: In the Artefactur itself we have two distinct approaches – we use either traditional methods or work on the basis of cutting-edge technology. For us, the Artefactur provides an important connection between these two poles.
Bauer: Moreover, it is the Artefactur’s charge to present a concept of quality that goes beyond that which is commonplace in other products. This goes as far as the ideal. Individual design is a personal statement on quality. Today’s clients also understand themselves as “prosumer” (proactive consumer) and therefore seeks to be as actively involved in the production of the products they buy as possible; it is for this reason that the Artefactur offers the commissioner the option of working together with us to develop an individual and inimitable product. In this sense, the spectrum stretches from creative enquiries, to abstract patterns, to reproductions of heritage-protected objects. Our ability to offer a wide range of realizations makes the Artefactur a one-off in itself and sets it apart from other manufactories that are often only able to provide a limited service and restricted offering.