New Ravenna’s Exquisite Tile Mosaics

Eastern Shore-based New Ravenna known for exquisite, hand-crafted mosaics for clients from Denver to Dubai, including celebrities, celebrated architects and designers
Photos Courtesy of New Ravenna/Adam Ewing

On the Southernmost tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, bounded on the west by the Chesapeake Bay and the east by the Atlantic Ocean, lies the Eastern Shore of Virginia, known for its bucolic farmland, plump oysters, tranquil tidal waterways, wild ponies and…Greco-Roman mosaics? Yes, in fact.

Over the last 30 years, New Ravenna, which began on founder Sara Baldwin’s kitchen table in 1992, has grown into four buildings, including a former movie theater and an old shirt factory, in the tiny town of Exmore. Here, in spaces sporting warehouse to luxury loft vibes—some occupying sun-drenched storefronts—125 people are employed in a full array of design, fabrication, marketing and other administrative functions.

Situated on a narrow, rural peninsula of the Commonwealth, the team at New Ravenna creates luxury mosaics from half-inch tesserae much like they were made on another peninsula half a world away. There, in Greece during the Hellenistic period, c. 3rd Century BCE, cut stone mosaics replaced earlier versions crafted from pebbles.

Named after Ravenna, the Italian town where mosaic art flourished between the 5th and 6th Centuries CE at the likes of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and San Vitale, New Ravenna has established a reputation as the world’s most exquisite custom collection of floor and wall mosaics hand-crafted from stone, glass, metal and precious gemstones.

With materials sourced from America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America for high-net-worth clients from Denver to Dubai, including celebrities and a who’s-who of celebrated architects and designers, New Ravenna is a global company with a world-class product and a largely homegrown workforce.

Photos Courtesy of New Ravenna/Adam Ewing
Photos Courtesy of New Ravenna/Adam Ewing

Though Baldwin sold the company in 2017 to two private investors, New Ravenna continues her dedication to both the art and craft of the business. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from University of Pennsylvania, Baldwin was self-taught as a mosaicist. Now, New Ravenna’s complex mosaics are sold through 200 far-flung independent design showrooms and advertised in high-end design magazines such as The World of Interiors. Price tags range from $125 to $3,000 per square foot for what is indeed a hybrid of art and craft.

Mosaics often begin life as a doodle by one of five designers—each with their own specialties and their own Instagram devotees—followed by input from the entire team. The mosaicists then translate refined and scaled drawings into finished panels, one tiny square at a time.

A three-by-three-foot wall mural might take a week to complete, though production times range from four to 12 weeks, as the mosaicists rifle through small boxes of tesserae, cut by saws or waterjets and sorted by color—each with polished, honed, tumbled or pillowed finishes—searching for just the right nuances of tint, tone and shade to achieve the lifelike animals, botanicals, feathers, ribbons, shells and exquisite geometric patterns and textures for which New Ravenna originally became known.

Megan Lawson, director of marketing and communications, explains that the mosaicist’s art extends to hand nipping each tessera into a smaller more specific size and shape per design specifications while assuring grout spacing and color variation is consistent throughout the finished piece. Designs may either be completely cut by hand, completely cut by waterjet, or a combination. Waterjet pieces yield geometric precision with the cleanest edges, fitting together like puzzle pieces, while hand-cut designs offer more texture and subtle, artful irregularity.

While classical designs in traditional homes are the company’s design roots, from peacock feathers to ’80s pop culture, chinoiserie to chain patterns or filigree to farm animals, no design direction is out of bounds. And more clients are requesting “maximalist, eclectic and artistic designs,” especially overseas and especially since the pandemic, says Lawson.

In addition to stock lines and private-label collections, an endless array of core collections—with four to six new ones added each year—take their place next to completely bespoke projects, be they significant scenes from homeowners’ lives, immortalizations of pets, recreations of vintage fabric swatches or magazine clippings, or virtually anything that is not the intellectual property of someone else. Though some 95% of the business is residential, Lawson reports that the New Ravenna portfolio includes “quite a few beautiful hotels, spas, casinos, restaurants and even an Equinox gym lobby.”

With AI becoming an increasing part of conversations in every field, New Ravenna has “played around” with the technology but, least for now, has found that hand drawing and hand-cutting with assists from Photoshop and AutoCAD, achieve the most inspired and desired Old World-meets-21st century aesthetic that has made this business the largest in Northampton County with an outsized international reputation.

Learn more at NewRavenna.com.

Photos Courtesy of New Ravenna/Adam Ewing
Photos Courtesy of New Ravenna/Adam Ewing
BD
Betsy DiJulio
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Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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