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Find out what's being said about Sara Baldwin Design and New Ravenna in the media.

Floor Covering News

"New Ravenna’s Sara Baldwin: Italian-Inspired Mosaic Master Lives American Dream"
Floor Covering News, July 21-28, 2003, by Louis Iannaco

Exmore, VA – When Sara Baldwin attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, she trained as a painter but soon developed a fascination with mosaic tile.  “Fore some reason, I was interested in doing something practical something that was as utilitarian as well as decorative.”

So, following graduation she returned home to Virginia and armed with a $5,000 loan from her parents (they refinanced their house in order to help their daughter), she began to work on her dream.  Within one year, she paid them back.  A little more than a decade later, the business, New Ravenna Mosaics has become a $5 million a year company.  “It’s been a real blast,” she says.

In the early years, as with most start up businesses, money was tight, but space was even together.  Baldwin, then a single mom, ran New Ravenna out of her home. “Having the business in my living room and kitchen was challenging.  At the time, I had a two-year-old and one day I lost track of him for about 15 minutes.  When i came back into my living room, he had very carefully glued a whole punch of tile to the front of my television set.  I thought that was wonderful.”

Learning Curve

A hands-on artist/entrepreneur Baldwin’s education to then business world focused initially on getting the right design and learning the marketplace.  “I was trained as an artist, not as an interior designer.  I had to learn what the marketplace wanted.”

Baldwin notes, it took about a year to get her line of designs to a point where people were interested in buying samples. “A key was understanding the marketplace and what the demand was; how to create something artistically pleasing but also coordinated with everything else going into the house.  What I was trying to do was offer architectural detail, provide something that complemented the architecture of the house while making it coordinate.”

Baldwin says her art background plays a big part in the philosophy behind her business.  “My background, as a whole, gives our company a sensitivity to the aesthetic requirements of the client that others have a hard time with.  We have several women on staff who are also well educated artistically, and I like that perspective because they understand how to make things look three-dimensional; they’ve been trained that way.  Our artistic background, our ability to customize our products and fit them into our ‘customers’ particular needs, that’s our real strength.”

As time went on, people began to take notice of the young company as jobs started coming as jobs started coming in front clients all over the country.  Businesses like the Fine Line, a tile and stone retailer in Chicago were the first to carry Baldwin’s line.  Owner Kim Preis, who started her operation around the same time New Ravenna began, says Baldwin’s background is the company’s most unique aspect.  “New Ravenna is a company now, and Sara has plenty of design people, but she still jumps right in and gets her hands dirty.”

New Ravenna products, which include custom mosaics, murals, medallions and borders, are no carried in nearly 100 showrooms nationwide.  Baldwin realizes the competition is tough, but believes New Ravenna knows its customers better than anyone. 

“Our niche is the custom, high end product for people who don’t want what their neighbor has in her bathroom,” she explains.  “They don’t want something which is imported and sold to the masses—they want something that is much more personal.”

As they company has grown, New Ravenna’s client list has become a who’s who from the anonymous to the famous to the powerful.  The firm’s granite mosaics grace the homes of personalities such as Tom Hanks, James Earl Jones, Madonna, Ozzy Ozbourne, Vanessa Williams and Yoko Ono. 

“The celebrities we’ve dealt with really aren’t looking for anything different than anyone else,” says Baldwin.  “ We did some pink waves in Ozzy Ozbourne’s house, four of vie bathrooms in Tom Hanks’ residence in New York, and a garden wall for Vanessa Williams.  We did some tabletops for Yoko Ono.  They offered to trade us Sean Lennon, a teenager at the time, for the tables.  It’s been interested; like one degree of separation.”

Beyond Celebrities

Last year, the company completed a 5,00-sq.-ft design for a restaurant in Mexico City and did tile work for a casino in Kansas City.  One client even went to Greece to copy ancient designs that New Ravenna duplicated for a bathroom.  In Annapolis, Md., the company’s work is on display as the state seal on the Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building’s floor, as well as the U.S. Senate health spa.

Baldwin, never on to rest on her laurels, realizes that coming up with something new is critical to the success of her business.  “Basketweave is a completely classic pattern.  We were the first company in the country to put together basketweave as a floor tile patter.  But we’re getting kind of tired of it here; we’re ready to move on to some other patterns.  It’s easy to become complacent, but before you know it, bam, someone else is doing the newest and greatest and you’re left in the dust.

“I received some advice from someone a while back who said, the downfall of a business he was with was the people in charge were not quick enough to embrace new ideas,” she continues.  “You have to balance that out by not jumping on every bandwagon that comes by, but you definitely have o always be ready to pull the next rabbit out of the your hat.”

With deep roots in Virginia, Baldwin’s company, which uses Stark Carpet as a business model, has made a commitment to the Eastern shore and its people.  With about 60 workers in May of 2000, New Ravenna now has 130 people and is on of the biggest employers in job-poor Northhampton County, population 12,000.  “It’s a big responsibility.  The people factor is a very challenging one; how to keep them motivated, how to energize them and how to hire the right ones.  Not one person I’d talked to told me how much psychology it was going to take to manage a business.”

With a new acting CEO, Maureen Lawrence, on board, Baldwin hopes things will run even smoother for her company, giving her time to brand New Ravenna better and do some licensing.  Lawrence came to Exmore from Silicon Valley where she was a CEO for several start-up companies and has even appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine.

“She moved here to retire but I thin she was bored out of her mind,” says Baldwin.  “Operations is her specialty, but Maureen as also done a lot of sales and marketing.  She has the potential to be an excellent fit, and we’re hoping it will turn into a permanent thing.”

Named after an Italian city famous for its mosaic heritage, New Ravenna has come a long way in a short time, largely due to the perseverance of its owner.  “Our name plays off the idea of taking something from the old world and moving it to the new, making it American, making it our own.  It’s a little self-glorifying because the mosaics in Ravenna, Italy are so amazing, but you’ve got to set your goals high.”  Good advice from someone who has done just that.

To learn more, call 757-442-3379. End of Article
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Cindy Mackey
Otto Design & Marketing
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Norfolk VA 23517