"Mosaics and Medallions: Piecing Together the Profits"
Stone Business, January 2007, by K. Schipper
With stone becoming more-commonplace in residential and commercial work, mosaics
and medallions offer a way to keep the natural theme and give clients a special
While mosaics-the process of using small bits of colored stone to make pictures
or designs-date back to Ancient Rome and before-the 21st century is putting
a while new twist on this millennia-old art form.
The availability of computerized waterjets to cut stone to incredibly close
tolerances, along with a rise in overseas producers willing to fill the lower-priced
niches of the market, is putting a wide range of design options for mosaics
and medallions in front of consumers.
The real trick to tapping this market? Have some ample showroom space-and a
trained force to make sales a smooth process for buyers.
BY ANY NAME
The first important detail, though, is to make sure everyone-including
the customer-knows that mosaics and medallions aren’t’ exactly
“A medallion is a circle, or a square that has a circle in it, that’s
used as an accent price,” says Sara Baldwin, president of Exmore,
Va.-based New Ravenna Mosaics. “A medallion can be made from
waterjet or mosaics or tumbled stone, but it’s almost always circular
in shape and surrounded by some sort of field tile.”
Roger Souders, vice president of the Vista, Calif.-based Honor Life Medallions,
says the terms are often used interchangeably, but some people choose to
be more-specific about the method of manufacturing.
“You can have a mosaic medallion, or a waterjet medallion,” he
says. “The difference is in the method of manufacturing and
the appearance of the end result.”
Pini Barak, owner and president of Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based P.B. Marble
Services, agrees that the differences in the manufacturing, although he
puts it slightly differently.
“A mosaic is putting pieces together but not grinding them to make
them look like you have one tile,” Barak. “You have grout
between the pieces. A medallion involves putting them as close together
as possible, gluing them on either an aluminum back or a granite back, and
then grinding and polishing them as one piece.”
The two processes can even be mixed. Baldwin says her company is
currently working on a shower design that combines silhouettes of Green
goddesses cut with a waterjet then surrounded by mosaic.
Regardless of the design, the main market for these pieces tends to be
high-end residences, although it’s wader than that, according to Carol
Friend, president of New Rochelle NY-based Terra Bella Marble.
“We feel there’s unusually broad audience for these products,” Friend
says. “Because mosaics have typically been a high-end item,
they’ve been used commercially for a very long time. Mosaics
have become increasingly popular for residential use and are now reaching
into a broader segment of the residential population as prices have come
Fried cites dramatic entryways, kitchens and bathrooms as all popular uses
mosaics, and adds that her company also utilizes them as tabletops, “which
are just gorgeous,” she says.
“Volume-wise, the biggest part of our business is to high-end residences,” says
Jo-Ann Zanzuri, who with her husband, Clement, owns Miami-based Stoneworks
of Art. “However, the big jobs, dollarwise, are commercial ones,
such as cruise ships and large hotels.”
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Just as not all granite slabs are equal in value, there’s a wide
ranger of product possibilities that fall in the general category of medallions. At
the lower end are stock designs, or what Zanzuri call, “quick-to-ship” items. She
says in some cases, hers go out the same day they’re ordered.
“We were possibly the first in the country to come up with a line
of medallions,” she says. “Every year I add to it and
change it to try to keep up with looks that I think will keep people interested. We
have some 300 medallions in stock, and people can go on the Internet and
see what we have.”
“We stock a line of standard items in our warehouse here,” says
Terra Bella’s Friend. “The idea with those is that people
can get something quickly.”
“Even with these items, though, there’s an emphasis on quality. For
instance, Baldwin says New Ravenna has come up with a line called Metamorphosis
that’s anything but dull.
“It’s all about the transformation of natural patterns and
textures into mosaic designs,” she says. “It’s more
about texture and less about pattern, although pattern is certainly part
“For someone who’s a bit more interested in a custom product
but not necessarily looking to reinvent the wheel, both Zanzuri and Baldwin
say there’s an in-between step.
“The customer can do something as simple as tweaking one of our borders
and recoloring it,” says Baldwin. “Or, they can take a
field-tile pattern that’s something standard-say a basket weave-and
recolor it to coordinate with the carpet in the next room.”
Zanzuri says Stoneworks of Art invested in software several years ago that
lets customers go online and create what she refers to as a custom standard
“They can select one of our designs, pick from palette of colors
and just click to add them,” she explains. “That way,
they can add whatever they like, whether it’s a little bit of lapis
or something that matches the color scheme chosen by their interior designer.”
At that level, there’s also a choice of finishes, Zanzuri says.
The final step, of course, is a truly custom item. Zanzuri says she
recently had a woman spend two days at the company’s showroom working
to design exactly what she wanted.
As with any other truly custom work, a medallion can take considerably
more time, effort and money than something from a company’s catalog
Friend says in an ideal world, a custom project begins with the seller
contacting her company with drawings or photos, and that assumes the buyer
has already settled on a concept.
The field measurements also have to be provided, and there are typically
one or more samples to make certain everything is okay before actual production
“It’s very important that the customer knows you can’t
make a medallion with a mix of marble and granite because you can’t
grind them together,” says P.B. Marble’s Barak. “Few
people understand that you can mix the stones, but you can’t grind
them into a whole.”
How long it takes to get a custom medallion delivered and installed depends
on the manufacturer. While Barak and Terra Bella’s Friend quote
their delivery time in weeks because they’re buying from overseas
suppliers, Honor Life’s Souders says once the preliminaries are completed,
his company can manufacture a custom medallion in two days.
“We have an adequate amount of equipment and personnel to do it and
to us, turning around production for the new home market is essential,” Souders
says. “You can’t hold up the close of escrow because we
can’t deliver a medallion in time for the flooring to be installed.” Pricing,
of course, can go much higher with custom items. New Ravenna’s
Baldwin says prices on her medallions range from $25-$800 per square foot-retail. Many
of the others quote figures beginning around $200 for stock items and going
up as customization increases.
“Our dealers typically double the cost at which they buy from us,” says
Friend. “That’s pretty much the suggested retail price. Some
more than double it, but double is typically what they get.”
SHOW AND SELL
Having the right person on the front end of the process to make sure things
go smoothly with custom-and even not-so-custom-orders is a main reason
these companies are often particular about who’s selling their products.
Certainly the most-common venue seems to be home-design centers. Souders
explains that especially with new homebuilders, they contract with a design
center that provides a selection of items such as floor coverings and window
treatments included in the price of the home.
“They’re not mandated to go to the design center, but to make
it easy, probably 80 percent of them do,” he says. “There,
they end up upgrading to higher-quality products which many times will include
a medallion. We, in turn, have point-of-purchase displays in those
centers, which introduce the homebuyer to the actual look of the product.”
Baldwin says her company, too, prefers to sell through high-end design
centers. In addition, she says there are financial requirements on
“It’s a couple thousand dollars a year they have to spend on
samples and materials,” she says. “We also have expectations
on how much they’ll sell in a year. And, because their staff
has to be fairly well-educated on the product, we spend a lot of money bringing
them here and training them.”
However, for those willing to make the commitment, Baldwin adds, New Ravenna
does distribute through some bath and tile distributors, and even smaller
operations that have their own showrooms.
Seeing the product is very necessary, say both Terra Bella’s Friend
and P.B. Marble’s Barak. Both require their dealers to stock
some of their medallions and-in Terra Bella’s case-borders, and prefer
to sell through showrooms.
“If you have a showroom and people are coming in there it’s
a good idea to have some on hand,” Barak says. “People
like to see them and touch them; it makes a difference.”
Stonework’s Zanzuri says her company takes a slightly different approach. While
it does sell through design centers, it also works through at least one
large stone supplier, and because its medallions often go in spec home,
she says it’s a product that smaller shops can sell using a brochure.
“A large component of our business is people in the stone business
who have retail showrooms and are selling things like sinks and tile, as
well,” she says. “They may not sell our product every
week. They may not sell it every month, but they want to have it available
for that high-end client who wants something a little special or a little
While stone fabricators and suppliers can certainly find some venue through
which to get medallions and mosaics to their interested customers, perhaps
the better question is whether it’s necessary to prepare for a growing
demand for these items in the future.
Opinions on that are mixed, with Barak, particularly, seeing the market
reaming about where it is now.
“I don’t think it’s going to be booming,” he says. “I
think it will remain limited to people who have special ideas; it’s
for special customers, yes.”
Honor Life’s Souders feels the market will also remain limited, mainly
because of the price, which he believes makes the product much-more-attractive
to the new-home market than for remodels.
“These are attractive accents for homes, and there’s a perceived
value and an actual increase in value when you put on in a home,” Souders
says. “However, they’re not cheap, and that makes adding
one an easier decision if you can roll the prince into a going mortgage
rather than going out and paying cash.”
However, Friend feels their very uniqueness-coupled with increased availability
and lower prices-will continue to grow the market for medallions and mosaics.
“With the fabrication market becoming incredibly competitive, fabricators
are trying to expand what they offer,” she concludes. “It
definitely seems to be growing in popularity, and this can be one more thing
fabricators can offer to people walking in their shops.”