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

Waterfront Home and Design

"Mosaics Magnate: On Virginia's Eastern Shore, entrepreneur Sara Baldwin puts a contemporary spin on a centuries-old art form"
Waterfront Home & Design, Winter 2007, by Tracy Mitchell Griggs

They say you can’t go home again, but painter Sara Baldwin did just that, returning to Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 1991 with a small son in tow, a recently earned master of fine arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania and the need to make a living.  Baldwin was raised in this remote but beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, a rural are that fostered her creativity and still feeds it today.

“I returned with an idea for a business,” the 40-year-old entrepreneur explains.  “While studying the history of mosaic techniques for my thesis project, I eventually realized that few artisans in the United States were producing this beautiful art form.”

From tiny shards of colored glass and polished stone, Baldwin has built New Ravenna Mosaics, one of the largest and most successful custom tile work studios in the country.  Her client list reads like a who’s-who in the entertainment and business worlds, and counts noted New York architects Adam Tihany and Robert A.M. Sterm, and decorator Bunny Williams among the many professionals who have drawn on the company’s artistry.

Designer Davi Abramson, owner of a New York-based interior design studio, says Baldwin’s background in fine arts combined with a commitment to craftsmanship sets her business apart, “From a creative standpoint, Sara’s training as a painter is instrumental in drafting designs that work well in the mosaic medium,” says Abramson.  “Those skill shave enabled her to translate major design movements into mosaic, including Art Deco, Neoclassicism and Art Moderne.”

Baldwin creates a majority of the company’s patterns and works with a three-person design team to develop and refine her concepts.  IN addition to drawing from her natural surroundings-the basis for the Metamorphosis line launched in 2006-Baldwin says she finds inspiration everywhere.  “I have gotten ideas from architectural friezes on buildings, security gate grills cover city shops, Chinese latticework and African fabric.”

Since starting New Ravenna, named for the Italian mosaic mecca, in 1991, Baldwin has moved the company three times before settling into its present location, a former shirt factory in Exmore, Virginia.  “When I took over this building, it had been vacant for at least 20 years.  You could see through the roof and there were dead pigeons everywhere,” says Baldwin.  “I bought the entire block. Various departments and manufacturing are housed in the town’s former post office and a restaurant that had been closed for years.”

Today, it is hard to imagine that this former industrial area was once a ghost town.  Crisp blue and white awnings grace the cream-colored buildings were more than 120 people work for the mosaic company, which has become on of the largest employers in Northampton County.  The New Ravenna complex now bustles with activity as workers cart containers filled with pieces of glass and stone from fabrication rooms adjoining the two-story factory and production workshops.

The mosaics begin their life as slabs of stone and multihued pieces of glass imported from more than 50 countries from around the globe.  Raw materials are cut and processed by hand, and mechanically tumbled to create a variety of textures and surface variations.  The time times, called tesserae, are delivered to the production floor, where artisans painstakingly apply them to computer-generated templates and sometimes further snip them by hand to fit the design.  The finished product is then shipped in sections and installed on site.  “It is important that your tile installer or contractor has experience with mosaics,” advises Baldwin.  “Most importantly, the application surface must be completely flat for the design to shine through.”

New Ravenna’s largest custom project to date is a 6,000-square-foot floor inside Le Cirque restaurant in Mexico City.  Other recent commissions include pool tiles for the U.S. Senate’s health spa and a floor medallion inside the Maryland State Senate Office Building in Annapolis.  Further afield, dragonfly and salamander motifs decorate several homes on the island of Mustique.  The price tag for this museum-quality work ranges from $25 to $1,000-plus per square foot.

In addition to one-of-a-kind designs, New Ravenna sells ready-to-ship field tiles in popular shapes to complement stock patters, such as bamboo, herringbone and basket weave.  (Products can be ordered from more than 200 showrooms throughout the country and some of the product lines are sown on the company Web site,  Customers select stone colors and then calculate dimensions for their projects-whether backsplashes or floors.  The information is then sent to New Ravenna where a custom template is created to fulfill the order.

“I never could have predicted the tremendous popularity of mosaics for home use,” says Baldwin, smiling as she recalls creating the company’s first order on her grandmother’s living room floor.  In 2006, sales were expected to top $8 million.  Now building a contemporary house on the Chesapeake Bay, not far from her company, the artist-turned-entrepreneur has no plans to leave the Eastern Shore.  When asked if she is incorporating mosaics into her new home, Baldwin quickly replies, “Absolutely!” End of Article

Caption: The undulations of “Mirage” were inspired by a vista across a field to sand dunes, sea and sky above the horizon. “Path” pairs chunks of tumbled marble with a lighter-colored, hand-chopped tesserae. “Bamboo” consists of marble “stalks” in honed and polishes finishes. “Meadow” incorporates cheerful blossoms into a green ground of stone pieces.

Caption: “In Metamorphosis, I transform organic patters and textures into the timeless craft of mosaic,” says Sara Baldwin of her 2006 collection for New Ravenna. “For me, it’s a way to capture the soul of nature’s imagination and to invite its tranquility into the home.” Among the collection’s patters is “Rivulet” inspired by small channels of water cascading through parched earth. The simple vertical and diagonal lines of “Front” are based on the stems and leaves of ferns and palms. “Cosmos” is composed of marble and limestone chips.

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Cindy Mackey
Otto Design & Marketing
1611 Colley Avenue
Norfolk VA 23517