If the thought of decorating with minerals and gemstones evokes the scene from Superman in which Marlon Brando, as Jor-El, rearranges the universe from his crystal and kryptonite digs, fear not. The near future is more discerning.
In Beverly Hills, high-end designer Kelly Wearstler has taken inspiration from the ancient Egyptians and repopularized the use of precious stones and agates by embedding them into her new line of bejewelled mirrors, frames and boxes. Although Wearstler’s liberal use of malachite in Miami’s Viceroy Hotel lobby may be a bit too opulent for some, she has elevated what was once dismissed as New Age tchotchkes into a serious decor trend.
“People walk in and gasp,” says Karen Lipsett-Kidd, who owns and runs Crystalworks Gallery in Vancouver with her mother and sister. “It’s awe-inspiring to see huge pieces of sliced amethyst, petrified wood and fossils that are millions of years old. They show the beauty of nature in an age where almost everything can be altered and deemed impermanent,” she says. It’s hard not to feel like an overwhelmed kid in a candy store when peering into 500-pound twin amethyst geodes; serious bling that proves no jewellery designer can compete with Mother Nature.
Crystalworks’ museum-quality gemstones and minerals are bought as sculpture for lobbies, foyers and alcoves, used as tabletops or converted into light-based crystal sculptures; fossils from Australia can be embedded into fireplace surrounds or used as kitchen tiles.
This look doesn’t come cheaply. “Since the stock-market crash, prices have skyrocketed – people see these pieces as functional art and a place to invest their money,” explains Lipsett-Kidd. She recently shipped a half-tonne piece of river jade to a client in Malaysia. Such large sculptural pieces can command hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You might say, then, that husband-and-wife Albertans Danny and Carolyn VanCleave struck gold when they bought a tile business affiliated with the largest and most prolific open turquoise mine in the world, in Kingman, Ariz.
“We call it ‘jewellery for the home,’” says Carolyn VanCleave of Gemstone Tiles’ hand-made creations.
Danny VanCleave, a silversmith with 25 years experience, hand-slabs the turquoise in water using diamond blades – an extremely labour-intensive procedure – before it’s fitted into tiles. With almost 500 variations of turquoise, the applications are almost endless. Used to create floors or mosaic inlays, they resemble Mediterranean antiquities recently unearthed.
Prices per square foot range from $745 to $1,095 for Ithaca Peak Turquoise, a stunning combination of cobalt blue with sparkly pyrites and quartz crystals, infused with copper. For an even heftier sum, VanCleave will inlay veins of real gold and silver.
Mirage, a leading Italian tile company, is also jumping into this trend with a collection of wallcoverings that uses HD photography to mimic the look of semi-precious stones. Mirage’s look-alike porcelain tiles enable homeowners to indulge in onyx, amethyst, quartz and labradorite for less than the cost of the real thing.
Using the latest computer technology, thin, 3-by-6-feet porcelain stoneware slabs are printed with magnified slices and facets of minerals and gemstones in luscious colours, then sealed by hand in a shiny, non-yellowing resin. Each slab retails for about $4,000.
The line arrived in Canadian showrooms this month and is available at Julian Tile in Vancouver and Centura Tile in Toronto and Montreal.
Says Vancouver interior designer Ami McKay of Pure Design Inc., who is using gemstone tile slabs in an update of two bathrooms in the iconic Arthur Erickson-designed Suki’s Salon & Spa on Granville Street: “I love the trend toward embracing natural minerals and gemstones in an unexpected way. It’s so colourful, glamorous, clean and contemporary. But you really have to have a fearless client who doesn’t mind being showy. Or just use it sparingly to make a big impact.”