Design Stories | How It All Began

Happy Thanksgiving! While you are soon to be relaxing and enjoying quality time with your loved ones, we thought we'd take this time to share with you someone for whom we are thankful. We are going to take a brief step away from our regular design stories format. This particular story deserves to be told in a slightly different way. It's the history of Motawi Tileworks: how Nawal Motawi got her start. Without this first project, who knows where Motawi would be today?

It all began in a garage on Packard Road in Ann Arbor in 1992. Nawal made her first tiles there. She sold them at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market. Soon after she started selling them there, Cynthia Postmus noticed her tiles and asked her if she would design a fireplace for her home. Nawal took a big gulp and said "sure, but I'll need a non-refundable deposit for $250." The rest, as they say, was history. Here is the story of Cynthia's design, told in her own words in a recent e-mail to our marketing director:

Dear Christa,

Thanks very much for your card and I would like to congratulate Nawal on her recent expansion in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Art Center. My, Motawi Tileworks has come a long way. I feel that I played a very important role in the establishment of the company. As mentioned in my earlier communication, I was in the process of planning a move to a duplex on North Fifth Avenue. I wanted a fireplace of tiles that were different. My daughter(also a graduate of U of Michigan's School of Art and Design) who was visiting. The Farmers Market was a favorite of our family since its inception and she raved about the tiles that she had seen at the market. We made a stop at Nawal's stand and I loved the beautiful colors of her tiles. Animals have always been part of my life, and her rabbits, the deer, the dog, etc. were charming. We chatted with Nawal, and I took one of her cards.

Fast forward/ I decided to check out her place of business and confess that I had a hard time finding it. It was a cold winter day and icy. As I remember I went to the house first and knocked at the door, but no one answered. Finally, decided to check out a garage in the back of the house. I knocked and a gentleman said to come in and I told him I was looking for the tile woman. He said that would be his sister, and he wasn't sure when she would be back. He said they worked together and he volunteered that he would soon not be working with her as he needed to get 'a real job.'

The very first Tileworks building. A 600 square foot garage on Packard Road in Ann Arbor.

"She eventually worked out a very nice design, but I was nervous. I personally thought the business seemed rather tenuous."

I finally talked with Nawal and set up a time to meet and discuss her ideas for the design of my fireplace. We met and she studied the specifications, had some suggestions, etc. She eventually worked out a very nice design, but I was nervous. I personally thought the business seemed rather tenuous. I also made several unplanned stops to check on the progress of the fireplace when out near Packard. No one was in the shop and the whole arrangement seemed shaky to say the least.

Finally, she called with the necessary estimates. She said she had a contract ready for the two of us to sign and gave me the advance figure she would need from me to go ahead with the work. I truly wondered what I had gotten into! So I plunged on and met her at the house. While she was busy getting the papers together, I could not help noticing that on the kitchen table there was an application for graduate school to the University of Minnesota. I decided that I needed to find out the immediate future of my fireplace and asked if she had plans to move???She was vague but assured me that she would follow through with our deal.

Nawal and Luca with the very first fireplace ready for installation

"So now you can see why I personally feel that our initial fireplace was the start of something big!"

So the end result was a lovely fireplace and I really think a jump start of a thriving and unique company. Wonderful for Nawal and great for Ann Arbor! Several years later my husband retired from his OB-GYN practice, and we eventually began to spend more time in Charlevoix where I grew up. We continued to go between our two places, but as we became busier and more involved in Charlevoix, we made the decision to sell our half of the duplex. After a few years, we decided to build a new home in Charlevoix, and again required Motawi Tile to duplicate the Ann Arbor fireplace here in Charlevoix. We have received many compliments on the design and have enjoyed many a fire on wintery nights.

So now you can see why I personally feel that our initial fireplace was the start of something big! I'm glad Nawal did not go to Minnesota!


Cynthia Postmus

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