Charley Harper for Installation: The story behind our new Charley Harper subway tiles

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Motawi Tileworks recently released its newest line, Charley Harper for Installation. Nine of Charley Harper’s whimsical animal images are now available on cream 3x6 subway tile for mixing and matching in a wide variety of patterns. The art and design department provided an inside look at how these cute critters came to be:

The cheerful designs of celebrated wildlife artist Charley Harper first came to The Tileworks in 2012. Their bold colors and light-hearted scenes quickly captured the hearts of customers and designers.

“What mid-century remodel couldn’t do with some Charley Harper?” asked Senior Project Designer Colleen Crawley. “Over the years, we found ourselves continually looking for new ways to use these art tiles in our installation projects.”

 Charley Harper Upside Downside Kitchen

Charley Harper’s Upside Downside tiles pair with geometric blue, cream and grey field tiles in this mid-century modern kitchen. Kitchen by DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen of Ann Arbor. Photo by © Fred Golden.

 Charley Harper Collage

A collage-style installation featuring Charley Harper’s Head Banger, Cardinal, Blue Jay and Gregarious Grosbeaks

Charley Harper art tiles come in different shapes, sizes and orientations, but their unifying feature has always been the bright primary colors: cardinal red, blue jay blue and grosbeak gold. As many customers opt for a menagerie of animals in one project (usually their kitchen backsplashes), the design team discovered that collage-style installations with a variety of tiles, colors and creatures tend to look best.

 Charley Harper Kitchen Cardinals

Charley Harper Kitchen Backsplash

Some favorite collage-style backsplashes highlighting beloved Charley birds

However, not every homeowner wants the patchwork style of these layouts, and the design team began thinking about alternative ways to offer Charley Harper tiles specifically for installation projects. What began as a brainstorm soon led to an idea that had everyone smiling: Charley critters peeping, popping and peering out from traditional subway tiles, lending a little magic to this utilitarian style.

Charley Harper for Installation Mock-Up 

Original mock-up of Charley Harper for Installation

The designers pored through collections of Harper’s works, photocopying and cutting out illustrations that piqued their interests to create a paper mock-up of a subway tile backsplash. Some of those originals, like the Cardinal Couple, were instant favorites that remained virtually unchanged from the first draft. Others inspired new images: the Owlet was transformed from a trio of baby birds into a single snoop peeking in from one side.

Charley Harper Cardinal Couple Charley Harper Owlet

Original tile drawings of the Cardinal Couple and Owlet

“After lots of tests and prototypes, we had a collection we loved,” said Colleen. “The process also made us see these tiles in new ways. For example, it occurred to us that our Cardinals could be arranged to create bold diagonal stripes.”

 Charley Harper for Installation Cardinal Collage

Charley Harper Cardinals flying in a new formation (Charley Harper Collage)

The real joy, as always, came from seeing these new subway tiles in a home. The look is classic, current and fun, just as everyone hoped!

 Charley Harper Subway Tile Backsplash

Installation complete!

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