MOSAIC ARTIST ALLISON EDEN BUILDS A FASHION EMPIRE FROM A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH COLORED GLASS
March 9 2020
by Lesley Goddin
There is an ebullient, vibrant force afoot in the world of glass mosaics. To say she is creative would be an understatement. It might be more accurate to say she is the Lady Gaga of the tile world, bringing to bear a plucky, energetic mix of inventiveness, innovation, cheerfulness, enthusiasm, openness, tenacity, excellence – and fun – to the art and craft of glass mosaics.
Eden got started in glass mosaic making when she was captivated by colorful sheet glass in a Greenwich Village store window.
To talk with Allison Eden is to get swept up in how much she is in love with what she does – creating custom designs for a wide range of applications, from residences to retail, hotels to hospitals, to community centers to restaurants and everything in between. Her custom designs have been featured in Architectural Digest, Interior Design Magazine, Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, New York Cottages and Gardens, and Elle Décor and grace the homes of such celebrities as Elton John and Kris Kardashian. Her passion is palpable, and by the time you’re done conversing with her, you are sold on how her colorful designs help make the world a better place.
Case in point: Eden was commissioned to bring a pop of color to a hospital in Barrow, Alaska, to fight the high suicide rate. Barrow – the subject of the 2012 movie “Big Miracle” – is the northernmost city in the United States, and has 67 days of darkness in the winter. After the hospital, her work enlivened a hotel, community center and school. Her dedication to her work is such that she wound up flying for 72 hours on five flights to lend some direction to the initial hospital installation after the tile contractor was mauled by a polar bear.
All of Eden’s designs are hand-cut, using nippers and pencil cutters: no waterjet or power tools.
Captivated By Color
Eden got her start at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the 1990s, graduated with a BFA and went to work designing a women’s line for Nautica in New York City. Captivated by some colorful sheet glass displayed in the window of a store in Greenwich Village one day, she bought some, took it home and experimented with it on a wall. Then she broke it with a hammer, glued it with Elmer’s to a piece of cardboard, and brought it to the tile store that was just opening up across the street from her apartment. They loved it.
She opened up a studio, and started growing a business, putting ads in the Yellow Pages in every single category into which she thought she might fit: architect, interior designer, fashion, designer, contractor. It worked: she got a call in 1995 to tile a Burger King floor in three weeks.
“No problem!” she said. “You’ve come to the right place.” She bought a video on how to tile a floor, then showed up in the middle of winter at the job site to create a Brazilian Wave mosaic on the floor, in 20-degree weather, while it was raining and snowing inside. She hired installation help, got it done on time, and invoiced her client with a form she bought at Staples.
She continued pounding the pavement, carrying Polaroid photos of her “fabulous new product” to companies in the Garment Center she knew, asking if anyone was looking to renovate or redecorate.
“I got one job after another,” she said. “I learned a lot on every project.” Eventually she moved to a studio across from Macy’s until the rent skyrocketed from $6,000/month to $30,000/month. Eden and her husband, who manages her studio, were able to get help from the city as artists and manufacturers who were keeping jobs in New York, and moved their operation to Brooklyn, employing 14 people to cut and assemble the pieces.
Speaking of which, all of Eden’s designs are hand-cut, using nippers and pencil cutters: no waterjet or power tools. She crafts painterly details of shadows and highlights, all hand-cut and then assembled with plastic front mounting. “I need to see everything!” she said. “You peel the plastic off like tape. It lets you be sure the joints match up perfectly.”
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