Mirage Privilege Quarzo Blu, agate, porcelain tiles

Rock Stars – Decorating With Minerals And Gemstones

by Laura Goldstein -

Crystalworks Gallery

Family-owned Crystalworks Gallery in Vancouver is internationally known for their quality of unique rocks and minerals. Photo courtesy Karen Lipsett-Kidd.

If the thought of decorating with minerals and gemstones evokes the scene from Superman in which Marlon Brando as Jor-El, re-arranges the universe from his crystal and kryptonite digs, fear not. The near future is more discerning.

High-end designer, Beverly Hills based Kelly Wearstler, has taken inspiration from the ancient Egyptions and re-popularized the use of precious stones and agates by embedding them into her Super Luxe Home Collection of bejeweled mirrors, frames and boxes. Although Wearstler’s over-the-top use of malachite in Miami’s Viceroy Hotel lobby may not make everyone green with envy, she has certainly elevated what was once scoffed at for being New Age geological tchotchkes, to a serious decor trend.

This look doesn’t come cheaply, however. And, the trend walks a fine line between gaudy chic and fine art.

“People walk in and gasp,” says Karen Lipsett-Kidd, who owns and runs Crystalworks Gallery in Vancouver, Canada with her mother, Susan  and sister, Andrea. “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.

“We started rock-hounding with Karen in 1967 when we lived on the east coast of  Connecticut and Karen was about 2 years old, recalls her mother, Susan Lipsett. “Even as a child she had an incredible eye.”  Later when the family moved to Canada, they would go rock collecting in the Gaspé and Newfoundland in their VW van. When Karen was 15 she took a jewelry course from a former teacher at VCC and realized even then that gems and minerals would be her life’s work. She came up with the name, Crystalworks  and immediately registered the business in 1981. In 1985 Karen approached her father, the late Morley Lipsett, to co-sign a loan for $2,000 U.S. to get the ball rolling.

“We went on mother-daughter camping trips to Arkansas to buy quartz and learned so much back then,” Lipsett confides. “In fact,  we’ve still retained our connections to many of those suppliers to this day.”

They eventually found a business space in a 100-year-old-building on Burrard Street in Vancouver, that they later discovered had been a brothel ( delighted that it was again housing a female-run establishment!) They moved into their current digs in 2008 designed by Karen Lipsett-Kidd and interior designer Catherine Youngren.

Crystalworks Gallery

Clients are purchasing rocks and minerals as investments in pieces of art. Photo courtesy Karen Lipsett-Kidd Crystalworks Gallery

One can’t help feeling like an overwhelmed kid in an adult candy store peering into 500-lb twin Amethyst geodes; serious bling that proves no jewelry designer can compete with Mother Nature.

Crystalworks collaborates with collectors from all over the world. Their museum-quality gemstones and minerals are bought as sculpture for lobbies, foyers and alcoves; as tabletops or converted into light-based crystal sculptures. Fossils can be embedded into fireplace surrounds or as kitchen tiles. Most fossils and crystals at the Gallery are over 100 million years old!

” We work closely with local and international jewellers, gem carvers and designers, providing them with select gemstones and crystals and co-designing pieces to create the jewellery, objet d’art and high quality gem carvings that are unique to the Gallery,” says Lipsett-Kidd.  Crystalworks also supports cottage industries and fair trade companies in Bali, Peru, Madagascar, Indonesia and India.

A tiny leaf fossil tile from 50 million years ago sells for $50 and ammonites (coiled-shaped shell fossils from 400 million years ago) most commonly seen mounted on a pedestal as coffee table sculptures, can sell for several thousand. Large sculptural pieces can command two hundred thousand dollars.

“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. “We shipped an incredible piece of river jade weighing half a ton, to a client in Malaysia who had it installed in his penthouse garden on the top of a building.”

Gemstone Inlay Tile Floor

An exquisite mosaic floor inlaid with turquoise and other precious stones by Gemstone Tile LLC. Photo courtesy Gemstone Tile.

For those of us who prefer the ‘less is more’ approach to decorating with minerals, Gemstone Tile LLC offers an alternative but no less opulent.

You might say that Albertans, husband and wife, Danny and Carolyn VanCleave, struck gold when they answered an advertisement in 2012 to buy a tile business affiliated with the largest and most prolific open turquoise mine in the world, located in Kingman, Arizona. They moved there shortly thereafter and opened Gemstone Tiles LLC.

“We call it ‘jewelry for the home,’” enthuses co-owner, Carolyn VanCleave of their exquisite hand-made tiles custom-cut by her husband, a silversmith for over 25 years.

The turquoise is sorted at Cobaugh Processing at Kingman Mine, the first company in the world to use turquoise for commercial building materials.

VanCleave hand-slabs the turquoise in water using diamond blades to cut the pieces- an extremely labour intensive procedure before it’s fitted into tiles. With almost 500 variations of blue-green turquoise, applications are endless. Used to create floors or mosaic inlays, they resemble Mediterranean antiquities recently unearthed.

Gemstone Inlay Tile Floor

Gemstone Tille LLC uses natural turquoise to create kitchen backsplashes, countertops, floors and showers. Photo courtesy of Gemstone Tile.

Prices per square foot range from $745 to $1095 for Ithaca Peak Turquoise, a stunning natural combination of cobalt blue with a black matrix, sparkly pyrites and quartz crystals, infused with copper. With their mandate to use only natural colour enhancements, Mohave Purple Turquoise gets its vibrant colour from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, indigenous to the Mohave Desert surrounding the mine. Coveted for kitchen counters, backsplashes and bathroom showers, turquoise tiles imbue a luxurious modernity that subtly whispers affluence.

VanCleave has also inserted veins of real gold and silver into the turquoise tiles upon request. That’s something he hopes will be particularly popular when they debut their collections at the Middle East Stone Show that takes place at the Dubai World Trade Center in May, 2015.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery when it comes to Mirage’s new Jewels + Privilege Collection of 20 Wallcoverings. As one of the world’s leading design and manufacturers of porcelain tiles, the Italian company’s use of HD photography enables the homeowner to indulge in onyx, amethyst, quartz and labradorite at a cost less than the real thing, but still not inexpensive.

Using the latest computer technology, thin 3 X 6-ft 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 is available in European, U.S. and  Canadian showrooms:  Julian Tile in Vancouver (Western Canada distributor) 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 Hair Salon on Granville Street: “I love the trend towards 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.”

There is a hypnotic component; a spiritual sensuality to this trend that almost seems programed into our DNA – begun as children collecting small stones and shells at the beach to bring home and display. One never tires of looking at minerals and gemstones. Perhaps the New-Agers were right all along.

Crystalworks Website

Gemstone Tile Works Website

Mirage Website