Jason Coleman has a family history in ceramics—his parents were leaders in the ceramics arts movement of the 1960s and continue to work today in Las Vegas, where Jason met his wife, Megan. In 2001, Jason and Megan decided to move to Portland (Jason had grown up in Canby, Oregon). He got a job from Michael Pratt of Pratt & Larson Tile, a former student of his father’s at the Museum Art School in Portland, now the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
Jason worked in production and sales at Pratt & Larson for about seven years before he and Megan decided to branch out on their own. They first made glass tile, using recycled window scrap, until the recession shattered their sales and put their supplier out of business. “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us,” Megan says, “but you don’t know that when it’s happening.”
In October 2011, the Colemans started a ceramic tile operation in their detached garage, and soon a builder friend helped them add another small structure. “Our house is like a small industrial complex,” Jason says, laughing. The business, named Clayhaus Ceramics after the modernist Bauhaus movement, outgrew the backyard and moved to a space in Oak Grove. Clayhaus (Jason handles production while Megan does the business end) produces colorful, minimal tiles with an aesthetic that complements mid-century modern decor.
“A lot of people view tile as just a functional building product,” Megan says. “That probably isn’t our client, because we can’t compete with the prices at Home Depot.” What Clayhaus can offer, she says, is quality and customization at reasonable prices. “We touch every tile. Everything is made to order. People are saving for it, they’re splurging, they’re excited about their home, and they want to be really involved in the selection and design of it.”
The white clay body of the earthenware Clayhaus uses contributes to its modern style. “We’re going for super crisp,” Megan says, “a fresh, clean look.” Many of the eighteen tile shapes, like the popular 2 x 8-inch rectangles, are flat, but some have dimensional designs. The company makes everything in-house by handw, with little automation. A machine purges clay of air and presses it into a ribbon, which Jason then divides into shapes with an adapted box-cutting die. The tiles dry slowly, so they won’t warp, before being fired and glazed.
Jason mixes his own glazes, which allows him to match colors to a client’s existing tile or other elements. Clayhaus works with other artists, who sometimes contribute tile designs to the company’s offerings. Collaboration, Jason says, “is more interesting to me than just holing up here and making more of my own designs. That’s what makes you a good company—as many perspectives as you can get.”
Having doubled its space in 2013, Clayhaus is ramping up production. “It’s still a hustle,” Megan says, “but our clients are happy. I’m getting pictures of their kids, their family pets. They send us holiday cards. It’s not a normal transaction, like here you go with my credit card. There’s a connection, because it’s in their home.”
- Photography: Kris Regentin