Ann Sacks: The New Home Source Interview

A ceramic pot made by AnnSnacks, placed on top of three books on a table.

Hua stoneware tiles from Ann Sacks’ Robert Kuo Chinois collection adds both elegance and quirkiness to any wall. The line of stoneware, like all Ann Sacks tiles, are produced on site at the company’s Portland factory.

What started as a 1980s Mexican Talavera tile trivet company — run out of the Portland bungalow of designer Ann Sacks — has morphed into one of the country’s premier tile and stone companies.

Its many product lines include dynamic innovations such as three-dimensional surfaces and extend into plumbing fixtures and bathroom furnishings.

While Ann Sacks the designer is no longer with the company, having been bought out by Kohler in 1989, the company still carries her name with pride and is as influential as ever in the world of 
interior design. NewHomeSource checks in with Ted Chappell, who’s been president of Ann Sacks since 2013, to find out what’s ahead for the company that seems to make everyone “ooh” and “ahh”:

Name: Ted Chappell

Position: President of Ann Sacks, where he’s responsible for the company’s strategic direction and daily operations.

Lives in: Portland, Ore.

Hometown: “I’m originally a Jersey boy who grew up across the river from Manhattan, but my family and I are loving the Pacific Northwest right now.”

NewHomeSource: Ann Sacks has grown from a tile company to one that designs everything from plumbing to bath furnishings. How did you know it was time to expand?

Chappel: We expanded into plumbing and bath accessories when we realized many of our clients weren’t just looking for surface solutions (like tile), but whole bath solutions. We are fortunate to have (bathroom and kitchen product company) Kallista as a sister company within the Kohler Decorative Products Group with whom we could partner.

NHS: When glass tile became a bonafide trend, Ann Sacks was among the first to bring it to market. Now it’s everywhere. How has the product changed over the years?

Chappel: Ann Sacks has always been a leader in glass tile and it remains an important product category for us.

On the high end of the spectrum, we drive innovation with new designs
, such as the glass-encased fruit paper product we launched at this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) called Market. Using the same Egyptian technique used to make papyrus, the earliest forms of paper, Market features tissue-thin pieces of fresh produce between layers of glass.

At the lower end, we look at differentiating by texture and color and capitalizing on the latest glass technology. This has been a successful formula for us.

NHS: What do you consider to be Ann Sack’s signature? What do you do better than anyone else?

Chappel: We’re best known for our ceramic tile, which we’re proud to boast is still “handmade in Portland, Ore.” This is an important part of our heritage, which our loyal clients have embraced over the years. In fact, when designers visit our factory in Portland, they have an opportunity to make their own custom tile. Last year, for example, we partnered with designer Robert Kuo on a new line of stoneware called Chinois, which we, of course, produce on site.

NHS: Your new, Moroccan-influenced collection with designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard was a hit at KBIS. What made you want to work with Martyn? 

Chappel: Martyn has an amazing design flare and aesthetic, which filled a void in our current product portfolio. He was an absolute pleasure and inspiration to work with on a collection of encaustic ceramic and glass tile because he’s both talented and charismatic and that comes through in his designs. (To see artisans at work on Bullard’s Hermitage mirrored glass collection, visit 
http://vimeo.com/88463156.)

NHS: What inspires you? How much do you look to consumers to drive product design? 

Chappel: Our design inspiration often comes from fashion, architecture or travel. With 17 showrooms across the country and one in London, we’re also able to collect feedback directly from customers, whether that’s a small, specific request or an idea for a potential new product line. They are an amazing source of market data.

NHS: What do you consider the biggest mistake people make when selecting tile?

Chappel: We always caution our clients not to “overcomplicate” or mix too many colors, mediums and textures.

NHS: What can we look forward to from Ann Sacks in the coming year?

Chappel: We’re expanding our influence beyond the bathroom into all areas of the house, especially kitchens, fireplaces and patios. We’re also developing products specifically for the commercial and hospitality markets.

NHS: Can you share any design blogs, shows or magazines you follow? How do you stay atop the trends — or ahead of them?

Chappel: We read every design and shelter magazine you can imagine!

NHS: Describe your design style in one word.

Chappel: How about 10 words: Clean, simple and maybe a bit of East meets West!

Ana Connery is the former content director for the Parenting Group and has edited several magazines, including Florida Travel & Life and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the construction of the FitHouse program. She lives and writes from her Florida bungalow.

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