For Paris Ceramics owner Charlie Smallbone, finding antique limestone, tile and mosaics is an adventure—which is why he’s on an airplane 40 to 70 hours a month traveling to China, India, Latin America and the Middle East to examine stone reclaimed from temples, chateaux, country houses and Roman courtyards.
“This business gets me into some interesting places visiting different cultures,” says Smallbone, an Englishman whose company has seven showrooms in the United States and one in London. “But invariably I must consider that I have to come back with something viable in the American market.” And he manages to do that each time.
Smallbone has brought back antique flagstones ranging in color from light beige to dark silvery grey from France’s Burgundy region, which, after wine, is known for its hard stone; centuries-old Jerusalem stone from the West Bank (obtained with the blessing of both the Arabs and the Jews, he maintains); and a white marble floor, comprised of random-sized slabs, from an Andalusian monastery. The antique flooring is acquired from architectural salvagers—“we are not involved in tearing down any buildings,” Smallbone states.
Paris Ceramics also quarries its own stones, procured from all corners of the globe—even from such unlikely places as the hills above Sofia, Bulgaria, where an unusual white and parchment-yellow limestone is sourced. On one of Smallbone’s jaunts to India, after he and his wife admired a hard, blackish limestone in their hotel, which was in Udaipur, Paris Ceramics reopened a long-closed-down quarry. He also has reopened quarries in England that supplied stone for such historic buildings as Westminster Abbey and many of the great houses, and he is importing to the United States a rich diversity of limestones—from the pale cream and honey hues of Cotswold and Lincoln, which dates to the Jurassic period 80 to 90 million years ago, to the deep blues of the Quantock Hills.
The results of these travels are found in residences and commercial buildings throughout the United States and in Europe. The vast terrace of a Palm Beach manse is paved entirely in antique Jerusalem stone. A Mediterranean-style pool surround (see picture in table of contents) in southwest England, designed entirely by Paris Ceramic, was done in a herringbone pattern using Santa Rufina terracotta, made in a traditional Moorish wood-burning kiln to give the appearance of an antique finish.
With its antique stone Paris Ceramics offers history as well as the aesthetic beauty of stone floors that have become smooth with centuries of foot traffic and scrubbing with soap and water. “These floors are subtly sophisticated,” says Smallbone. “They’re for people who are buying a certain aesthetic that can’t be recreated. I can get very close with the reproductions that we make, but the antique has a color and a texture from years of wear and tear that can’t be replicated completely by machine or by hand.”
Paris Ceramics also creates mosaics and cosmati patterns using handcut marble, and continues to add to its collections of glazed and handpainted decorative tiles.