Traditional Lebanese craft revived and gains international market

Designer Edgard Chayam 87, is reviving the tradition of handmade mosaic tiles in Lebanon and sees himself as the guardian of a fragile piece of the country’s architectural heritage.

“He’s very passionate about the human element that goes into the making of his tiles; for him, there’s no point in using machines just to make more money,” Chaya’s granddaughter, Youmna, said.

A feature of Lebanese architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries, mosaic tiles once decorated buildings across Beirut.

But by the 1950s, factory-produced flooring offered a cheaper alternative and most tile producers, including Chaya’s great-grandfather, either closed their businesses or changed their products.

During the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990, many tile-adorned buildings were destroyed.

But in 1996, after finding his great-grandfather’s old tile moulds, Chaya decided to restart the business and taught himself the craft, in the traditional way.

Two decades later, his company Blatt Chaya (Chaya Tiles) has become an internationally renowned mosaic tile producer. Because of the slow, meticulous production process, the product caters to a luxury market.

Blatt Chaya tiles currently decorate the floors of several Lebanese enterprises — Tawlet restaurant, Maison Rabih Kayrouz and Momo at the Souks— and private villas, they have been used by members of the Qatari royal family and  sold to interior architects in New York, Boston, Geneva and Vienna.

Chaya says the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has also ordered his tiles for its newest extension as has a national museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

He added “We have truly become an international name which surprises even me.”