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pricing tile for a fireplace

updated thu 31 jul 97


Patrice Thibodeau on thu 24 jul 97

My partner and I are seeking advice concerning what to charge for
handmade tile for a fireplace. The customer has requested three
different sizes for the sides and top front of the mantle. These will
be plain (not carved) and measure from 1/2" x 3" for the smallest to 2"
x 6" for the largest. In addition, three larger carved tile will be
integrated into the top front. We will not be providing installation.
Any suggestions on how to charge for such a project? By the square
foot? By the tile?

Patrice Thibodeau

Kris Baum on fri 25 jul 97

Patrice - I also would like to hear how other people price their tile
work. I am currently doing my second commission, and so far my
customers have been friends and family, so I have been reluctant to
charge what (I hope) my work is worth! So far, I have charged about
$33/ sq. ft. for hand-molded tiles in a custom design with custom
glaze for kitchen backsplashes. I would like to charge on the order
of $50/sq. ft., going up to $75-100/sq.ft. for custom hand-carved
tiles (that cannot be molded, e.g. with undercuts as part of the
design). I am doing a fireplace with molded tiles for $50/sq.ft.; my
rationale is that it is a smaller job than a kitchen and the tiles
are larger and therefore harder to make without warping, etc. Also,
the tiles are custom made in the exact sizes needed to fit the space.
Finally, I figure that my design services and glaze formulating are
spread over a smaller base with a smaller job.

The reason I charge by the square foot is because I want to work with
the customer to produce something (kitchen backsplash, fireplace,
etc.) that they LOVE, and that is EXACTLY what they want. I don't
want them to desire 50% relief tiles and 50% field tiles, but end up
with only 10% relief tiles because the relief tiles cost more
and the field tiles are cheaper, so I price the job on a square foot
basis and they can have anything they want in those square feet. The
job I'm doing now has a running border through the center, with flat
field tiles and 3 kinds of relief tiles sprinkled through. When I
have a few square feet made, my client and I will sit down and figure
out what proportion of the various relief tiles will look best
scattered in the field, and what percent should be relief vs. field.
However, she knows the price ahead of time because it's on a square
foot basis.

Of course, there are a few problems with this approach. One is, if
I make the square foot price high enough to make it worth my while
(we're still talking minimum wage here), I still probably price
myself out of lots of jobs. Home Depot sells tiles for less than 50
cents whereas mine are almost $4 each. While I would prefer to do the
entire job, I am not against selling a few decorative tiles to accent
a commercial tile; however, I think I would charge a higher price for
those few tiles. My client was going to use commercial field tiles,
and she brought a few over to put next to the relief tiles, but the
glazes looked so incredibly flat and boring next to mine (I was so
pleased!) that she decided to have me do all the tiles for her

Another problem is, most tile purveyors price decorative tiles by the
piece, not the sq. ft. I think the sq. ft. price can scare people
off because they forget that there are 9 (4 in.) tiles per sq. ft.
and so the sq. ft. price sounds too high for them. I was advised by
a professional tile painter to NEVER price by the sq. ft, always to
do it by the tile as she does (she doesn't even provide the tile -
the customer buys those separately!) Don't ask me why I don't take
this advice - I guess I was set on doing it by the sq. ft. (See
rationale above). I still keep mulling it over, though, whether I
should change and charge by the tile.

So, I keep telling myself that I'm poor but that I'm adding works to
my "portfolio"! I'd love to hear how others are doing it!

Kris Baum, Shubunkin Pottery,