Connecting and working with talented local artists to produce exciting and unique tile collections on the north Cornish coast.
Words by Lottie Lewis | Images by Jessica Koomen
Decorum’s studio working environment is dreamy. Tall, heavy boughed trees hang over a large farmhouse, surrounded by various outbuildings. You can hear the resident sheep behind the hedge. A heron flies overhead. A couple of chickens pass by and ducks splash happily in the pond. The place feels like home; a fruitful veggie patch, a couple of young Jack Russells careering around, quiet chatter and laughter floating out of the stable doors of the studio and a cup of tea offered the moment you enter.
Decorum creates hand painted tiles in Cornwall. Made in their signature colours, the artists not only follow their extensive range of patterns and designs, but also create bespoke ideas for their customers. Given the exact dimensions they can fill a space, assisting clients to add their own style to their home. Helen, a local artist, is one of four skilled painters who work in the studio: “This time of year, the first order of the day is to throw open the double doors at the end of the studio to let the early morning sun flood in. We are lucky to work in a rural location. I always like to take advantage of the fresh air and birdsong whenever the weather allows it. No two days are ever the same here, whether we are fulfilling a customer order or working on some new design ideas, loading or unloading the kiln or gathering inspiration for new collections.”
Originally established in 1992 by Ray Koomen in Buckinghamshire, he and his wife Susan launched Decorum in their early twenties, with the intention of bringing colour and creativity into the homes of their customers. Three decades later they decided to relocate the studio and business to Cornwall. During the process, Ray began to collaborate with his youngest daughter Jessica Koomen, who lends her passion for sustainability and her MA in Sustainable Design to the company, and the next stage of Decorum’s life began. “Working with dad, who has 45 years of experience within the tile industry, and bringing together a team of local talented artists to produce high quality products, feels amazing,” says Jess, “After a decade-long trend of grey and beige we are excited to bring colour, fun and personality to homes. We offer something unique that transforms spaces and brings joy with a splash of colour or detail.” She adds, “Our tiles, due to their hand-painted nature, each have their own individual character, as opposed to the standard manufactured look. Each piece is truly a work of art.”
The day begins with Ray strolling to the workshop after letting the animals out, before turning on the kilns in their solar powered studio. The team at Decorum have a work ethic as relaxed as the setting they spend their days in, arriving anywhere between 8 and 11am, popping the kettle on and settling into the flow of a creative new day. “There are always visits from the puppies, crowing of passing cockerels or the grumbling chatter from the group of ducks as they wander by on some unknown mission!” laughs Helen.
They also like to keep things close to home. “Our customers appreciate that Decorum products are designed, hand painted and fired in the UK. The tile bases are made in Italy and Spain to our exact specifications and then hand painted at our studio in Cornwall,” explains Jess. The artists also speak highly of Decorum, proving the businesses level of investment in their employees. One studio painter commented: “Variety really is the spice of life and every day in the studio is different. One day might involve screen printing a geometric tile design, another could be hand painting traditional tiles with Delft decors. Painting butterflies in vibrant teal and lilac for our well-known and established clients, such as Fired Earth, is a wonderful way to spend your work afternoon.”
“Patience is a virtue when it comes to hand-painting tiles,” adds another of the artists. “You have to wait for the washes of colour to dry in between each stage, so you have to think carefully about the order of your painting. The bees are my favourite to paint, starting with hues of lemon and mustard. Once dry, we paint the round little body, delicate wings and the tiny hairs on their legs. When finished they’re placed carefully into cranks holding ten painted tiles apiece which are then stacked in the kiln ready for firing.” It’s a lengthy process. The tiles are fired in the kiln for ten to 12 hours at 800 degrees, before being left for another 12 hours to cool off. One tile takes 24 hours to make, and the care in which they are created is apparent in the finished product. Now selling online nationally and internationally, Decorum has settled into the creative coastline of north Cornwall. By always keeping the hand-painted nature of their tiles, Decorum refuses to step into the ‘fast fashion’ industry, purely creating unique pieces to be loved by future generations.