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Bantam Tileworks

by Joseph Montebello

This is how the story goes: two young men graduate from college and move from Minneapolis to New York City. One is a Biology major, the other a Diplomatic History major. They buy a building in Brooklyn, open a shop selling coffee and tableware, wind up in Connecticut with a tileworks shop and a beautiful midcentury house. Sound like a fairy tale? It’s not. Travis Messinger and Darin Ronning, owners of Bantam Tileworks, did all of the above.

“We were just moving to New York to get out of Minneapolis,” said Ronning. “When we opened Pepper Jones, we were buying ceramics to sell in the shop, not designing it ourselves.” That came later.

Thanks to the success of the shop, Messinger and Ronning started looking for a weekend house. They had overheard an architect talking about a midcentury house in Connecticut that sounded like the one they envisioned. Their curiosity piqued, they decided to pursue it.

“We had never been to Connecticut, but we drove up, saw the house, fell in love with it, and bought it,” said Messinger. At the same time, they decided to close the business, sold their building and made the move to their new home.

They took studio space in the Switch Factory in Bantam, bought a kiln and started a new business creating tiles. And Bantam Tileworks was born.

“It was very quiet at the beginning,” said Ronning. “The first year we had twelve jobs, which turned into thirty-five the next year. It kept evolving and we kept taking more space in the building.” In the end, they bought an old pharmacy up the street and created a new mecca for themselves and their products.

The tiles Ronning and Messinger create are a sight to behold - an incredible burst of colors, many not seen before, carefully cut out and then glazed to perfection. Their uses include everything from backsplashes to floors to swimming pools and all are custom made. Decorative pieces - plates, vases, bowls, cups – and even Christmas ornaments have now been added to the mix.

“We hadn’t anticipated the amount of tourism,” Ronning said. “At the Switch Factory we were not as visible to street traffic. Now people were walking in, looking for new things. So we have to keep adding to our repertoire. If someone comes in with a request we try to honor it.”

Bantam Tileworks has become an integral part of the Bantam renaissance. The beautifully restored building houses the retail store as well as the manufacturing operation. It is starkly white with walls of windows casting amazing light on the colorful tiles and accessories.

While interior designers frequent their door, much of their clientele are the homeowners themselves.

“Someone will come in with an idea that sounds insane,” Messinger said. “But then we sit down and start working it out and it begins to come together. We try to make a client’s vision work. We once did a project that included 20,000 four-inch-square tiles.”

No job is too big or too small - that is the advantage to having design and production in the same building. Ronning and Messinger operate with a staff of four.

“We love working with people and are good at interpreting someone’s ideas,” said Messinger. “Some need a little guidance and some come in with a very clear vision. In either case, it can be challenging and that’s the fun part.”