Following the Mercer Trail: the what, the why, and the where

Henry Mercer (1856-1930) was an artist, craftsperson, architect, a devotee of the Arts + Crafts movement, and, either a genius or a madman depending on your penchant for maximalist uses of concrete and tile, barreled ceilings and wood paneling, faux finishes and smoke scars painted on an interior ceiling with a burning torch to give the artifice of age.

Mercer was born in a moment of massive transition. His coming of age coincided with massive, tectonic shifts in how society functioned, and what was vaunted as valuable. Cities grew, machines began a whir that for him must have felt like a grating roar, and industrialization was the name of the game. In response, he put his practice in Jell-O. He slowed things down, adopting techniques and prioritizing practices with roots centuries deep. A devote of tile, Mercer built the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works as a workshop, production facility, and temple to a way of working that he felt was being lost. 

We took a pilgrimage down to Mercer’s stomping ground in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to visit the Tile Works and his home, Fonthill (1908-1912), one of the earliest examples of a residential structure made from reinforced poured concrete.

The Thunderbird Lodge 

The primary inspiration for the team trip was that we love Mercer’s work. Ben served as the Caretaker of the Thunderbird Lodge, a William Price design in Rose Valley, PA, that pre-dates Fonthill but was born from much the same reactive cloth. Ben spent years inside the house caring for interiors that included Mercer tiles. We also wrote a piece on Mercer for our Object Lesson column with the Magazine Antiques in 2021 (you can read it here). The opportunity to see the origin of the tiles, and how Mercer himself used them, in person was alluring.

Our greatest takeaway, though, was probably something we couldn’t have planned for — and we certainly didn’t set out with in mind.

Navigating the triangle between the art of design, the practicalities of manufacturing, and the pain-points of place has been particularly difficult for us lately. By keeping our manufacturing in-house, we don’t simply send sketches off for someone else to fabricate. Our hands are in the mix of it all, and that mix often gets messy. It is hard, at times, to see how the way we make and the what we make and the where we make can all be held in a balance that is beautiful…and often the floors are messier than we’d like and the systems break down. 

Seeing how Mercer created a place for the act of making that is so intensely tailored to his particular perspective and process was deeply inspiring. The Tile Works is a manufacturing facility to this day, and that is probably because the place is inextricable from the work. 

Tile molds stacked above a kiln door to dry between uses. 

There is imbued in the Tile Works this idea that the work must be made there, just as the ‘there’ must be an ingredient in the work, for it to retain its identity. 

This is the undertaking we’re endeavoring towards. The act of better putting our place in conversation with our practice in conversation with our process. The way, the what, and the where.

Today, we retain a small personal collection of tiles made in Mercer’s lifetime that will be installed in our own home at Eden Hill. Set into the wall, we imagine that they’ll communicate an expectation of excellence grounded in truthfulness, not perfection. 

Below are some highlights from our trip, with some interior and exterior moments that may not make you want to cover your ceilings in tile, but that may inspire you to lean as hard into what you love as Mercer did…

A team picture 


Inside Fonthill, a stair leads up to what was the attic of the farmhouse around which Fonthill was built.

 A Bedroom in Fonthill challenges the idea that dark and heavy needs to feel dark and heavy. 


 William Price also built the Thunderbird Lodge around a preexisting structure, a barn, and was driven by the same passion for the what and where and why of the Arts and Crafts movement. The barn came to serve as a pair of artists studios.This is the view from inside of one of them — not a bad place to create.

 A shelving solution we're excited to borrow from Mercer for our own production.

Outside the Thunderbird Lodge. Thank you for joining the journey. 
- Pippa
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