We wanted to know a little bit more about Marcos Cajina, the founder of Granada Tile and how a little boy grows up to start a cement tile company.
First, a little background: At age 10, after running up a backpack from an old pair of jeans on his mother’s sewing machine, Cajina set off to see Nicaragua’s fabled giant lake. It was on this journey that he first spotted the colorful cement tile designs found on the floors of public and private buildings throughout the country. But it wasn’t until he was older that he recognized how these concrete tile designs had taken root in his heart.
What inspires your cement tile designs?
Some of our cement tile designs are custom designs, that arise from our work with a client and then become part of the collection, like Tunis, which was a design we created for a specific project. Some of them are historic designs from Nicaragua — like Firenze 22A, which is all over Granada, like at La Grande Francia. One of our customers came to us and asked us to reproduce it. And some of our cement tile designs come from floor tile designs and wall tile designs we’ve seen in our travels, like Perpignan, which was inspired by tiles that we saw at an old cafe in Paris. A lot of our newest designs are inspired by textiles and fabric patterns. Geometric play is very much at the forefront of our minds.
Did you have cement tiles in your childhood home in Nicaragua?
Yes, almost everyone in Nicaragua has cement tiles in their home. These concrete tiles were in solid colors — dark red and grey are the most common colors for encaustic tile designs. The decorative cement tiles had fallen out of favor when the Italian ceramics came in. They were mass produced and they were created through a different process. They were glazed and fired. So they were cheap. So it killed the market for cement tiles. But they don’t last.
What do you consider the first Granada cement tile design?
Actually they were historic designs — Fez cement tile and Sofia cement tile. We were doing research, learning how cement tiles were made and we were also looking for molds. The concrete tile molds are made of bronze so a lot of them had been melted down. And then we came across this factory in Managua owned by a man named Don Olivio. It was a lot of negotiation but he finally agreed to sell his collection of encaustic tile molds. It was over 100 molds! By then we’d become quite close to Don Olivio. Unfortunately he died six months later.
I know that you were working in the non-profit sector before you launched Granada Tile. Had you been thinking for a while about starting your own business?
It’s not that easy. It was something I’d been thinking about but to find something that speaks to your heart is hard. We were on a trip to Granada and we walked into the Cultural Center. It’s a beautiful old building, grand and majestic. And of course the cement tile floor is covered in beautiful old concrete tiles! Melanie must’ve seen something in my face because she said, “There, that’s what you should import.” The funny thing is that I’d made cement tiles as a teenager. Originally I’d planned to import cement tiles but I wasn’t able to find someone that conformed to my manufacturing or shipping standards. The cement tiles would come and they wouldn’t all be the same thickness — you can’t lay a floor with them! Or they hadn’t been packed properly and half of them were all broken. So then I built my own hydraulic press in the basement. And then I tried to get people to modify cake molds but no one was very interested in that. So then we had a turning point moment. It was either close up shop or take it to the next level and set up a cement tile factory. So I went down to Nicaragua and I found land and a building to rent and I hired my nephew to oversee production of the encaustic tiles and we were off.
The same qualities that make our cement tiles perfect for a hardworking coffee shop or restaurant space and the reason that continue to shine all over Nicaragua — in addition to their beautiful designs and vivid colors, our concrete tiles are long lasting, easy care and low maintenance — make our concrete tiles perfect for your home, whether used as floor tile or wall tile. Call us today at 213-482-8070 to discuss which of our encaustic tile designs would be perfect for your home or restaurant project.