The Creative Side of Tile

Dana Nunes and her daughter vacationed in Italy in the 1990s. “My daughter was looking at the art,” says Dana, “but I was looking at the floors.” Entranced by the age-old tile work, Dana returned to the Island and got busy adorning surfaces of her Vineyard Haven home with creations using discarded tiles of a local dealer. Friends and acquaintances liked the novice’s spirited handiwork, and Dana was soon creating custom installations, from floors to fireplace surrounds, for other Vineyard homeowners.

Nevertheless, she says, “I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m a dabbler.”

Dana’s confidence in dabbling may be rooted in her childhood. Her father was a mason and carpenter who taught Dana how to mix cement and place stones – a skill that served her particularly well in the stone mosaics she installed both inside and outside the house. “I love their natural, tactile feel.”

Dana’s interiors are an eclectic tile playground, a showcase of experiments gone right. Her first attempt at the craft, in the 1980s and pre-Italy, is a kitchen counter of four-by-four wall tiles in a vivid blue she loved. The dealer insisted they were too fragile for a counter top, but Dana didn’t care – and the counter is still holding up fine. On the wall nearby, a Tuscan-inspired mosaic serves as an artsy backdrop for her cast-iron skillets.

Dana took a hammer to the original “ugly” tile in her bathroom, installed an earthy, limestone floor, and offset it with a tub surround of tiles in gleaming marble. “I think of it as a Grecian bath,” she says. The show stopper of the home is a vast, freewheeling wall mosaic of a vase of wildflowers – Dana’s revenge against her own brown thumb.

“I don’t like field tile, and I don’t like straight lines,” she says. “My life isn’t a straight line.”

This is an excerpt from Martha’s Vineyard Tile: Hidden Gems in Island Homes (Vineyard Stories, 2010), written by Shelley Christiansen, with photography by Alison Shaw. Dana is one of nine Vineyard artisans featured in the book, which primarily showcases the use of decorative tile in kitchens and bathrooms all over the Island.