Rebuilding Lebanon’s heritage, one tile at a time.
Posted On November 11, 2014
Walking down the streets of Beirut, you can’t help but realize the massive masses of modern homes popping up on every corner. But the admiration of these homes feels empty and that leads us to question whatever happened to traditional home settings? The need for keeping our culture’s roots or traditions has seemed to fade as most people are investing in what is fast and quick rather than what is unique and full of culture. However, in some cases, not everything that glitters is gold and instead of cashing in on the new, there’s one man who decided to put his money on tradition.
Blatt Chaya, a traditional floor tile maker, is a family business that has been said to have revived the age-old tradition of tile-making. Despite all the available technological advances, every tile is still made by hand. We were thrilled to discover a company with modern designs but also with a touch of old soul. When we sat down with Edgard Chaya, the owner of the company, he explained to us that he didn’t inherit his family business like any other descendent does. The company was originally founded in 1881 and survived three generations before it temporarily shut down. Meanwhile, Edgard was running several money exchange stores when he decided to go into retirement. Not long after, Edgard found that it wasn’t quite his time to retire and simply thought: “All that rest made me tired.” In search of something to occupy his time, Edgard ran into his cousin, who brought up a good idea. She presented him with a broken mould that was used to originally make the tiles by his grandfather – and Blatt Chaya came to life right before his very eyes. With full on determination of reviving his grandfather’s traditions, Edgard immediately grabbed onto the idea and started working on the first mould, which took him 4 years to complete. He set a certain mindset when it came to re-opening his family business and that was: minimal changes. His motto is “Moving forward with the old.”
Each tile is handmade from start to finish, and granted many proposals have come to him daily persuading him to manufacture industrially; he proudly claims that Blatt Chaya will never change the process.
The final product stacked proudly
He expressed to us that the profit he obtains from running his business his way is more of a mental profit rather than physical. The satisfaction of his work goes beyond any pay check. As he explained this, he smiled and said: “The proof that quality exceeds quantity, is you are coming to interview me.”
“The motto of Blatt Chaya is ‘Moving forward with the old.’”
Mr Chaya credits his inspiration to his kids, Karim, Caline as well as his granddaughter Youmna, who he works very closely with. His craft reflects bits of pieces of everything; whether family, nature, or different religions – it just clicks. As we walked through his warehouse we noticed a tile that had the word “wow” (Arabic) written on it. He explained that so many people would visit his warehouse and say “wow” – therefore he was inspired!
While others are thriving off of the current modernized infrastructure in Lebanon, Blatt Chaya gets commissions from New York to St. Petersburg to Gulf Royalty, seeking a way to preserve a certain traditional culture in the comfort of their own homes.
At a time when the world seeks to find ways to compromise quality for speed, it’s nice to know that people like Edgar Chaaya are keeping traditions and history alive through their dedication to craftsmanship. If Blatt Chaya can be a model for success based on tradition, we may still have a chance to turn back the clock and preserve the rich heritage of Lebanon.