The mosaic for our Flagship Edinburgh store, developed and restored by talented mosaicist Cyrielle Holahan of Tessera:kt Studio, is a masterclass in hard work and craftsmanship. We talk to her to find out about her background, the process, and how mosaics are the cornerstone in setting an atmosphere and a sense of belonging.

What’s your background?

I grew up in the French Alps and Burgundy, and started my education in art and design very early on. I was lucky enough that my family noticed how much growth and enthusiasm creativity brought me and always encouraged it. After years studying design, I trained as a mosaicist in Paris for a few years and when my husband and I decided to come settle in Scotland, I started another degree in interior and spatial design in Edinburgh. Starting my business as I kept on studying allowed me to see if there was a market here for a hybrid studio such as Tessera:kt.

What originally attracted you to working as a mosaicist?

There is an archaeological site in the South of France called La Villa de Séviac I used to go to a lot as a kid. The site is filled with gallo-roman mosaics that are constantly being discovered and restored. I remember how amazed I was that those mosaics were thousands of years old and had endured until now. I'd say that's what sparked my interest for it, and then I got to practice it myself and I fell in love with the process.

What is your relationship with Kestin and the brand? How did you start working together?

I was introduced to Kestin, Gemma and the team through my husband who had done some photography work for them. I reached out when they started renovating the flagship store on Baker's Place because of the existing mosaic on the front step. Kestin had shared a picture of it on Instagram and I was wondering if they were to get it restored. They hadn't booked anyone for the job yet so I suggested restoring it for them and extending it to make the shop feel like it belonged there.What was the project?Originally, I was to restore the existing front step mosaic. It had a large crack as well as a few tesserea missing here and there. After a few conversations we decided that I would add on an extension of the brand logo in the same style as the existing one.

Can you explain the process of the work?

For this work I started by taking a print of the mosaic that was still there. I worked from my studio on each area that had to be restored and then set it on site. I cut each piece (or tessera) of marble to the shape and size that would fit the existing design and placed it on the print I had taken, like a puzzle. To transport each set of tesserae, I used self-adhesive film so that they wouldn't get displaced. On site, I used adhesive to set the tesserae to the ground and then grouted the mosaic. For the new extension, I drew various versions of the design and once we were happy with one of them I made the entire mosaic from my studio before setting it in place and grouting it. We also chose to had a sealer to blend the two mosaics together and protect the marble.

What’s your favourite part of the process?

In the creating process, it would be the reveal of the mosaic when washing away the extra grout that covers the tesserae. It feels like a discovery. As a mosaicist, you always have an idea of what the end result will look like but it never compares to the exact feel of the mosaic when it's done. However, my absolute favorite part of any project made for someone else, would be the people's reaction to the work I create. Feeling that something you have made really touched the person you made it for is the most rewarding and reassuring emotion.

Tell us about Tessera:kt? What’s the scope of work you can do?

Tessera:kt is a mosaic and interior design studio I have been working on for a few years now.What interests me in interior design is the capacity to give a spatial translation to atmospheres or ambiances that people may have in their minds. We remember the way a space made us feel before remembering anything specific about it. It's all about how the interior of a location ties in with its surroundings, it's architecture and its history as well as the story it tells.Mosaic making has the capacity to complement various aspects of interior design, like the preservation and enhancement of heritage, adding character to a space, as well as a precise detailing scale. Often more than not, a mosaic can be the specific detail that ties a space together, like what we did for Kestin's flagship store. Adding the extension gives the impression that the shop has always been there. This is the atmosphere we were going for and from the feedback people and customers have given us, we've made it happen.

What are the criteria/values of your style of work?

Both the mosaic and interior design aspects of my practice require an eye for detail, keen reflection, patience, curiosity, open-mindedness, and empathy. Empathy isn't always the most evident but necessary to understand where a client is coming from, to capture their own vision of the project, as well as feel the history of the existing building, it's potential and future, in sustainable ways. The balance between mosaic and interior design as complementary approaches allows me to constantly change scale, from the small tessera that makes a mosaic to the creation of the atmosphere that makes the interior space.

What’s your favourite mosaic in the world?

I don't think I have a favourite one yet, maybe one day. I'm fascinated every time I discover a new one, for different reasons. Sometimes it is the technique used, sometimes the colours' intensity or balance, others the scale of the mosaic.I have a strong attraction for glass techniques because of how varied its uses and applications are, as well as the fragility of the material itself. I find it more challenging to work with then others, therefore more rewarding as well. I am also extremely curious of the Zellij artform, which is part of the Moorish architectural practices. There is something humbling about the calm energy that is infused in each step of the process. Most mosaic techniques imply cutting the material with a very precise pressure or impact, as is the case with glass, natural stone and ceramic tiles for example. With Zellij, the tile is made to shape with a mastering level of skill and knowledge through its entire process, from the choice of the clay, to the way it is glazed.

What are your ambitions for Tessera:kt?

To become a studio that embodies the respect and symbiosis that can exist between heritage techniques such as mosaic making and new, sustainable ways of designing spaces and interiors specifically.

What do you think modern Scottish design looks like?

Design, like society, is ever-changing. I've noticed a return of heritage techniques and materials of late, whether it be in spatial design or design in general, but applied through more ethical and refined ways. I think it would be a loss to lose all the knowledge gathered by generations of designers on how to make things so witnessing modern designers returning to that legacy and experimenting with it has been a pleasure. 

Cyrielle Holahan