ARTO Brick – – Perfect Cashmere & Blue Jeans™
At the Design Bloggers Conference in Los Angeles earlier this month I casually browsed various vendors, many I knew or was well acquainted with. At one point though, a hearty laugh behind me caused me to pause what I was doing and look over my shoulder. I found a gentleman excitedly explaining a product I couldn’t see. I did note that he had the undivided attention of the group of designers at his display. Through the group I could somewhat see the corner of a bright uniquely shaped tile, and I made a mental note to return when it was less busy.
Bright and early the following morning I did return…and I am so glad I did. Here I met Armen Alajian, a man of great passion, humor and dedication to his family business, ARTO Brick. I love his product, (made in the USA double high five!). I love the company’s tag line ‘rustic elegance’ as it embraces my Cashmere & Blue Jeans™ style…and I love the story behind the company. Armen granted me an interview last week and I think you’ll easily see why I was so taken by ARTO and Armen!
LD Armen, let’s start with an easy question … what is your capacity at ARTO?
AA My capacity is to get us into trouble and pay the bills (CEO of dreaming and CFO of reality) and my brother’s job is to execute the mission. (insert chuckle). Officially I am the president of ARTO, but since ARTO is a family owned business my brother Vod and I wear lots of hats. I am responsible for new product development, sales, marketing, and accounting. My brother is responsible for production, safety, HR, and new product development.
LD Family owned and run…I love, love family businesses! Why the name ARTO?
AA Many people think we made up the name ARTO because it has such a good ring to it. The truth is it is named after our founder Arto Alajian, my father. It is also the middle name of both my brother and me.
LD You shared with me when we met in L.A. that there is a story behind the ARTO company. It’s not just a tile company…it’s so much more! Share with me some of the history, how did this amazing company begin?
AA ARTO makes truly unique handcrafted products. ARTO’s products attract customers who are indeed unique themselves and want that represented in the items they use in order to make their spaces distinctly their own. Capturing the depth of life in a product takes years of experience, creativity, hard work, and sweat. All this was embodied in ARTO’s founder, Arto Alajian.
Many ask where Arto Alajian got his experience, taste, creativity, and work ethic. For him it came from his unique life experiences stimulated by adversity. Arto’s father, my grandfather, was born in Armenia and was a child refugee of the Armenian Genocide. My father was born in Alexandria, Egypt where he was classically trained in the arts and exposed to the ancient art and architecture of Egypt and the Middle East. He learned the art of designing and making handcrafted leather shoes in his father’s shoe factory. When the revolution came to Egypt, Arto fled to Beirut where he worked for British Airways. When turmoil began in Beirut, he set his eyes on North America. In 1962, Arto traveled through America visiting New York, Boston, and Houston, as well as Vancouver, Canada finally making his home in Venice, California. To support himself he took a job as a milkman at Adohr Farms. To earn additional income he made lightweight old world-looking thin clay brick veneers and sold them to the customers on his milk route. The thin brick became so popular he quit his job and started ARTO Brick in 1966.
Over the years his many products have been used throughout the world in large commercial projects, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, resorts, mansions, and in the homes of movie and TV stars as well as regular hard working people like Arto.
In 2014, after living his American dream, Arto Alajian passed away; but not before passing ARTO Brick on to his sons. His sons, Armen and Vod continue to keep their father’s legacy alive by offering customers handcrafted ceramic and rustically elegant concrete products that are still made in their father’s Southern California factory.
LD Your dad passed this amazing company onto you and your brother Vod, a wonderful way to continue his legacy. My grandfather owned a bakery that was all family run. I have very fond memories of ‘working’ as a child (I started when I was 8 or 9) in the bakery side by side with all my uncles, aunts and cousins. One of my favorite memories is the Friday night tradition. We all worked hard, the kids cleaned bathrooms, scraped dough off the floors, stacked boxes and probably horsed around a little too much. Then after the store front closed for the night we would get our reward…pizza from Little Rendezvous, a pizzeria a block away.
I close my eyes and can hear my Uncle Steve laughing, I can feel my Uncle Jimmy’s huge hand rustle my hair, and I can smell my Uncle Stanley, a combination of sweet confections and cigarettes, as he leans over my shoulder to grab a piece of pizza. These memories are created in strong family businesses … they build rock solid extended family. Tell me, what’s one of your fondest memories?
AA As a kid, the ARTO factory was our second home and my playground. I loved playing with the clay. I remember that smell. I would be away during summer break or away at school and then come back and smell the dirt. It smelled really good. I love the smell of dirt and mud. Even now after being away on a trip I love coming back and walking the plant and smelling the concrete and clay. It is very homey. It is the other bakery. It is the earth being cooked.
I also loved my dad making us lunch. He would open a can of Vienna sausages, put them on our “Factory Stove” and we would eat them. Or he would get tuna, put olive oil on it, and put it in pita bread. Or when he would open a new jar of mayonnaise and it would make a popping sound. The smells and sounds of my childhood.
LD Beautiful memories Armen! Would you explain your product? The designs are classic, yet hip; take us through conception to a finished product.
AA The goal of ARTO is to make rustically handsome products that are timeless. ARTO’s persona is a masculine dapper line of products inspired by the founder. We handcraft classic shapes but add color and textures to create a truly unique product found only at ARTO.
LD Do you have a favorite product?
AA My favorite product is our 6” Normandy Cream concrete hexagons with our unique vintage texture. The classic organic shape is edible to me. The patterns they create are mesmerizing and the product is extremely durable.
LD What about a couple of stunning installs? Are there any that stand out in your mind? The product is so beautiful I may be asking for the sun and the moon here!
AA Unfortunately we don’t get to see many finished projects. Our tiles are sent to our dealers and often we don’t get to see the tiles installed in the homes. Most of the projects we do get to see are in public spaces, like the Ojai Valley Inn.
LD Personal life, who are you? Family? Hobbies? Can we have a glimpse of who the man I had the pleasure of meeting in L.A.?
AA All my vices are free. I am the husband of one wife. I have seven children and am a native Angeleño. My hobby is ARTO. I love to travel especially when I can bring my family with me.
LD “All that wander are not lost”. I love to travel as well…do you have any favorite destinations? If so, why?
AA I love the drive from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, CA. Up the coasts of Ventura and Santa Barbara and through the vineyards. I love the community, the open spaces, and I love the dream of that area. I really loved traveling to Europe. I loved Italy. To me it was California with Italians in it. I can get Bologna, Italy by going to San Luis Obispo.
LD Armen, thanks for sharing so much. I’d like to wrap this up with my favorite question. What is your favorite quote?
AA “Fame is fleeting”
LD …wise words Armen, wise words. Thanks for taking the time to share ARTO’s story! Here are some of my favorite ARTO products!
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