Old Market Inn Tile Shop Decorates Homes Around the World

July 9, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Location, location, location.

Carly Quinn turned a wall into a bar top where she can display her tile work.

Carly Quinn certainly thought about location for her The Old Market Inn Tile Shop, 403 N. 6th Ave. Not at all for business reasons. She chose this location, next to EXO Roast Co., because it’s where she wants to be, not because her business needs to be here – or could even survive here if she relied on walk-in business.

“I live in Iron Horse. I can walk here,” Quinn said. “If I’m going to be some place 50 hours a week, I better like where I am. I like being Downtown. I love the sound of the train.”

6th Avenue just beyond the underpass (and the train) isn’t exactly a retail magnet or foot traffic highway. Quinn acknowledges that most days no more than a handful of people walk into her airy, colorful, a touch eclectic shop that she opened April 9. No matter.

“The majority of my sales are online,” Quinn said. “I have an Etsy store. I do a lot of wholesale to different tile shops. I’m in five or six galleries around Arizona. I would say 75 percent of my business is custom installation and design. I just did a 15-foot long and 18-foot tall back splash for a pool. I’m working on a really big wall in Scottsdale. This is a wall with a fountain feature.”

That said, The Old Market Inn Tile Shop still is a retail shop, and Quinn has taken pains to make it a pleasant, creative and colorful showcase for her work – and also play off the late 19th century history of the building. The name of her shop comes directly from the exposed interior brick wall in her shop that is still imprinted with the century-old Market Inn.

The Market Inn markings from 100 years ago are still visible on the interior brick wall.

“That’s original,” she said about the Market Inn sign. “That’s from 1898 or somewhere around there.”

Quinn displays her tile art in the front half of the store and crafts her tile art in the back half. Nearly everything on display was made since she moved into the shop the day after Easter.

“I work fast,” she said.

Right as you walk in, you come upon a bar, angled at each end, in the middle of the room. There are high chairs but no alcohol – but the bar does prove useful for receptions and gatherings. Quinn’s tile artistry is the bar surface.

“This was a wall,” Quinn said. “The gallery before me had built an 8-foot-high wall here. We cut it in half and built a bar top to showcase my tile work.”

Quinn fashions glazed enamel tile. She hand draws design outlines with wax onto Italian quarry tile and then the glazes are painted on.

“I’m a tile artist. I’m an all-around artists,” she said. “I have four degrees. I went to three different art schools. I have degrees in illustration, fine arts, graphic design and advertising design. I’m definitely an illustrator. That’s what make me unique. Nobody does this kind of design work on tile.”

Quinn came from Prescott to Tucson to study at the Art Center Design College (now Southwest University of Visual Arts). While at school, she worked for a Tucson tile artist for two years. It only took one day to set Quinn on her career trajectory.

“Within my first day of work there, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Quinn recalled, admitting that at the start of that first day she had no clue her trade would be as a tile artist. “After I graduated, I was an illustrator for a temporary tattoo company for a year. Then I was a graphic designer/artist at a tile shop.”

She designed University of Arizona and other gift shop tiles for 2½  years until April 2011.

“I learned a lot about tile production and technique,” Quinn said. “In the mean time, I saved a lot of my money, bought a kiln, rented a space and spent every second of my spare time making tile.”

That’s where the Old Market Inn part of the story starts – in the adjoining space to the north of her current shop, where Quinn and another artist shared a gallery last year. But her real desire was the space next door.

“I used to drive by this building on my way to my old job. I would just dream,” she said.

“I waited for this space to open up.”

That finally happened earlier this year and Quinn’s been flying solo – with her husband, Anthony Trugman – and matured as an entrepreneur.

“I feel like I’ve taken on a whole lot more responsibility,” Quinn said. “I have more regular works hours. I’m here like 50 hours a week. As soon as I moved into this space, everything has been firing on all cylinders.”

Carly Quinn has her visions set for the future.

“My five-year plan is to get, I hate to say it, a small scale manufacturing center,” she said, adding she might just add a shop in the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village in Sedona. “They’re constantly sending me e-mails.”

Carly Quinn made these tile arabesques, which are influenced by early 15th century Spanish-Moorish designs.

In the mean time, Quinn has already hired her first employee – “she’s very part time right now” – and she is advertising in Tucson Lifestyle and Lure magazines.

“Eventually, I’d like to market my tiles to upscale tile shops,” she said.

Quinn fully realizes that tile art is by no means an essential expense in people’s daily lives. She does marvel at her success across the country and even world in the less than two years that she’s been in business and with economic uncertainty continuing unabated.

“This is not something anyone needs in any way, but I’m getting custom orders from all over the place,” Quinn said.