Architectural Ceramics Inc.
- Written by: Matt Dodge
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Headquarters located in Rockville, Maryland, Architectural Ceramics Inc. is a leading tile retailer serving the residential and commercial markets. Specializing in porcelain, terra cotta, cement tiles, natural stone, slate, marble and glass tile, Architectural Ceramics works with architects, designers, developers and builders to find the right tile for any floor, countertop or bathroom project.
The family-owned company has six retail locations across Maryland and Virginia and a team of sales representatives who market Architectural Ceramics’ tile products to clients across the country and overseas. Architectural Ceramics started off as a single tile showroom in Rockville serving the residential market. Founded by Larry Sullivan in 1983, the business took off in the late ‘90s when Sullivan’s wife Betty came on board with an eye set on expansion.
In 2004 the company moved to its flagship store and headquarters in Rockville and has since added five stores in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, including Baltimore and Bethesda, Maryland and Chantilly, Falls Church and Alexandria, Virginia. The expansion allowed Architectural Ceramics to grow beyond the retail market and the company was soon making contacts within the commercial and wholesale sectors.
The professional’s choice
This decision to expand the focus into the commercial market has paid off for Architectural Ceramics, which was singled out as the place “where designers and architects shop” by Washingtonian magazine. “That’s where our niche is — mid- to high-end work with semi-custom, custom and spec homebuilders and all kinds of remodelers,” says David Benson, vice president of sales, principal and part-owner at Architectural Ceramics.
Upon graduating from nearby George Washington University in 2005, Benson came into the family business founded by his stepfather, Larry. While Larry stills plays an active role within the company heading up special projects, Benson is being groomed to step in as CEO upon his retirement. Two of Benson’s sisters also work at the company, ensuring that Architectural Ceramics remains a family-owned company for years to come.
Working with over 75 tile and ceramics manufactures and stocking some 1,200 items, Architectural Ceramics has an extensive inventory to meet the needs of almost any project. In addition to selling tile for use in new construction and remodel projects, Architectural Ceramics carries handmade, arts-and-crafts-style products. “That sets us apart because it’s something many others don’t have,” says Benson.
The tile industry has become increasingly enamored of large format porcelain tile, a trend that Benson hopes will continue. These panels, measuring 5 feet by 10 feet, are thinner than average tile and can be installed on top of existing tile, making it perfect for remodeling projects. “Hopefully it’s not just a trend,” says Benson.
Hometown leader with a global reach
With 85 full-time employees and a team of 10 sales representatives serving customers from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Architectural Ceramics’ tile can be found on building sites across the U.S.
Architectural Ceramics’ products can be found at some of the most famous addresses in the D.C. metropolitan area including the Blair House, the president’s official guesthouse located just across the street from the White House.
While it might look modest from the outside, the Blair House is actually four interconnected townhouses forming a 110-room complex of over 70,000 square feet. “It’s where the visiting heads of state sleep when they’re visiting the White House and we did all the master bathrooms there,” says Benson. Also in the D.C. area, Architectural Ceramics provided the tile used to renovate the home of National Hockey League star and Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin.
The company’s proximity to the nation’s capital also means exposure for Architectural Ceramics in the international market. “Because we’re a very international community, an owner in say, the Middle East, might hire an architect from here for the name and brand recognition,” says Benson. The company recently supplied tile for one such job in the Middle East — a convention center in the United Arab Emirates.
Architectural Ceramics’ tile was recently used in an award-winning bathroom designed by Mary Douglas Drysdale and featuring a waterjet mosaic pedal wall and a white Thassos marble floor. Other recent project highlights include a large stone project at 1 Hotel and Homes South Beach — a luxury condo development in Miami — but it was a charity project following the 2010 Haiti earthquake that really sticks out in Benson’s mind. “We pretty much gave them ‘at-cost’ materials for a new hospital they were doing there by passing along our factory price,” he says.
While the recession of the late 2000s was hard on many players in the construction industry and related fields, Architectural Ceramics bucked the trend by expanding into two new locations. “It wasn’t the greatest time to open them, but we moved out of D.C. and opened a store in Virginia where it was less expensive,” Benson says. “We definitely went through a tough time, but the lucky part is that because we have both commercial and residential, commercial really helped us to handle the downturn in residential.”
With a slate of high-profile projects on its resume, tiles for every application and a strong chain of family leadership, Architectural Ceramics Inc. will continue to serve architects, builders and developers across the U.S. and around the world.
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