At the helm of a homegrown family business, Betty Sullivan masterminds a dazzling array of original designs
Betty Sullivan knows a thing or two about tile. Since she joined Architectural Ceramics, the company founded by her husband Larry in 1985, she has expanded its presence from one to six showrooms and its offerings to more than 100,000 types of tile in every imaginable shape and color.
Though she originally hoped to study art, nurturing the business and raising seven kids—including two adopted daughters from Mexico—got in the way. But creativity fuels this entrepreneur, whether designing a tile collection or pursuing her latest passion: screenwriting with a focus on social justice and being a voice for women.
This year, the CEO rebranded the company, now woman-majority-owned, and christened it Architessa. H&D recently caught up with Sullivan to talk tile and more.
Some say you were ahead of your time. How so?
I spot things early. In the early ’90s when everyone was still using eight-by-eight-inch tile, I bought subway tiles and tried to talk builders into using them. They called me crazy. It took five years before subway tile finally took off.
Why did you start designing your own tile?
As kitchen and bath renovations became popular, there was very little tile I found acceptable. I had to fill a void and bring clients quality tile that said something. Right now, I’m working on a line of cement tile.
What inspires your designs?
When people travel, they want to bring their vacation home—especially in the bath. Our Batik tile, for example, evokes Indonesia.
Why was it important to involve your kids in the business? Our kids designed spaces, went to job sites and computerized us back in the day. When they went off to college, we had a common thing to talk about; they were invested. Our son David Benson is now president, running operations so I can spend time on vision, innovation and creating new products.
How did you choose the name Architessa?
“Archit” pays homage to architecture and “tessa” comes from tessera, which means a piece of mosaic tile in Italian. It’s also a nod to contessas, because 80 percent of people who pick out tile are women.