Creative Edge Master Shop: Inspired Fabrication for Inspired Art

It’s probably fair to say that floors are the unheralded workhorses of our built environment. We tread not-so-lightly upon our grounds, stairs, walkways, and hallways and, between the hurry and scurry of modern life and our obsession with handheld devices, rarely give them a second thought beyond their basic utility. But a floor that’s fabricated by Creative Edge Master Shop is likely to stop you in your tracks.

Creative Edge - Eaton Center
Eaton Center

The specialized fabricator of architectural flooring, Creative Edge is master of waterjet technology, which allows for very precise cuts to a variety of materials, including granite, marble, ceramic, terrazzo, stainless steel, rubber, and vinyl. Such technology, combined with Creative Edge’s unparalleled artistic and business expertise, provides artists and designers the ability to create incredibly detailed works of art for the floor in ways never before possible.

“Our company was founded in 1988, which was really the dawn of high-tech waterjet technology,” explains Jim Belilove, the company’s President and CEO. “From the very beginning, we were interested in what this technology could do to advance art and architecture, and how it would translate into really durable installations.”

Although basic waterjet technology—which uses a very high pressure jet of water or a mixture of water and abrasive to cut materials—has remained the same since its early use in the 1930s, it has become more reliable, precise, and fast in the years since, now run entirely by computer. The variety of materials that current waterjet technology can be used on has really brought this technology to the forefront of art and design over the past decade.

“The materials that waterjet has most revolutionized for us are stone and terrazzo,” Belilove says. “Stone really had limited fabrication options before high-tech waterjet, but now it’s a flexible, graphic medium that can be rendered in great detail, both two- and three-dimensionally. This new technology has really enabled a new kind of artistry.”

When the wide variety of stone in a dizzying array of textures and colors isn’t enough for an artist or designer, waterjet also allows stone to be combined with other mediums, such as metal, glass, or ceramic. Another of Creative Edge’s more popular mediums, terrazzo, a poured composite slurry, can also be mixed with stones, glass, or virtually anything the artist can think of. “Terrazzo is a true artistic medium,” notes Belilove. “It’s brightly colored and we can make all kinds of art with it.” The material also has the lowest life-cycle cost in terms of maintenance, can be refinished, and, adds Belilove, “lasts forever.”

One reason waterjet works so well with all of these materials is that it produces no heat-affecting zone: the jet cuts without interfering with a material’s inherent structure, and as precisely as the width of a human hair. In addition to lending incredible versatility to any given project, there’s an environmental benefit: This type of precision reduces the amount of scrap material produced, and the water from the jet can be recycled through a close-loop system.

Industry Support for Artists

Since its founding, the Iowa-based Creative Edge has fabricated more than 10,000 specialty projects for installation at hospitals, universities, hotels, churches, retail, and private residences worldwide. Though the company is happy to work with clients to create a design, Belilove emphasizes that Creative Edge is there to educate and support artists and designers in bringing their works to life.

Creative Edge - Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

“One of our specialties is working with artists,” says Belilove. “Many of our installations begin as sketches, and we serve as the intermediary to help artists and designers select the materials that will work best for the project.” Creative Edge uses Photoshop to scan in the actual samples of materials they propose, so artists and clients get a realistic view of what the completed project will look like. Physical samples are delivered to clients so they get a feel for the materials.

And when it comes to sourcing materials, there’s no company more prepared. “We’re masters of sourcing materials internationally and really know which types will work best for particular environments,” says Belilove. Ceramic, for example, has a smaller substrate, which leads to more joints or variations. Different buildings have different flooring systems that may or may not work well with particular materials. If a project it outdoors, Creative Edge considers the expansion and contraction of materials in various types of weather, and if it will become slippery in the rain. Budgets and timelines may likewise dictate which materials are best.

Beyond consulting on materials, Creative Edge often helps artists work on submissions for public art projects or commissions. Beginning with the artist’s inspiration, they can further specify the details and engineering to make a project viable. They are happy to consult with project managers or site engineers as needed.

Projects are made to order in the company’s 100,000 square foot warehouse by the thirty-five employees employed there. Depending on the scale, Creative Edge completes between fifty and one hundred projects annually. Each is packaged in a preassembled kit at the factory that comes with easy-to-use installation instructions for skilled tradesmen, though they’re happy to consult with the site—or even install the work—as needed.

For Belilove, who got into the business because he saw the potential of waterjet technology and has a deep appreciation for public and permanent works of art, Creative Edge fills a practical and important role in the world of art and design. Simply put, he says: “We make the artwork work.”