Nathan Breininger

Nathan Breininger

By Ann Wlazelek

The pieces of Nathan Breininger’s career as a mosaic tile artist fell into place in a basement in Catasauqua. That’s where the then 19-year-old was laid up with a herniated disk from the back-breaking, knee-crunching labor of laying conventional tile in people’s bathrooms.

“I had been saving all this beautiful glass from other jobs, laying on my side in the basement I created a spiral mosaic on the floor,” the now 36-year-old, self-employed craftsman said. Giving life to scraps, he said, was “healing.”

Breininger, a Lehigh Valley native and 1995 Parkland High School graduate, has always been artistic, playing guitar and writing music as a youngster, painting pictures and writing poetry as a teen. Yet it took the injury and down time, he said, to see the painting on the walls, floors and ceilings: that he could make a living by combining the skills he learned from his tile mason father with his natural artistic abilities.


Since the basement mosaic, Breininger’s creations have run the gamut from a small flower on a bathroom wall to a 1,800-square foot abstract on an outdoor retaining wall – projects that took several hours to a whole year to complete. He has decorated a kitchen backsplash with spice tins and pieces of pottery, an archway with an angel and mosaic clouds. And, he created a whimsical “puddle” of stones that flow from a shower into a floor drain. In other works, swirls of colored stone, glass and glazed tile take on the appearance of a grand sun, celestial bodies, medallions, flowers, pyramids, whatever the eye can see.

Breininger had no formal training. Yes, his late father Keith Breininger and Italian master Leno Reck taught him how to lay tile, and a photography course taught him about lighting and composition. But, no one showed Nathan Breininger how to make a mosaic. He simply liked the feel of breaking the pieces and fitting them together into pleasing forms. “I love it,” he said. “It’s meditation to me.”

In fact, Breininger cares less for the finished product than he does about the process. “Art is just a byproduct of the process. It’s a journey, a spiritual type of thing,” he said. “I like to think I’m a philosopher who works with tile.”

Breininger’s philosophy is to take each day at a time and each piece of a mosaic at a time to best create and impart positive energy. The world can be bitter enough, he reasons. “I’ve always been pretty calm and confident,” he said, but when one 5-by-8-foot mosaic involves the placement of 60,000 hand-clipped pieces of glass and tile, he emphasized, “You need tenacity, patience and determination.”

Breininger started out small, offering a bit of original design work to customers of his father’s tile business, provided the work did not take too much time. “I would give them away in the beginning,” he said. “I would leave behind little magic pieces.” As time allowed and he gained more confidence, Breininger would discuss the possibilities of mosaics with the customers, working with their ideas and his. “I’d tell them we can take a walk, holding hands,” he said.


Before long, people asked for his creations and Breininger started his own business: Nathan Breininger, custom mosaics. See his website, Now, hundreds of his mosaics adorn the floors, walls and ceilings of people’s homes, some selling for more than $100,000.

One customer, Charlie Houck of Bethlehem Township, said Breininger did a masterful job creating a sun-like mosaic on the floor of the sun room of his 100-year-old home. “We knew he was good,” Houck said because Breininger had done some tile work in their bathroom and kitchen. “So, we just turned him loose” on the mosaic.

The piece covers about 48 square feet, took about seven months to create and a couple days to install, according to Houck. Breininger involved the Houcks in the process by sending them photos of his progress. That was more than two years ago and with a million little pieces completing the picture, Houck said, “We still see things we didn’t see before.”

Breininger submitted a photo of the sun mosaic to an international society of mosaic arts competition and earned a spot in the top 50 of 375 submissions. His was among those displayed in a gallery in Kentucky. “It’s just a wonderful piece,” Houck said, “and he’s a really talented man.”

Breininger works out of a cottage he converted into a studio at his North Whitehall Township homestead, a farmhouse built in 1789. Because it is kinder to his back, he pre-fabricates a lot of his designs in the studio, and then installs them on site.

“Art is just a byproduct of the process. It’s a journey, a spiritual type of thing.”

He’s grateful for the support and encouragement of his patrons, saying that even the most talented artist “is nothing” without patronage. It’s wonderful, he adds, when they see the potential in you and there’s an exchange of positive energy. The peace and pleasure he derives from making a mosaic he hopes is passed along through his original creations.

And long-term, he hopes to also teach the finance and marketing end of his work along with the technical skills of tile masonry. There’s something called “pooling mud beds,” he said, that many who work with tile were never shown.  It involves mixing sand with cement to create a dry but moldable kind of mortar.

Breininger’s first spiral mosaic remains in the basement of the home he used to own in Catasauqua.  And his four children – Isaac, 17, Elias, 12, and twins Zoe and Owen, both 10 – helped create medallions for a tiled mosaic on a ceiling in the home they share with their mother and Breininger’s wife, Steffanie.

“My goal is to be happy,” Breininger said, and “I can share that happiness by leaving little pieces of happiness all over.”

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