Encaustic tiles, also known as Moroccan tiles, have been around for centuries. These are tiles that are produced by using two or more different colors of clay in the body of the tile so the visible patterns are created within the tile instead of glazed onto the surface - patterns that will never wear off with time or use. Many new cement tiles are being created in the style of encaustic tiles so they are durable and rich in color. They are also eco-friendly since they are made from natural materials and they are not fired in a kiln so they use much less energy to create than the typical high-fired ceramic tiles.
"The word Encaustic tile is actually incorrect as it refers to a paint that is fixed by heat, but since the Victorian times it is used in the UK for inlaid cement tiles".
Encaustic tiles are completely handmade. Today, handcrafted encaustic cement tiles are made using traditional artisan techniques. Styles of these tiles range from the more traditional Moroccan-influenced patterns to newer contemporary designs.
The pigmented cement mixtures are prepared in batches and every component is weighed in order to guarantee color consistency. Two layers of cement and sand aggregate are poured on top of the color layer and then the tile is pressed using a hydraulic press which applies 1,700 PSI of pressure. The following day the tiles are soaked in water in order to achieve water saturation of the piece. This guarantees proper cement hydration. The tiles are left to dry for 10 days and then hand inspected. Tiles are ready for shipment 28 days after they’ve been manufactured. At this stage the cement in the body and the color surface will have obtained 98% of its ultimate strength.
"Encaustic tiles enjoyed a great popularity during the Art Deco times ca. 100 years ago. You can sometimes see them installed in houses in the south of France or in Spain and they are still as beautiful as they were at that time".
Generally the most common and most economical format for encaustic tile is an 8 inch square shape, though the 8” hexagon shape is also becoming popular. The price per square foot tends to increase as you move away from these sizes. Smaller formats are more labor intensive, while larger formats suffer more losses to breakage.
Install your tile after all other construction if at all possible. Before sealing, cement tile is very porous and it will be tough to clean if it is soiled by your construction crew.
Uses for encaustic tile are endless as they can generally be used both indoors and outdoors and can also be used alone to create a simple border or backsplash or to make a bold and colorful statement with other elements. Many of today’s encaustic tile patterns are replicas of vintage designs and remain stunning in their intricate and unique patterns.
Here are some sources for encaustic tile; check out the history behind the tile as well as the variety of design options that are available.
Show your sense of style by incorporating some old school encaustic tile into your 21st century lifestyle. We love the use of encaustic tiles in both traditional and contemporary settings. Their unique designs provide a unique textural alternative to typical ceramic tiles, creating eclectic and inviting spaces.
Robert Frank is a local resident and owner of Robert Frank Design, a full-service interior design and construction firm located in San Marino, California. Robert Frank Design works in collaboration with our clients to create beautiful, functional spaces that reflect their lifestyles and personalities.