by Emmi Micallef November 30, 2017
If anyone knows more about hand made terra cotta tiles, reclaimed terra cotta tiles and how to age and treat terra cotta tiles...it's François, my partner-in-crime for nearly 18 years in this business.
Pavé started with terra cotta tiles from Spain. The year was 2000 and I recall receiving our first container - François' face awash in frustration. The tiles were white. After conversing with the supplier, he learned this was the efflorescence that arose from the wet clay in the container as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Oh. From that point on - François made it his mission to learn every nuance about terra cotta tiles - how to clean it. age it, treat it.
We built much of our business in the early years beautifying new terra cotta tiles from Spain - meaning - to make them look old. François had special machines built, he hand worked the clay, I created collections of designs for the terra cotta tile - and together we learned how to get my designs onto the tile, glaze them and then kiln-fire them in our facility. The look was dark with various brown beeswax colors to enhance and patina the bisque fired clay - which was originally pink. They are still beautiful and still have a place in the design world. Dark brown waxed terra cotta tiles remind me of a Spanish hacienda or a Mediterranean villa with dark beams and clay roof tiles.
However...this look of waxed brown terra cotta tiles compares not to French reclaimed terra cotta tiles. French reclaimed terra cotta tiles - another specialty of Francois' since he was born and raised in the South of France with all the contacts and time spent imaginable with the suppliers... was the preferred choice of terra cotta tiles for the high-end custom homes that were aiming for French provincial interiors. French reclaimed terra cotta tiles have a matte stone texture, they are softer to the eye then the dark brown waxed terra cotta tiles and the lighter color variations allows more interior design options with soft neutral tones.
There is a lot of work involved to salvage French reclaimed terra cotta tiles. Recuperating antique tiles from old farmhouses and even a chateau here in there sounds charming - but the reality can be daunting. The parefeuille shown above - this classic French reclaimed terra cotta tile is actually an inside material used to insulate ceilings of old buildings. When placing a large order for these tiles, one may not - usually will not - get the same lots for suppliers need to go from structure to structure to recuperate the tile. This simply means tiles of different sizes and thickness which leads to installation challenges. To have a flat floor - the installer must open up the tile to accommodate the variations of thickness which creates at times, a larger then appreciated grout line.
I am returning to François again - and his single quest for 18 years to find a factory who could recreate a reclaimed terra cotta tile that is consistent in size and thickness, have colors through the clay body so no wax is needed for color and texture enhancement and have a matte stone patina like that of the reclaimed. Being a freeze/thaw material would even be better. He has tried to explain to many factories through the years his ideas to work the clay to achieve this ideal he has had in his head for so long.
Color: Stone Washed Brick - the most classic colors of good Italian clay reveal a brick red with washed out rose, whites and stone colors.
Finally, he succeeded. His quest took him to Italy where hand made terra cotta tiles and architectural building elements have been an art since the Greek and Roman times. He discovered a group of tile artisans who listened to him and achieved his vision.
This terra cotta tile collection that we call Cucina della Nonna Italian Farmhouse Terra Cotta Tile fulfills all the categories for which François was searching. Available in three colors that run through the clay body mean no wax after install, just a quick coat of a clear sealer. The tiles remain glorious with a matte stone-like patina. Install radiant heat first underneath and walking barefoot in the winter will be welcome every evening arriving home from a cold, gray day.
Color: Weathered Clay - like the terra cotta urns unearthed from the ancient cities of Rome, Weathered Clay is the color of classical antiquity with soft clay colors mixing with white washed ash and dove grey stone colors.
Due to Italian craftsmanship and artistry, they hand-mold and kiln fire the clay into terra cotta tiles with consistent size and thickness. Installations with elegant, tight grout lines are achieved. And finally, these terra cotta tiles are freeze/thaw resistant. New England could now have patio and pool tiles that radiate Italian authenticity and warmth. The West Coast could now have a mind free reclaimed like terra cotta tile without wax or installation issues for the indoor and outdoor kitchen wrapping around the patio and poolside. These tiles, hand worked to achieve a reclaimed-like texture, have instant interest and are not flat, extruded, machine-made looking or covered in brown wax.
Color: Sun Washed Brick - Italian clay awash with the intense and brilliant rays of Italy's glorious sunshine achieves the softest clay color mixed with ocher, acorn and grey ash/white hues.
The fun comes in with design. I created a few design boards to see the effect of these amazing Italian terra cotta tiles with various materials - like our Kings of France 18th Century Cast Iron Mahogany Oak Floor with the Stone Washed Brick color. Since there are deep brown reds in the Mahogany floor along with hand worked metal inserts like ones used to cover up knots in the 18th century - these rustic textures and colors partnered beautifully with the Stone Wash brick color:
I feel this above combination would be perfect for that Italian villa or Italian Farmhouse but so much more authentic in materials than polyurethaned dark wood and brown waxed tiles. The matte textures of the wood and clay are the key to keeping authenticity relevant for reclaimed materials have these matte textures. Plus, forget about design trends - beautiful does not care about them.
The next combination that appealed to me using the Weathered Clay color was pairing it with our Napoleon Aged French Limestone Pavers:
Is it just me or do the stone colors inside the Weathered Clay duplicate to perfection the rich brown/olive tones of this aged French limestone? This is so perfect. I love how the Weathered Clay color is a soft terra cotta clay color that compliments so well the olive brown undertones of the stone. They play off each other beautifully not only in color - but texture as well. Both a matte patina with surface interest - yearning for bare feet and radiant heat. Both are strong colors for homes interested in having dark woods and beams.
Finally, for my last design option using the Sun Washed Brick color was to mix up even more textures and cultures. I paired this with our Eye of Horus 150 year-old Reclaimed Egyptian Cement Tile. I wanted to see how the the variation of colors in this cement tile and the smooth contrasting surfaces to the terra cotta tile would add up. I think it works great:
I love this combination. I love how there are just a few sun washed brick colors in the mix of the cement tile to just tie in enough the terra cotta tiles. The sun washed clay is light enough to carry the lightness (the light value) of the cement tiles - and yellows and grays are glorious combinations for interiors. Using neutral grey palettes - lights and dark grays - are the perfect anchor for sunny, cheery yellow tones.
We have seen a resurgence of terra cotta tiles for interiors all along the East and West Coast - which means the interior States will soon be calling for this material as well. It is unfortunate that terra cotta tiles have their trends. I believe it is due yes - to the whimsy of the design world - a robust push back against cold contemporary materials. With the chaotic state of the world - a warm home is something one is seeking more to relax frazzled nerves and cement on cement just does not do this. My other thought is the choice for terra cotta tiles; brown waxed terra cotta tiles or reclaimed terra cotta tiles - both have their place and both have their drawbacks.
To say I am not proud of François and his quest to find that perfect new terra cotta tile made to look old would be a lie. That man has the longest breathe. He just simply does not give up. For this - and for those who love the idea of terra cotta floor tiles - one now has a third choice. Thank you, François!
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