I have a vivid memory when I was a child of having tea in a sun filled room filled with blue and white tiles. I recall a large window behind me that poured sunshine into the room. This light made the reflective glaze of the tiles shimmer, bouncing back into my eyes. The warm blue dance of children at play, ships sailing seas and mermaids was mesmerizing. As adults chatted away, I started imagining stories from the images before me and enjoyed the intricate patterns they created on the walls. Of course I did not know it at the time, but as an adult I realized I was having tea in a room filled with Delft Tiles. Many years later when François and I began our company - I felt the need to hand paint my own Delft Tile Collection. Of course, my Delft Tile Collection led me to hand paint several other decorative tile collections, like our Cuisine de Monet Collection and our Carriage House Collection - but it was the Delft Tile that had my heart. I enjoyed finding images from 17th century museum pieces and repainting them using my own artistic eye. Delft Tiles are historic and are making a come back within interiors. Please enjoy a few excerpts below from an article written by Virginia Clark in House and Garden titled Delft Tiles: Their History and How to Decorate with Them followed by my point of view artistically about Delft Tiles and why they work within interiors today.
"Few tiles are as distinctive, or loaded with as much history, as Delft. In their characteristic blue and white, with elaborately painted portraits and pictures of everyday life, the tiles, whether antique or modern, are instantly recognisable. Unlike many other tile traditions, the appeal lies in their individuality: almost anything can be represented on a Delft tile, from epic mythological depictions of gods to bawdy scenes.
Sandwiched between the port of Rotterdam and the coastal city of The Hague, Delft is a relatively small town now, but in the seventeenth century, at the height of the Dutch Golden Age, it was brimming with importance. Around the city the Netherlands at large was reaching the height of its powers, dominating European trade, setting up an outpost in Japan and founding universities.
The invention of Delft pottery in the mid-1600s was a response to the popularity of Chinese blue and white porcelain, the technique for which would not be mastered in Europe until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Potters around the Netherlands had already begun developing the art of tin-glazed earthenware to mimic the glossy white surface of porcelain, but in the 1640s and fifties it was Delft potters who started to use personal monograms and factory marks, and the tiles became works of art in their own right. The trend for Delftware had already spread to Britain, where the new technique of transfer printing allowed for Delft-style tiles to be mass produced, some with uniform designs.
The pictorial representations on Delft tiles imitated the patterns and images on Chinese porcelain, which had been imported in great quantities via the activities of the Dutch East India Company. However they soon started to incorporate scenes from Dutch life - farmer workers, windmills, tulips and sailing ships characteristic of the local landscape – alongside images of everything from biblical stories, mythological creatures. One antique tile dealer recently had a tile from 1650 for sale that featured a merman wearing a top hat.
As wealth spread among the merchants of the Netherlands, the glazed Delft tiles were increasingly popular for fireplaces and damp, smoky rooms like kitchens, where they could be easily cleaned. Their appeal was widespread, from moderately wealthy middle-class houses who might have bought very simply decorated tiles or even factory seconds, to aristocratic families commissioning vast tiled rooms.
Some of the great houses of Europe from the eighteenth century have bathrooms, swimming pools and kitchens covered in Delft tiles, sometimes in spectacular decorative panels, like the Chateau de Rambouillet in Île-de-France, once owned by Louis XVI, or the Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, where you might have caught the extravagantly bewigged Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, frolicking in his newly built, entirely Delft-lined swimming pool after being defeated at the Battle of Blenheim."
Ultimately, Delft Tile history reaches deep but artistically, the question should be asked, "Why Delft Tile?". From a visual perspective, Delft Tiles carry depth in terms of viewing them up close and further back. This near and far music - as it's called in the art world, holds incredible artistic power. Gazing upon Delft Tiles up close, one is drawn into the details of the imagery. Stories unfold, one can hear children laughing as they play with hand made wooden toys or flying kites, ships are sent to distant lands and return with exotic spices and fabrics, women and men bustling about doing daily chores that made up a 17th day in Amsterdam. As one is busy at task cooking in one's kitchen, glancing at a Delft Tile back splash could mean the difference between chopping garlic stressing about life in 2020, or imagining idyllic scenes of those who have lived more simply in the past. Stories are a refuge and perhaps these near music novelettes that present in each tile provoked a smile in the 17th Century from a pauper's wife baking bread or a King in his bath. They are charming images that bring joy.
The far music of Delft Tile - which simply means what one sees when one stands back and views these tiles from a distance, are extraordinary. Let's begin with the color and reflective quality of Delft Tiles. Delft Tiles are hand painted using glaze that is fired in kilns. The glaze used is typically a gloss glaze, so once the Delft Tiles are done firing, the end result is a smooth reflective surface. On a kitchen back splash, these Delft Tiles will reflect and glimmer with light from sun beaming in from a kitchen window or a light overhead. It will be an uplifting experience.
Delft Blue. Dutch Blue. Just the color blue in any version is a beloved color around the world. From a psychological perspective, the color blue is transformative, it is calming and ushers in a feeling of trust. After a long day on the outside, coming home to a kitchen where the eye beholds the color blue can evoke a sense of peace and tranquility within the chaos of today's world.
Finally, Delft Tiles with their far music are simply designs of geometric patterns. These decorative wall tiles that fill bathroom walls, fireplace surrounds and kitchen backsplashes are resplendent to the eye and excite the mind. Humans love patterns. Why, I often ask myself? This could begin a spiritual contemplation of the Universe - and how life itself begins with a pattern that is fractalized - but that is another conversation!
These may be some reasons as to why Delft Tiles are making a come back within the interior design world. However, I have a further thought. For a good decade - decor has been running the gamut, from glamours sleek walls of marble and quartzite to classic subway tiles to intricate mosaics. I believe within these past 10 years, Delft Tiles were placed aside for more modern decorative wall tiles. However...I see a shift. This shift I believe has been inspired by a resurgence of the Classic English Cottage interior or the Shaker Interior. These interiors embrace historic design, appealing to many people. These interiors also implement consistently reclaimed materials like reclaimed terra cotta tiles, antique limestone flooring and reclaimed hardwood floors. Looking to the past, it is of no coincidence that Delft Tiles are making their mark again - for they have been paired with these reclaimed materials for centuries.
However, eclectic interiors where personal attributions define extraordinary spaces make using Delft Tiles completely intriguing. Mixing centuries is a thing - a wonderful concept that brings together historical concepts with one's own personality. It is my hope, at the end of the day, that interior design continues to be more personalized and that historically whimsical Delft Tiles continue to find their place, spreading joy and smile within one's home.
Thank you for your time,
Emmi Micallef, Co-Founder
Historic Decorative Materials, a Division of Pavé Tile, Wood & Stone, Inc,.