Those of you who know me, know that I love ceramic tile. It is the tactile experience of the material that is most appealing. It feels smooth and silky on its glazed face and unfinished on the back where only the raw fired clay is visible until installed. Handmade ceramic tile can be refined and elegant or chunky and casual on white or red clay bodies. The choices you make influence the design direction and the visual scale and balance of the space.

When designing tile, as in the design of any object, proportion is at the heart of its success. When creating a room, it is the shape and dimension of field tile that is the first decision in establishing proportion. This is because multiple field tiles are always assembled in a grid so that the installation begins to have a sense of scale and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The tile grid on the wall is a neutral design direction until architectural moldings or decorative borders are added.

Moldings are introduced to add character in the form of finishing details similar to wood trim throughout the rest of the house. Many ornamental elements—medallions, swags, pilasters and amulets—reference different decorative styles from Neoclassical to Art Deco to Modern. Additionally, there is the possibility of custom shapes, sizes and colors in handmade tile.

And, just as architectural details play an informative role in the decoration of a room, so does the color palette. Color on tiles can be in the form of subtle washes, light tints or deep rich glazes either glossy or matte. The infinite range of tones, mellow or rich, can create a room that is potent, relaxing or neutral. The wide range of colors can compliment any floor material from dimensional stone to mosaics or wood. Color on tile, like color anywhere, is intended to be atmospheric and the texture and glaze pooling on individual tiles make the material very sophisticated.

I am a fan of hand-made tile; raw materials including dry clay, talc and wollastonite are combined with water to create large blocks of malleable material that can be manipulated into flat slabs. They are hand cut into squares or rectangles, hand finished with sponges and hand glazed incorporating many of the same techniques that were used in ancient Egypt.

Ceramic tile, especially handmade ceramic tile, is an extraordinary material. There are beautiful clear glazes that give the surface pooling and lovely shading. There is a slightly irregular quality to the material and a sense that people and not machines have had their hand on each and every tile. Finally, it is the installation that affects the final outcome of the material. Small grout joints, the right color grout and well planned cuts make all the difference.


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