15 Apr 2015

The Tile Files: The Hex Factor

Welcome to Mirabelle's brand new monthly design series, The Tile Files. I am passionate about design and what makes a house look balanced, in terms of style identity. Flooring - and in particular floor tiles - feature prominently in my life as an amateur interior designer. A strong observation resulted from this: having had the privilege to visit dozens of properties throughout my life, what I have repeatedly and consistently noticed is how the choice of flooring impacts either positively or negatively upon the overall look and character of a property. It either enhances it considerably - or it unabashedly ruins it!

Exquisite Surfaces

This certainly was the case when a couple of years ago, some friends proudly showed me photos of their house in Normandy (northwestern France) that they had just put up for sale. The kerb appeal was enticing, lovely quaint 19th century country house in a mature garden, with period features retained. However as soon as you pushed the front door, shock horror! You were confronted with a 1980s revisit, complete with the open plan situation that had totally wrecked the expectations, and the cheap and nasty square glazed white tiles grouted black - my pet peeves! What we were left with was a house that had lost its charm and identity altogether.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

However in this series, we will leave design mistakes aside and explore those classic and timeless designs, that have transcended decades - even centuries - and still to this day have stood the test of time, in terms of classical style.

ARTO's concrete versions of the Tomette

Let's start off with the Tomette, the tile that is traditionally associated with the Southern France (Provence and Corsica) of yesteryear. Tomette is a glazed hexagonal clay terracotta tile, in rich earthly tones, sizes may differ. Tomettes have the advantage of keeping a house cool in the Summer. My grandma's house in Corsica had its ground floor tiled in red tomettes, back in 1907, when the family house underwent extensive renovation, still in keeping though with the character of the house.

From personal investigations in unaltered older Corsican properties, I found out that traditional tiles were mostly square-shaped. However hexagonal tiles became vastly popular in the 19th century, up to WWI. I understand they brought a status symbol of comfort and social advancement to houses. After WWI, the popularity of the tomette declined steadily in favour of style incongruities for the older house that, despite bringing urban and modern into the home, defaced the character of many an older property: Granito, Formica, Linoleum, those throughout the 1950s and 60s.

Uncredited picture, via Tumblr

These in turn paved the way for cheap southern imports of mass-produced style-less charmless ceramic tiles. Meanwhille it seems that, driven by market demand for low production costs and a stiff competition from abroad, many a French tile company lost its way, in terms of design.

Fortunately out there, tile designers in the know are aware of the importance of legacy, tradition and sobriety of style. They have realised that old didn't have to mean old-fashioned. And why fix something that is not broken? Thus I am pleased to acknowledge the fact that those traditional French designs of yesteryear are now regaining some popularity on the home turf, while being praised and appreciated outside of France by connoisseur suppliers and customers.

Tabarka Studio
Tabarka Studio

To name but a few of those American tile companies supplying hexagonal terracotta tiles: Exquisite Surfaces, ARTO and Tabarka Studio. Click the links to find out about showrooms, resellers and distributors.

Meanwhile The Tile Files will be back next month, and we'll hit the tiles once more... with grace!

Sources: (1) Made in France, those Antique Hexagon Terracotta Tiles are available in traditional colors from Exquisite Surfaces who describe the tiles herein: "Nothing symbolizes French country flooring more than terracotta. The extraordinary warm colors, the beautiful hues and variations, the hand-molded shapes all define the essence and rustic charm of French country living."

(2-3) Those 15th century hexagonal tiles from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art testify to the fact that hexagonal is no contemporary tile shape! (2) Hexagonal Tile from Mamluk Egypt, featuring a botanical design. The design of this tile was strongly influenced by Chinese models, in both composition and color. (3) Hexagonal Tile of Islamic culture found in Egypt, featuring the palms of a palm tree.

(4) Collage of four of ARTO's versatile interior/ exterior floor and wall concrete hex tiles that mimic the variegations and handcrafted elegance of terracotta, with extra durability. Clockwise from top left: {1} BB30 6'' Hexagon Normandy Cream Signature Series Tile; {2} BB173 6'' Hexagon Los Angeles Red Flash Vintage Tile; {3} BB44 6'' Hexagon Crème Fraîche Vintage Tiles; and {4} BB174 6” Hexagon San Clemente Vintage Tiles. All of the ARTO products are manufactured with concrete. Production has taken place in Southern California since 1966, in pure artisan style. Besides, all ARTO products are recyclable, and the company is a proud member of the U.S. Green Building Council. More details from their general brochure.

(5) Uncredited picture, via Beautiful Portals, describing the passing of time, and a once-cherished home somewhere in the Middle East now surrendered to the elements. Let's not just pay attention to the bright decorative tiling but also to the intricate frieze details.

(6-7) Tiles by Scottsdale-based Tabarka Studio. (6) Adama 5 (Hex) Artisan Hexagonal Terracotta Tiles are available in organic terracotta shades. "Signifying Earth in Hebrew, (Tabarka's) Adama collection of artisan terracotta tiles have an aged appearance offering the look and allure of centuries old terracotta. Rich in texture and extreme in color variation, these handmade tiles are truly an artisan creation in which no two pieces are exactly alike." (7) Izmir 1 Hexagon Terracotta Floor Tiles add splashes of pattern to floor.

Reclaimed tomettes available from BCA Antique Materials.

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