Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A brief history of cement tile

Karen Witynski and Joe P. Carr's series of eight books on Mexican design and architecture includes four titles that highlight cement tiles, most notably, Casa Yucatan and Hacienda Style. Many images prominently feature cement tile floors in appealing patterns and colors. Witynski says, "You can't get away from cement tiles in the Yucatan--they are an important part of the design aesthetic."

"In Mexico, there is a lot of humidity and with the warm climate, wood and carpets would not have held up well. The walls are very sparsely decorated, so tiles became the design solution to add color and interest to the rooms."

Interestingly, depending on the manufacturer, the origin of the tiles is explained differently. One thing is certain-- the tiles were first manufactured sometime shortly after Portland cement was invented in the mid-nineteenth century.

Since then, cement tiles grew in popularity. They're created and installed all around the world. Around the turn of the twentieth century, they were even popular in the United States. They lost popularity in the US sometime between the 1920s and 30s and only regained popularity in the 1980s and 90s.

According to Wilhem Stevens, sales manager at Original Mission Tile in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, "For a while, cement tiles went out of style. In the 1970s, cement tile in Mexico was used in government housing projects and they were very cheap. Only a cloud pattern was made and the quality wasn't always very good."

Now, with a resurgence is the antique patterns and an interest in new designs, there has been a renaissance for cement tile floors.  The popularity seems to be growing, since the number of new manufacturers showing at Coverings and Surfaces expands each year.

El Mosaico HidrĂ¡ulico: Arte en Evolution/ Cement Tile: Evolution of an Art Form is a coffee table book with loads of beautiful images. The book details the history of cement tile in much more detail. Plus, it was edited by Moi!

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