Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cement tile

Tile with an identity crisis

Cement tiles have been around for over a hundred years, and yet, in the US, misinformation abounds.

Recently, when asked if his store carried cement tile, one dealer replied, "Oh, you don't want that. It only comes in one color and it doesn't hold up well." Clearly, he wasn't familiar with cement tiles; also known as mosaicos hydraulico, cement encaustics, and Cuban tile, among other names. Not only do they come in every color imaginable, but many 100-year-old floors are still in beautiful condition.

Perhaps confusion about the tiles arises from the fact that cement is such a humble material. For those who haven't seen installed cement tile floors, it must seem inconceivable that a material used in road construction can also be manufactured into a floor that is sophisticated and elegant.

Tile importer Nina Long of Wholesale Tile in Tampa, Florida has been importing the tiles for 25 years. She's heard all kinds of misconceptions about cement tiles. "People think they are painted, people call them encaustics, and when they aren't polished, people say they are honed. Of course, they aren't painted or honed at all. Technically, they aren't encaustics either, as true encaustics are made of clay."

"I think that sometimes dealers see some of the colors and patterns, like the wild pinks and greens, and they think, 'I can't sell this!'" says Long. "It can be hard to visualize, but cement tile offers a whole creative process. You can have any color or design that you can imagine. That is the most exciting quality of cement tile. People aren't used to that with floors."

Long has seen the floors on trips to China, Russia, Europe, Mexico, and all throughout the Caribbean. Cuban immigrants installed the tiles throughout Southern Florida, where there are still cement tile floors between 70 and 100 years old.

Melanie Stephens, marketing director at Granada Tile, has seen the tiles throughout Nicaragua, Turkey and France. "The more people have traveled the more they are familiar with cement tiles. If they don't travel and they haven't seen it, it can be hard to understand," she says. "This is a fascinating product, the way the tiles are made and the options that are available."

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