Monday, April 27, 2009

Tiles that should come in green, but probably won't

Several companies announced new product lines slated for late 2009 production. These tiles will use clean air technology to fight pollution. Ceracasa Tile's 'BionicTile' cleans the air by converting nitrous oxide to inert nitrates. StonePeak's new photo catalytic titanium dioxide tile uses nanotechnology to clean the air.

They both sound like a fabulous idea. If they work, let's clad all our buildings in them!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Well, I survived a busy week at Coverings in Chicago. It was less hectic than usual, but my impression was that the people who were there were pretty serious. There weren't as many folks there who were just looking. Manufacturers and vendors seemed happily surprised that there were a considerable amount of orders. Maybe because fewer people were there, there was less competition?

I'll be posting images later this week, so stop back for a look!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Glass tile

Glass tile: It's not just for pool surrounds anymore.

Considering that glass has been around for thousands of years, it is amazing how much progress has been made in glass tile manufacturing in the last ten years.

As you can see from this beautiful example from Interstyle, glass tile can be seen in just about any size, color, texture or finish imaginable and it can be used pretty much anywhere ceramic tile is appropriate.

According to Patricia Hart McMillan, coauthor of Glass Tile Inspirations for Kitchens & Baths. "As an interior designer, I appreciate the gloriously unique light-refracting quality of glass tile that adds an exciting liveliness unmatched by any other surface material. One manufacturer described the interaction one has with glass tile as 'dancing with the light'."

"I am thrilled with the variety of glass tile, so that there is a color, texture, finish and size (or combination of sizes and shapes) appropriate for any and every interior style and period," says McMillan.

Glass tile mosaics

Gorgeous glass mosaics

Mosaic company, New Ravenna was formed in 1991 by president Sara Baldwin. Baldwin was a painter in graduate school and turned that art background into a mosaic design company that now employees 140.  "I was a painter, but I realized that people will spend more on functional art than on a painting or a work of fine art. So I decided to make functional and useful products for high-end clients. Somehow it is easier for them to spend on that, sneak the art in that way."

Baldwin's mosaic designs are very complex. "This peacock design will take three people a week to put together," says Baldwin.

"With custom mosaics, and our vast array of materials, any option is available, and some become paralyzed with the unlimited possibilities. So we almost have to be psychologists to unearth what aesthetically turns them on," says Baldwin. "We need to so we can reflect their personalities. A designer can draw it out of them. It is a real interactive process not only with the client but also the designer."

Baldwin says, "This work is exciting and it is real fun creating these mosaics."

Oceanside Glasstile has been in the handcrafted glass tile business for 16 years. Their tile is made by pouring molten glass into molds, cooling them, and then hand-cutting the individual pieces. They reuse the trimmings and use recycled glass in many of their products. Because they are handmade, the tiles have slight irregularities, which are desirable as they catch and reflect light.

According to Johnny Merckx, Oceanside's executive vice president, " We've been playing around and breaking the grid. Before, everything was square and rectilinear now we're bringing in curves and bevels."

"Feras Irikat, who is our new product designer and has a background in color theory, and I worked together on this new line. We've seen glass used in so many combinations with concrete and metals, so we focused on adding warmth. We're continuing to create palettes that are neutral and incorporating more modern hues. Our colors are cosmopolitan neutrals--earthy and neutral, but more intense and punchier earth tones. These new colors are not a full departure from our other lines."

Hakatai is an eleven-year-old glass mosaic company based in Ashland, Oregon. President Marshall Malden says, "Our recycled line has expanded and we've seen more interest in environmentally friendly products. We're working with our suppliers to use more recycled glass. It is a balance with the fashion side, because of course, it has to look good too."

"We have a new product committee no lack of stuff to choose from. It is selecting what we do and what we think will work and if it fits us," says Malden. "In this economy, it is important to be flexible, so we're staying competitive and staying current."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Installing, sealing and cleaning cement tile

"For installation, I'd rather see a stonemason install these tiles than a general tile contractor, because the installation method is much more like setting stone," says Jorge Aguayo, of Aguayo Tile. "Butt joints and be careful sealing because the tiles are porous like stone. I would tend to think that a stonemason would do a better job, unless the tile installer had a lot of experience specifically with cement tile."

Michael Dowd, owner of Paramount Tile in Ft. Lauderdale Florida agrees, "Stone setters understand cement tiles because they are very similar to stone. You have to allow for natural variation of the depth of the tile, use a mud setting, and the sealing processes are similar. Also, the tight grout joint is crucial."

Wilhem Stevens from Original Mission Tile says, "The tiles should be installed on a level and stable cured concrete surface. Water cut the tiles and use 100% coverage of thinset. The grout joint recommended is 1/16" to 1/8."

According to Suzette Dávila, a distributor in Puerto Rico, cement tile is very easy to clean. “You just clean with water and occasionally with a neutral detergent, and that is all.”  Most people prefer this natural look but she suggests occasionally sealing and waxing for those who want a light shine.  

How cement tiles are made

The process for creating cement tile is both elaborate and simple. Simple because there are few ingredients and little equipment needed. The tiles are not fired or glazed and they air cure. The complex part involves the training necessary to make the tile, and the level of intricacy of the design.

First a mold is created, which, depending on the pattern, could be simple or very intricate.Preexisting molds are antique or modern. The customer can also create a custom design.

To make a tile mold, an artist draws the individual design that will be created, keeping in mind the overall pattern.  From that drawing, an artisan metalworker produces a single tin or copper mold.  It depends on how elaborate the design, but according to tile manufacturer Jorge Aguayo, vice president of Aguayo Tiles in the Dominican Republic, says, "A design with a medium degree of difficulty usually takes about three weeks to make.” 

Once the mold is ready, natural mineral pigments are poured into the compartments. Dry cement is sprinkled onto the color surface, then a mixture of damp sand and cement is dumped on top. Intense pressure compacts the layers and makes the tile strong. The drying and curing process takes 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the humidity and other factors. 

According to Original Mission Tile's Wilhem Stevens, "To make good quality tiles, you must have well trained workers who love what they do. It takes one to two minutes of hand labor to produce each tile."

Usually, the workers who manufacture cement tile learn the skills as apprentices and pass the craft to subsequent generations.  According to Aguayo, “Our tile factory has been making cement floor tile for three generations. The artisans are very proud of their work and this shows in the finished product.”

Handmade cement tiles are each unique and are expected to have slight imperfections, which give them character and depth.  "It is interesting how everyone's tiles are different," says Granada Tile's Stephens. "Each manufacturer makes choices. Everyone's color palette is different. They use different formulas and pigments. The aggregates and other variables result in differences in the finished tile."

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 Hidráulico: 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!

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."