Beautiful encaustic floor tiles inspired by classic Arabic geometry can be used to stunning effect in many areas of the home. Such sophisticated flooring patterns will repeatedly catch the eye of visitors while also setting the tone for each particular living area. Once the exclusive preserve of royal palaces, an elegant floor laid with handmade tiles is now much more affordable but can still add an air of opulent luxury to any interior.
A late medieval innovation
While decorative examples of floor tiling can be seen in many ancient cultures, encaustic
tiles were a medieval innovation dating from the thirteenth century. Described as ‘inlaid’ tiles by Renaissance craftsmen, this type of luxury flooring,
which featured two or more colours, remained a popular choice for lavish interiors for more than three hundred years. However, Henry VIII’s dissolution
of the monasteries in the late 1530s and the subsequent restrictions placed on religious communities and their places of worship brought about a sudden
collapse in the market for luxury tiling.
Encaustic tiles came to the fore once again in the Victorian era as part of the English Gothic Revival. Inspired by revisiting the work of medieval artisans,
Victorian designers were also able to take advantage of technological developments such as tile pressing machines. This enabled late nineteenth-century
manufacturers to bring down the cost of tiling products. The consequent increase in output meant that England became a major producer of encaustic
tiles during this period.
Creating encaustic flooring
One important feature of encaustic tiles is that the surface design is created by inlaying different coloured clays. As a result, the colours
and patterns on encaustic flooring will not wear away because the surface design layer is inlaid to a depth of anything between an eighth of an inch
and a quarter of an inch.
The manufacture of a contemporary encaustic cement floor tile is now a two-stage process: The surface inlay layer is the first to be moulded, with each
colour used in the design given its own cavity within the mould. After all the coloured clays used in the pattern have been carefully loaded, the remainder
of the mould is then topped up with the clay chosen as the body colour. Once ready, the tile is then fired in a kiln.
Though employing a basically similar procedure, earlier encaustic tiles actually used a three-stage process. Here, a fine surface layer was set, followed
by a coarser layer, and then another finer layer was added to complete the ‘sandwich’.
Reflecting established traditions
The encaustic tile designs in the vibrant Indigenous collection are all hand made and reflect the enduring influence of many rich genres
Unsurprisingly, the Iberian peninsula with its historical mix of Spanish and Moorish culture is well represented with designs such as the pretty, dual-colour
Alicante tile with its simple and tastefully understated flowing cruciform pattern
in white against a cool turquoise background. Or for a more assertive touch, there’s the Bilbao pattern with its five pastel colours and geometric motifs which create an evocative image inspired by Islamic art. Other Arabic sources are also represented,
with the Moroccan-style Fes – featuring a bold hexagonal design in blue, grey and black
– a particular highlight.
Intricate patterns such as the graceful Black Tulip, based upon a restrained depiction
of the tulip emblem against a light-grey background, still explore geometric inflections, but from a rather more mainstream European perspective. And
in similar vein, the Fleur de Lis pattern in black, grey and white tones, takes
its inspiration from the stylized lily flower image, which was such a popular symbol in medieval heraldry.
Indigenous encaustic tiles can be used on walls and floors to create subtle moods or stunning visual statements according to your taste and interior scheme.
And in any context, the exquisite quality of the designs combined with craftsmanship of the highest standard will guarantee inspiring results.