The fascinating art of making encaustic cement tiles has been around for hundreds of years. In many countries, encaustic tiles are still handcrafted using traditional patterns, and as newer designs are introduced, their popularity in modern homes is increasing. Be inspired by the versatility of artisan-made tiles and bring a classic, enduring look to your home.
How are encaustic tiles made?
Encaustic cement tiles – in which the pattern or figure on the surface is a product of different colours of clay – were first made in Europe in the late 19th century. The term ‘encaustic’ refers to the firing process that burns a glazed pattern onto the surface of a tile. However this term has also been applied to cement tiles with a deep inlaid pattern (rather than a surface glaze). These tiles are compressed in their manufacture, not fired. Mineral pigments are hand-poured into a design mould, the tile is backfilled with cement then set by hydraulic compression before curing.
Where do encaustic tiles originate?
Inlaid pattern cement tiles are found worldwide. In the late nineteenth century, they were used to decorate the floors of palaces in St Petersburg, Gaudi’s distinctive house in Barcelona and grand hallways from Paris to Saigon. Today they are to be found in countless chic bars, restaurants and designer homes in London, Paris and New York. The art form survives in France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Latin America and Scandinavia, although composition and designs vary with cultural influences. Imported tiles influenced by the Mediterranean were all the rage in the nineteenth century. Cuba adapted the process from Spain and Havana’s gently decaying colonial buildings are famous for their lovely time-worn tiled floors. Vietnam, where examples of decorative cement tiles are found in eighteenth century pagodas and churches, also has a thriving tile industry today.
Why choose encaustic cement tiles?
Hamish Smith, Creative Director, says, “There is lots to love about these decorative tiles. They are an incredibly versatile product and are not just for indoor floors. Bathroom walls, splashbacks the possibilities are endless – anywhere you use them they’ll really make an impact.” As well as keeping artisan crafts alive and providing commercial opportunities in less affluent countries, there are also some environmental payoffs in handmade cement tiles. They use earthen components, natural pigments and consume less energy to make than fired tiles.
Where can I use encaustic tiles?
An encaustic tile can be used on almost any internal floor or wall surface as long as the sub-base is suitable and prepared for tiling and weight-bearing because these tiles are a little more heavy than the average wall tile. The tiles can we used in wet areas but it’s likely they will fade slightly, especially darker colours and patterns due to the natural pigments used. If the tiles are coated with a thin layer of sealer every one or two years this will reduce, however, it is all part of the natural ageing process. The tiles are not classed as frost resistant so we do not recommend using them in external areas that are exposed to wet and freezing conditions.
How to prepare encaustic tiles before installation
A few simple steps are all that is required. First, make sure the surface of each tile is level, clean and dry, as encaustic tiles are porous in their raw, natural state. Next, treat the tiles with a impregnating sealant, as this will protect them from staining. Ideally you should apply 1-2 coats allowing at least 3 hours drying time in between.
Cleaning encaustic tiles
Encaustic tiles look better with age so simply clean regularly with mild soap and water. Never use acid or bleach. You can always add extra coats of sealant or liquid wax as the finish becomes dull over time in non-wet areas. By rubbing in sealant and polishing them afterwards, you’ll achieve a lovely lustrous patina.
Sealing encaustic tiles
For best results, you must seal encaustic tiles every two to five years as they are a porous material and sealing them protects the tiles from staining. Apply 2-3 coats of Stone Essentials Stone Shield Sealant with a sponge, removing any excess from the surface. Repeat until the sealant is no longer penetrating the tiles.
What grout should I use with encaustic tiles?
For best results choose a non-pigmented, flexible, cement-based grout and take care to avoid brightly coloured grout. If you want to go for a dark grout, we recommend using the darkest possible, without it being darker than the tile itself. Always apply the grout after the tiles have set in-situ for 24 hours and apply to the joins with a trowel or sponge. Take care to clean the tile’s surface as you grout, to prevent it from setting in the tile’s surface.