Encaustic Tiles: Should You Embrace the Trend?

encaustic

Tiles via Amazon

Those of you who have been reading my musings about accent tile for years now could have easily predicted that this post was coming.

Well, here it is.

First, you should know that I did not even know how to say Encaustic before January of this year? I still worry when I say it that I’m not pronouncing it right. The reason I’m telling you this is because until 2016 it’s been a fringe trend. But now it’s here because my clients are asking me about it.

But should you run out and introduce it into your home?

My fabulous design assistant Tricia Firmaniuk is going to tackle this one. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Maria and I were having a conversation about the encaustic tile fad trend, and I said, no wait, this is not exactly new. Encaustic tiles have been around for centuries. They come in and out of fashion. Rarely is anything in the design world entirely new.

In my five years of art and design school (and the required art and design history courses) , I learned that, most often, we’ve been somewhere like here before.

A more ornate period in design will inspire a reactively austere period in design and vice versa. The pendulum rocking us back and forth. Keeping us in motion, holding our interest. Now that we have such efficient cultural exchange and global communication plus unforeseen capabilities for material production, this swing of trends has become so accelerated as to become nearly manic. And yet we try to keep up. It’s interesting and entertaining after all. Life is busy, don’t we all need some fast paced diversion?

Encaustic tiles (def.) are creamic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colours of clay. They are usually of two colours but a tile may be composed of as many as six. Wikipedia

Popular in the very ornate Victorian and (more austere but still ornate by modern standards) Edwardian eras, and dating all the way back to Medieval times, graphic encaustic (or cement) tiles are enjoying a revival.

Okay, it’s suddenly a HUGE trend.

 

Encaustic Tile Trend

From Honestly WTF?

 

Encaustic tile bathroom

From Apartment Therapy

It looks so fresh and new! It’s bold and graphic! And exactly the opposite of trying to make our floors look like the bottoms of ancient wine caves with muddy, blotchy porcelain tiles, in the Tuscan trend right (below)?

tuscanwinecellar

Image via Home Bunch Popular look of the Tuscan Brown trend

 

Encaustic tile kitchen

From ELLE DECOR

As much as I welcome the return to ornamentation and rustic charm on the heels of too many slick modern spaces; and as lovely as all of the images of patterned kitchens and bathrooms flooding Pinterest are, this trend makes me uneasy because I can see several ways for it to go badly wrong.

So let’s unpack the potential and pitfalls of this very seductive new (yet old) trend.

Choosing a pattern that doesn’t suit your house

The key is to make sure the pattern and colourway you choose suits the style of your house for greatest success and longevity. If you have a modernist house from the 50’s or 60’s, you might get away with the mod geometry of the trendier patterns. But if you throw these into a new build with builder molding and finishes, it is going to look bad.

mod tile kitchen

From Limaonagua

If your house is more classic and Edwardian in style (think Brooklyn Brownstone below), look to the patterns of that time for inspiration. A patterned floor is an elegant way to add interest to a foyer in this kind of house. Ideally, you would use it in an enclosed space so that your entire decor doesn’t have to answer to it forever.

brooklyn

Brownstone via Apartment Therapy | Entry Hall via FrenchyFancy

Encaustic tile foyer

via Pinterest

Using a colour way that will boss you around

Yes gray might be the neutral of the moment, but remember how we desperately wanted to “warm up” the battleship gray fixtures of the late 80s and early 90s once the Tuscan trend arrived?

When choosing a colourway, make sure it includes white or cream. A little black is a good idea too. This way it will always relate to classic white, cream and black finishes. If your colourway is all grey, or buff, or any mid-tone neutral with an undertone, you will always get bossed around by it.

Encaustic tile bath

Manglola via Tumblr

 

Mixing it with older fixtures creating the dreaded “old kitchen, new backsplash” look

If you have a standard builder’s grade kitchen and you are looking to spice it up with some patterned tile, think again! You will end up with a look that’s yesterday and today all together. Encaustic tiles have a rich artisanal quality to them, and they will make your generic cabinets look sadder by comparison.

Related post: How to Mix Yesterday and Today in your Renovation

designer kitchen

Walls and Floors Inc.

Beware of cheap, tacky imitations.

Which brings me to my next point, when cheap versions of encaustic tile appear at your local home improvement big box, beware, they have become trendy, ubiquitous, cheaply produced and in the end, tacky. The better the craftsmanship the more enduring the look. Remember your mother’s patterned linoleum in the 70’s? That was going for a Victorian thing.

70s linoleum

70’s Linoleum via Pinterest

How fast trends change

Just think about how your taste in fabric patterns for throw pillows and ottomans flip flops every couple of seasons (I know mine do). Remember how great chevron was seven or eight years ago? And now? Yawn. Right.

Moroccan motifs are certainly classic to encaustic tiles, but will they hold your interest past the next few years? My main concern with this trend is our short attention spans and how fatiguing a strong pattern can be over time.

The point is, this is not a budget and DIY friendly trend.

You really have to know what you’re doing and why like a professional designer, I very nearly put some black, cream and yellow Mexican encaustic tiles on my backsplash last year, and I am so relieved that I opted for classic cream subway tiles instead. Thanks Maria! I LOVE my little vintage kitchen in all of it’s clean (ok, sometimes messy) simplicity.

Related post: The Best Backsplash Tile for your Kitchen

subway tile

Annieolee via Tumblr

We are bombarded with exciting new images and products daily and we are more fickle than ever in our tastes. This is why this blog has always advocated for classic simplicity in fixed elements like tile. This way, you maximize your flexibility to introduce pattern and colours in less permanent elements like textiles.

A great rug is an excellent way to introduce some pattern into your life by the way.

Related post: Bad Design Advice: Fall in Love with all Your Finishes

designer kitchen encaustic                                                             via Pinterest

All that said, if you have the budget to hire a high end designer and create the right setting for the look (and the budget to rip it out when you tire of it); or you are so happy that the Bohemian trend is here because you have always been a little Boho; or again you have always been in love with mod geometrics and are sure it’s not a passing fascination, then by all means, go for it!

geometric tile

Diario Design

I just wanted to make sure we really thought this one out first. It’s a big commitment.

Thanks Tricia!

Over to you! What do you think of this fad? Let’s be clear, that’s what it is. I have been writing this blog for 7 1/2 years and inside that time, accent tile trends have changed four times.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

 

Related posts:

The Debate on Interesting and Trendy vs. Timeless

Selecting your Kitchen or Bath Backsplash? Accent Tile or Not?

One more Reason you Should Skip accent Tiles Altogether

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  1. No – Never, ever will I use these kinds of tiles. IMO they are horrendously ugly. Would probably make my blood pressure spike….

  2. Such a timely post! I was just considering encaustic tiles for my new master bathroom, but in the end decided against them. Decided to go with wood flooring. I know it’s supposed to be a no-no for bathrooms, but I lived with it in another bath for 8 years without issue and just love the look and feel. So much warmer on the toes than tile! Btw, Maria, your side pop-up about your course is adorable. The only pop-up I’ve ever stopped to read because it was so colorful and happy looking 🙂

  3. laughing as i read this. as soon as our contractor gets over the flu, he’ll be over here with his crew and a lot-wide dumpster, ripping out 2 bathrooms with the 1970s versions of that tile…on the floors, walls and counter tops. it’s everywhere. the tile is heavy, the grout can’t be cleaned, and the confusing patterns are crazy-making. this is just a fad that looks good in pinterest. in my last house, i put white subway tile on the walls and white six-sided tile on the floor. loved it and i’ll be doing it again x 2. now i just want that contractor to get better and get over here!

  4. These tiles remind me of Morocco, the country of tiles with every permutation of colours imaginable. They can be strikingly beautiful but can overpower after a time. Before installing such tiles, I would recommend buying Moroccan plates to test what it’s like to live with such bold patterns. The plates mimic encaustic tiles but can be put away when one gets tired of them.

  5. Thank you for this interesting article. I think using cement tiles is very relevant to where you live. They need to be considered very carefully in Northern America where they don’t really have a historic antecedent and where they can really easily look out of space.
    In Europe there are much more commonly found in old houses and buildings as they were the material of choice about 100 years ago. I am currently based in Madrid and renovating a flat for clients where we found the original encaustic tiles below the newer laminate. We will recuperate and clean as much as we can to use them in the bathrooms and kitchen to keep some original elements. I’ve also used new ones on another project. I think context is really key when using them.
    And yes stay away from imitations as they look dreadful. The real ones are expensive, hard to install and need some caring, but the result is certainly worth it!

  6. Great article Maria, always on the pulse of things. I was trying to see “How to Mix Yesterday and Today in your Renovation” but unable to bring it up with the link provided in the article. Can you please provide another link?

  7. Love the look of these tiles, but as others have stated you must be careful in their use. I’m just not sure how something that’s been around for over 150 years can be considered a fad.

    • Great question, the definition of a fad is: an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.

      As I said in the post, I have been blogging for 7 1/2 years and during that time, accent tile trends have changed 4 times. That is very short lived. A trend usually has a lifespan of about 10 years. As much as everyone talks about the access to information and how things change, the grey trend arrived in 2002 (here in the Westcoast anyway) and it will also have it’s 10 year span before something new comes along.

      And, accent tile installed the wrong way in a builder house will totally look like a fad. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  8. so funny, we (the sales person and I ) laid out 4, 30″x30″ tiles that had blk & white combinations of these patterns for our kitchen floor a few months ago … then both looked over at my hubby with a big smiles hoping he would love it …. the look on his face was so so funny… we looked at each other and said together… no were not going there, lol … I thought it would be amazing but he reminded me that we were going to live in the condo for a long long time … need to love the design for a long time … so we have amazing grey tiles that we love every day and will for a long long time !

  9. WOW, Tricia, you are an extremely talented writer and this article was FABULOUS. Thoughtful, interesting, well-researched and, best of all, your writing style is amazing. You’re a very talented person!!

  10. I used these tiles three years ago. Way ahead of the trend. I think because our world is becoming more culturally diverse, we have to stop and consider that too. My client is a doctor who immigrated from North Africa. She loved these tiles. They made her feel at home by introducing them into the design plan. They went into the entrance hall and the fireplace surround. They are absolutely beautiful and the colour integrate well with the rest of the house. Backsplashes and bathroom tiles are more classic and simple. it taught me a lot about being open to other cultures and mixing it up. The important thing is to make sure the undertones dance well together.

  11. You made some excellent points, Tricia. I agree that keeping the tiles mostly (or totally) in neutral colors will add to their longevity. I prefer geometrics to fussy florals and have long loved anything Moroccan or exotic, so I like the look of these tiles. They kind of remind me of the hex floor I did in my 20s bath – it forms a star pattern in black and white, on a gray background. Yes, it’s busy – but it’s also dramatic. In my opinion, the encaustics are best used on a floor, or just a small area like a bar front, rather than a backsplash. If you opt for them, keep other permanent elements simple, with little if any pattern.

  12. Hmmmm, loved the classic Tuscan floor the best. I thought it was one of your favs until I read “muddy and blotchy”. I always say trendy today, tacky tomorrow. The colors are pretty but would never want to be stuck with them for life.

  13. Excellent article-thank you! I admit that sometimes I have a hard time differentiating between what is influencing me trend-wise, vs. what I truly love.

  14. I think they are beautiful in the right setting. They seem to look best in simply designed rooms. I am considering stenciling my screened in porch floor with that look.

  15. I think they are beautiful in the right setting. They seem to look best in simply designed rooms. I am considering stenciling my screened in porch floor with that look.

  16. I think they are beautiful in the right setting. They seem to look best in simply designed rooms. I am considering stenciling my screened in porch floor with that look.

  17. I’m puzzled. You’re writing an article about why encaustic tiles shouldn’t be use yet all your examples are gorgeous. The only ugly room you show is the tuscan brown. If you are trying to discourage the use of these tiles you need to show some bad examples.

    I think what it comes down to is whether or not one has the ability to pick pattern, color and materials well, and if not, stick to basics. The architectural style and period of the home should never be overlooked. And cheap patterned tile is always ugly. Just like cheap faux-stone. That has got to be the worst trend ever!

    • You’ve said it exactly right Beryl. What is shown in this post is how to do it right. But most people don’t have houses that look like this and if you don’t, then stick to the basics, exactly.
      Maria

  18. I still like the muddy, blotchy porcelain tiles. The first Edwardian pattern would be fine. Put the tile on a tray and prop it up on the counter. Or a rug.

  19. What are your thoughts on Arabesque lantern tiles? We are in the process of planning a kitchen renovation and like the idea of using this type of tile for the backsplash. Timeless? Too trendy? Thanks!

    • Just keep them white. they won’t bother you later if you can still change the colours around them. Nothing wrong with that. Maria

  20. I have a 1932 storybook house and have been searching for over a year since we moved in for some color for my kitchen and breakfast room floor. I had my 80’s whitewashed cabinets done over in a yellow and be thrilled to have some old styled patterned linoleum to go with but it doesn’t exist. I am very excited about encaustic tile. I am an artist and black, white, beige and grey are just weak, spineless and oh so boring to me. I get that you have to be careful but if I do it right it won’t look trendy and be replaced. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at kitchen styles from the 30’s to the 50’s where people had a lot of fun and went bold and colorful.

  21. Just happened to stumble across this post because I am thinking of using these tiles in my bathroom.
    My bathroom is tiny, just 1.5m x 1.5m. I would love to use these tiles in grey, black and white on my floor. On the wall to vanity height I will be using large plain white tiles.
    All the fixtures in the bathroom are black, shower head, taps, hooks, everything. The vanity is white.
    The vanity top will be a lovely rich timber with timber shelves on one of the walls and some lovely grey baskets.

    What do you think of my design and would the encaustic tiles work on the floor?
    I am tossing up between those and some dark grey tiles as a safety back up.
    The bathroom will be completely closed off using a sliding barn door.

    • Well it’s trendy, but black and white is better than the colourful ones which will dictate the colours of your bathroom forever. Maria