Mosaics for fitting ideas underfoot
Tiny tiles are back in a big way allowing for versatile applications and styles, and many today are traditional with a twist, with newer boldly expressive looks using older materials for striking floor patterns.
Beloved for their old-fashioned charm, small mosaic tiles are resonating with homeowners who want floors that are uniquely patterned and boldly expressive.
From itty-bitty hexagons to miniature squares, tiny tiles are back in a big way.
Mosaics are appealing because they can adapt to different period styles and can be used in so many applications; they’re both timeless and versatile and photogenic.
Intricately tiled floors have been on the upswing in recent years, thanks in large part to the Instagram account @ihavethisthingwithfloors. Started by three Dutch friends who share a fondness for taking pictures of their footwear against striking floor patterns, the feed curates images of marzipan-hued mosaics from all over the world.
For more than 812000 followers, the time-worn foyers of old hotels and hat shops from Lisbon to Los Angeles serve as a reminder to look down and appreciate the history beneath your feet. In South Africa, Parliament in Cape Town has many beautiful floors.
Unsurprisingly, homeowners want to bring the bespoke, vintage feel of the eye-catching tile they see on social media into their own homes.
The fact that some of these mosaics look as if they require an advanced degree in mathematics and an abundance of time to lay out only adds to their allure.
“There’s definitely an appreciation for the way things used to be made,” says Erin Oliver, who works with tile restoration in the US. “Mosaics aren’t fast and they don’t look like everything else on the market.”
Mosaic tiles first became popular in the US in the late 1800s, when plumbing came indoors and the need for a sanitary surface became paramount for germ-obsessed Victorians.
Porcelain flooring was imported from England, but as demand for indoor toilets grew, American manufacturers started to produce smaller unglazed porcelain tiles. Soon basket weave, penny-round and hex designs became ubiquitous in homes.
In commercial buildings such as taverns and pharmacies, the mosaics grew more decorative, as the country transitioned from the Victorian era to the arts and crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods.
Tile production peaked in the late 1920s, and then the Great Depression hit and many factories shut. “Amazingly, we’re now discovering patterns in old catalogues that were never even produced,” Oliver says.
Most of the tile work Oliver is seeing today could be classified as traditional with a twist.
“People are trying for a newer look using the old materials,” she says. “For instance, they want flat hex tiles, but instead of black and white, we’ll see more modern colour combos like blues and greys.”
To bring an authentic Old World feel to a home, designer Jessica Helgerson used hex tiles in an array of poppy hues.
But not all tile installations make a statement through colour and pattern choice; some spell it out – literally. Some homeowners are using tiles as a form of self-expression.
In a foyer, designer Bria Hammel used grey and white hex tiles to craft a playful greeting. “Writing ‘hello’ was a way to add some whimsy to a classic entry,” she says. . Hammel admits getting the font right was a challenge.
“We had limited options on the font style since the script needed to look fluid and be easily readable.”
Oliver says she’s observed an increase in hallways that feature monograms and salutations.
“If you embed your initials in the floor of your hall, you’re definitely making a commitment to staying there,” she says.
“When people want something personalised, I recommend doing the house number because the address isn’t likely to change.”
Many companies will let you select colours and create a custom design using a computer grid on their website. Some creative creative homeowners prefer a DIY approach.
Outside repairing the occasional crack, there isn’t much maintenance involved in preserving an unglazed porcelain mosaic floor. Because porcelain is impervious to water, stains and temperature changes, it’s a durable and practical choice for high-traffic areas.
“If you look at any 100-year-old tile floor, you’ll see a natural patina that comes from wear, and that patina becomes a protective coat,” Oliver says. “That’s why all these beautiful tiles have been around for over a century; they’ve stood the test of time.”