The Heritage Behind Spanish Tiles

When it comes to interior design, there are a few elements which are easily noticed and associated with a specific culture. Spanish tiles are one of them. The distinct design, colors, and history of origin that each tile reflects make them some of the best tiles to use in renovations, refurbishment and distinct design. But what is the heritage behind the tiles? What makes them so recognisable? Here are a few things about the heritage behind Spanish tiles which may help to answer these questions.

Spanish tiles can be traced back thousands of years. The tiles were artistic creations when they were first invented, and exclusive to Southern and Eastern Spain. And for a long time the culture used the ceramics, cement and colour pigment mixes in each tile to create a name for its artistry synonymous with the finest craftsmanship to reflect is Mediterranean warmth and culture. Churches and palaces adorned their floors, walls, patios and squares with the distinct patterns, styles and vibrant coloured tiles. However, after the 17th century, primarily after a downfall in the demand for ceramics and tiles, the art form decreased substantially.

During the 17th century, Spanish tiles became associated with the Moors. And while it is true that some of the design patterns mimic that of other Eastern Countries, it is not the same. Firstly, the Spanish tiles are primarily ceramic or encaustic cement tiles with natural pigments, where the other Eastern tiles are generally a composite of glazed glass and glass oxides. Secondly, Spanish tiles tend to focus on geometrics and patterns where other cultures focus on creating pictorial stories with the tiles.

America and other Western countries did not embrace the Spanish tiles until well into the late 17th and 18th centuries. Originally, tiles were exported across the Mediterranean. As you might expect, the first Spanish tiles showed up in the Latin American and Spanish speaking countries, Mexico being the dominant of these countries. With this increased interest so the desire arose for certain patterns and designs. Much like furniture and fine art, there were tile artisans and sought-after Spanish tile makers who were highly acclaimed for their designs and skills.

As time has passed, the tile has transitioned from being primarily an artistic form to be that dual purpose with functional qualities now recognized and growing in demand. Wooden flooring, before some of the modernisation and technology available was somewhat fragile, and it was found that tiles especially the durable terracotta and encaustic tiles, not only provided an artistic and colorful addition floors and walls, but also provided the longevity that construction of churches, palaces, and elite houses demanded.

The 1900’s heralded a time of evolution and revolution. This led to a new perspective on how people lived and enjoyed their homes. Around the turn of the 20th century there was also a focus on hygiene, updated antiseptic methods were employed, cleaner kitchens and bathrooms became an essential part of everyday living. Spanish tiles again transitioned from being used as a decorative flooring material to be that of a sanitary option for construction. Tiles became universal in this manner, sparking ‘spin off’s’ from the Spanish tile. Architects began to use tiles in projects more often than the “traditional” options.

It appears that during the 20th century something was lost in terms of the artistry to the Spanish tile. Yet, the Spanish Heritage has been reclaimed in the 21st century. As trends tend to repeat themselves, and as there has been an increase in the focus upon ethnicity and heritage the demand and recognition of Spanish tiles has again risen. The properties and versatility of encaustic and vintage reclaimed tiles are now widely recognised for more than just its artistic accents and are now a desirable flooring and wall covering. Granted, there are still a great number of tile designs which are used only as such, but we are seeing that more interior spaces as well as exterior applications are embracing the quality of these unique handcrafted vintage Spanish tiles.

Today, Spanish tile is both handmade and mass produced. There are even custom-made digital prints for tiles, allowing for owners to make their own stories, designs, and layouts. And though the standard Spanish tile is still considered to be the encaustic cement tile, glazed ceramic painted tile, metal imprinted tile, glass tiles, and composite tiles are also available that mimic the look and overall feel of the culture, allowing for continuity between the modern living space and the historical Spanish Culture.

Interested in original Spanish tile? Not a problem, there are a ton of collectors out there who have saved the works of various artists. Some of the Spanish tiles date back to Egyptian times, while there are others which have been taken from the palaces of Kings. Of course, these tiles are usually in frames and displayed as historical art (some are even in museums). The point is that although the term for the design and look of the tile may be Spanish, the tile has really become universal. It is an embracement of art, culture, design, and color.