Terracotta Tiles: Part One

Terracotta tiles inspire creative thoughts and engender romantic design notions. However, there is often a bit of confusion for the homeowner and even for the professional. Let’s start with the name. Is it terracotta as one word or terra cotta as two words? Is this really another word for Mexican tile that seems be adobe? Are we referring to Italian red material? Well, the answers are all basically YES. The two spellings are both recognized as correct. As to origins, terracotta tiles can be Mexican, Italian, French, Catalan, etc. etc.

Let’s revisit the name terracotta for a moment. It is loosely translated as “baked earth” or “cooked earth”. Well how is it “baked” or “cooked”? That leads us to production methods. The famous Saltillo tiles from Mexico are literally baked in the sun and feature the occasional wildlife footprint as a byproduct of this process. They also are relatively porous and require certain installation techniques. Another region famous for terracotta production is Impruneta in Tuscany about 30 minutes south of Florence. This type of material is kiln fired and therefore considerably denser than its sun baked brothers.

As Country Floors, we have a tremendous respect for Spanish terracotta. In particular, those produced in the Catalan region in the northeast of Spain which of course includes the marvelous city of Barcelona. To be even more specific, in the image above is the Monastery of Pedralbes. This is a 14th century Gothic structure built by King James II of Aragon for his wife. One of the prominent features of the monastery is the terracotta tiling which is emblematic of Catalan pavers and serves as the inspiration for our Pedralbes Collection.

All terracotta tiles require a certain amount of TLC and understanding. For example, the end user should be aware that like a piece of bronze that develops a patina from use over its lifetime, so too does a terracotta tile floor “wear in”. Over time the material develops its own particular and unique finish. Naturally, prior to achieving the final finish, there are steps needed to be taken in the name protecting the tiles. They include “burning” a wax into the material, finishing it with an oil based penetrating sealer, coating it with a water-based top dressing, etc, etc. They can all work or all fail depending on the particular conditions uniquely present!

In closing this first post on terracotta tiles, we would like to point that there are Country Floors showrooms across the United States and now in Puerto Rico. The professionals there will guide you to a wonderful terracotta tile experience.