Terracotta Tiles: Part One

Terracotta Tiles and introduction

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 another word for Mexican tile that seems to 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.

Terracotta tiles hand rubbed

Let’s revisit the name terracotta for a moment. It means “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 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.

Terracotta tiles from Tuscany

As Country Floors, we have 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, 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.

Terracotta tiles with hand painted motives

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, before achieving the final finish, your installer needs to clean and seal them. These steps include “burning” a wax into the material, finishing it with an oil-based penetrating sealer, coating it with a water-based top dressing, etc. They can all work, or all fail to depend on the particular conditions uniquely present!

About our terracotta collections:

Due to the popular demand for this material, we have added many collections for various segments of this floor and wall tile.  For example, our  Cotto Med collection is a hand made tile where each piece is formed and can be used in living rooms. These tiles are set first and then baked in low fire kilns.

Wood molds create the frame around the tile so that sizing is somehow regular. This process enables the installer to use a moderate grout joint. Clay for these tiles is not perfectly mixed, therefore giving light and dark color concentrations in each tile.

Also, our reclaimed terracotta collection comes from old barns in Europe. Mainly, France, Hungary, and former Serbia.  These tiles come from old farmhouses, castles, and barns.  Reclaimed tiles are 1 to 2″ thick. Since this is too thick for modern tile installation, we split these tiles to make installation easier. These tiles are very irregular in shape, color, and form; this gives them a true old World feel to it.  See our post on Country style terracotta tile.

Common Questions about these  tiles:

Is terracotta tile expensive?

Most terracotta tiles are not expensive. They are hand made, but the manufacturing process is labor-intensive and straightforward.  Some of the reclaimed tiles can be expensive, as they are one of a kind.

Is terracotta tile durable?

These tiles are durable in most residential applications as well as commercial applications in warm climates. Most terracotta tiles are not frost proof. As long as they are used in warm climates, they can be used exterior and interior applications. For interior applications, they should be sealed after installation.

Types of tiles:

Hand made vs. machine-made are the main types. Hand made terracotta tiles are as the name implies, whereas machine-made ones are extruded in big pug mils.  They are then automatically fed into dryers and kilns.  Due to natural shrinkage of either category, they mar or may not be rectified for more precise sizing.

In addition, various strengthening agents are used in machine made tiles to make them stronger. These tiles may need to be flash cleaned to remove the residue.

Also, where terracotta comes determines the color of it. Most are made from clay mines in Southern Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Mexico.  These regions have various Colors of raw material, and each factory has a slightly different color body and texture tile.

Glazed terracotta

Finally, we glaze some of these tiles into endless glaze combinations. Our popular Las Palmas terracotta collection comes in a chevron shape, an extended picket, and various square and rectangular tiles.  The antiqued white glaze color is one of the most agreeable glazed tiles in the World.

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