Tiles, whether made of ceramic, porcelain, or marble, are an integral part of the art and design world around the world – but they’re also a pragmatic feature of many homes, used for flooring and to add character to kitchens. Still, there’s no good reason to hold these two realms, the artistic and the practical, as opposite realms; rather, adding tile detail to your home can be a way to travel without leaving your house, and exploring local tile art can make a wonderful vacation experience.
When abroad, talking to artisans who work with tile or visiting factories are great ways to get a taste of the local culture. Though many handmade or painted tiles may not make sense for your home decor or your budget, you’ll certainly come away inspired and with a clearer sense of what makes each region’s art unique.
Italian Arts Adventure
Italy is one of the most important countries when it comes to tile design and manufacture, with major companies like Ceramiche Refin setting the pace. The Cassalgrande-based company makes high-quality porcelain tiles, but this isn’t just about creating a durable product. No, at Refin, material engineers partner with architects and designers to bring truly unique pieces to the market. A partnership with late fashion maven Elio Fiurucci, for example, yielded these unusual tiles featuring a striking lip design.
An Ottoman Tradition
The Ottoman Empire, which at its height included modern day Morocco, Hungary, and Iraq among its territories, has a rich tile making tradition stretching back centuries, but for a period of time its most important tile making technique was lost. When the empire began to decline in the 17th century, the process for making the Iznik tiles that give the region’s architecture their iconic colors, as seen in the iconic Blue Mosque in Turkey, was lost.
Today, however, with much hard work and a lot of luck, the Iznik Foundation has uncovered the secret process. Using quartz as the foundation material and an electric kiln, the tiles still need to be produced by hand, and take about 70 days from start to finish. Though expensive to make, revival of the Iznik designs can be seen throughout the area.
From The Church To The Capital
Not to be outdone, the British of course needed their own artisan tile tradition, and perhaps the best known are the Minton tiles that emerged in the late 18th century. Minton tiles are unlike most other major tile types because their designs aren’t added in the glazing process, but are part of the structure of the tiles. The tiles are also highly geometric, creating an order that contrasts with the flowing designs of tiles like those made by the Iznik Foundation.
Due to their immense popularity, Minton tiles can be found in a wide range of places, including in Lichfield Cathedral in England and in the U.S. Capital Building. So whether you’re up for a trip across the pond, or you’d rather stay closer to home, you can enjoy glimpses of these beautiful and durable tiles.
Exploring the great tile making traditions of the world is a great way to spend a vacation, and because you can find tiles in a range of public places, the world becomes your museum. From old public buildings to religious landmarks, planning your sightseeing around tile arts is a compelling way to learn more about your destination’s history.