Tile was an important element in interior design in many parts of the world for thousands of years, coveted for its esthetic possibilities, functionality and longevity.
Yet for a generation, the craft has been largely unexplored, relegated mainly to bathrooms and rooftops, say the authors of a new book.
"It's been untapped and underappreciated, but that's changing very quickly," says Catherine Bailey, who, with her husband, Robin Petravic, owns California-based Heath Ceramics. The couple won a 2015 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for their work encouraging creativity at Heath while remaining true to the company's over-60-year history.
They have written "Tile Makes the Room: Good Design from Heath Ceramics" (released last month by Ten Speed Press). The book is full of lush photos and practical advice about incorporating artisanal tile in interiors. The goal is to make designing with tile accessible to the uninitiated.
Heath and other small ceramics studios are leading a resurgence of tile in home design. An expanded range of colours, textures, patterns — and prices — have made the medium more adaptable and accessible.
Feras Irikat, design and marketing director for Lunada Bay Tile, a Los Angeles-based firm offering Japanese-inspired tiles, including some made with recycled glass, said, "Before the '70s, tile was everywhere, like permanent jewelry for your home. It slowed down a lot after that and became very boring. But it has started catching on again, and there are more and more small companies putting their hearts and souls into it and doing really interesting things."
Bailey says "a lot of designers are finally rediscovering the incredible depth and range" tile offers.
She and Petravic took over the Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics in 2003. The company, founded in 1948, was famous for tableware and tiles, and kept a close link between craft and factory production.
"Tile Makes the Room" begins by looking at the couple's 1890s Sausalito home, and Heath's factories in Sausalito and San Francisco.
"We don't think of Heath as making tile so much as making objects that contribute to something bigger, like architecture or interiors," they write.
Tile, when combined with textile, wood and glass, can create a sense of permanence, timelessness, colour and texture, and contribute to a cohesive overall design, they say. The book includes many kinds of tiles and architectural styles in interiors and a few exteriors.
In chef Alice Waters' Berkeley, California, kitchen, for instance, earthy green tiles surround a beast of a gas range, framing the copper pots and teakettle and providing a warm backdrop for a concrete counter.
In a small Tokyo home, handmade tile from Fez, Morocco, set in a striking herringbone pattern in blue-and-white flooring, gives the feeling of rippling water meandering peacefully through the home.
Elsewhere, tiles give spaces a clean and contemporary feel. A Heath design featuring cubes in grey-blues and reds adds depth and character to a study wall, and in a garden in Sao Paulo, Brazil, graphic tiles with an undulating design in blue and white (designed by the Athos Bulcao Foundation) add a fluid, modernist touch.
Even in all-white rooms, varying types of tile bring a sense of timelessness and depth.
"The study of white tiles . acts as a canvas for the material's qualities," the authors write. The inherent variation in artisanal tile "creates an installation that feels warm, soft and homey because of reflected light, surface finish and texture," as opposed to the antiseptic feeling of white tile in airport bathrooms or commercial kitchens.
"All white tile is not the same, and if you get that, you've come a long way," explains Petravic.
The book ends by explaining the process of tile making. It considers the main types of ceramic tile: earthenware, porcelain and stoneware. There are also concrete tiles. The reader is taken through the process of forming, finishing, firing and, finally, installing tiles to maximum effect.
Katherine Roth, The Associated Press