Although encaustic tile has been around since medieval times, it wasn’t widely used in the United States until the turn of the 20th century. Popular in sunny coastal regions, it was commonly used on patios, verandas and in courtyards. Encaustic tile fell out of favor in the 1940’s with the advent of new products that could be mass produced at lower prices. However, due to its unique patterns, customizable color, and durability, encaustic tile has seen a resurgence in popularity in the last few years.
Encaustic tile, also known as cement tile, is made up of three ingredients: marble powder, Portland cement (grey and white), and natural mineral pigments, such as iron, cobalt and chromium oxides. The color slurries are poured into each section of a mold, resembling a large cookie cutter, which sits inside a frame. After the frame is shaken to remove air bubbles and evenly distribute color, it is compacted by a mechanical hydraulic press. Lastly, the tile is removed from the mold, soaked in water, cured for four weeks, and polished. Encaustic tile is fairly expensive, ranging from $12.00-$20.00 per square foot, but the lengthy process requires much skill and artistry. For those who appreciate the beauty of encaustic tile but are budget conscious, Home Depot sells a lookalike ceramic version called Merola Tile.
Once primarily used outdoors, encaustic tile is now being used indoors and can be applied to walls and hearths as well as floors. It can be installed on top of concrete surfaces, any common underlayment, wall board, or any other compatible surface. Encaustic tile is also very versatile. Just by changing the pattern and color combination, this traditional tile can lend old world charm or a fresh modern twist to any setting or style.
Encaustic tile is also being used in a wide range of commercial projects, from bars and restaurants to boutique hotels. Once only available in Latin America and Europe, this renaissance has led to a handful of U.S. companies producing encaustic tile, led by industry innovator, Villa Lagoon Tile, based in Alabama. Designers and architects agree its popularity will continue to grow as the public is exposed to projects that highlight encaustic tile’s unique beauty.
Randi Wilson is a Certified Interior Decorator and owner of Wilson Interiors, LLC. She can be reached by phone at (707) 616-4687, or by email at email@example.com. Photos of her projects can be viewed at www.facebook.com/RandiWilsonInteriors.