European Flooring

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why European Terra Cotta Tile Flooring for the Home

I will never forgot doing a trade show maybe 10 years ago, when a  majority of attendees were asking me if our French terra cotta tile flooring was a stone product. Suffice it to say, that trade show was not a huge success.  Flash forward to today, I am happy to report that I rarely hear the phrase, "what kind of building material is that?"  Many consumers today know of terra cotta tile flooring - but Pavé knows only half the battle is won.  Where in Europe, terra cotta tile is as prevalent as wood floors are in America, a European who installs terra cotta tile flooring knows they will receive an incredibly durable, practical and beautiful floor.  The majority of terra cotta tile sold in Europe is by far a superior terra cotta tile than those that are fabricated in other countries around the globe for there is a correct and incorrect way of making hand made terra cotta tile.  I imagine if Europeans had to install the inferior terra cotta tiles, terra cotta tile flooring would have a shady reputation as well.  No one wants a floor only to shale, crack, pop and crumble within a 5 year period.  Europeans knows that once installed - their tile floor will last generations to come.

There are factories in other parts of the world who are just sloppy, not caring about their work.  They don't sift and knead the clay properly, they don't place their tiles in precise hand-wooden molds to get a consistent size and thickness of each tile, the air-drying time is reduced and they don't wood-fire at extremely hot temperatures for at least a 3 day period to receive a less-porous and more durable terra cotta tile.

For many of our customers, they come to us for French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile Flooring.  They choose this product for their beauty, durability and sense of history.  But do they know why they can chose this product in the first place?  This product is salvaged from Chateaux and Farmhouses around France because over 100 years later, it can be.  The process 100 years ago of making European terra cotta tile flooring is the same process today - and French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile Flooring is the proof that there lies an incredible technical durability to this building material.

Pavé Tile's French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile Flooring - Parefeuille Mirambeau

However, as many clients know, there are caveats when installing a French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile Floor.  The truth, is that the product is more difficult to find.  The popularity of the product makes finding larger square footage more challenging and often one must mix lots to receive the quantity needed.  Mixing lots will add to the variation of thickness, size and color.  One can expect a range of 1" - 1 1/4" in thickness requiring a mud-set installation and a larger grout line to achieve a flat floor.  The texture can be rougher and at times, extreme color variation,  BUT....this is also the beauty of French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile.  Add to that the  artisan, over 100 years ago, hand-molded each tile - a tile that you live with now everyday - there is a kinsmanship that binds us through time, and we do love that.

For many clients who come to us for French Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tile, they are adverse to anything but that, due to the shady reputation that terra cotta tiles have earned in America.  However, clients are becoming more savvy and just like cars, homes and perfume - quality can vary greatly.  With proper education, clients are realizing that Pave Tile's European Terra Cotta Tile Collections are just not to be compared to the sloppier versions of the product.  It's like get the idea.

For over 11 years at Pavé Tile, we have only been using European Terra Cotta Tile for all our own collections.  It's our canvas upon which we produce incredibly old-looking terra cotta tile with decoratives that are subtle and elegant.  We romance the product and have discovered secrets to achieve a patina that looks even better than it's reclaimed brother.
Pavé Tile's Montmartre French Encaustic Terra Cotta Tile Flooring

Pavé Tile's St. Tropez French Terra Cotta Tile Flooring

Pavé Tile's Villa Raffinato Italian Terra Cotta Tile Flooring

 For many, terra cotta is a word they have heard, but not truly understood.  According to Wikipedia, "Terracotta, Terra cotta or Terra-cotta is baked earth. It is clay deposits from the ground that exist around the globe in numerous countries. Throughout centuries, cultures have used clay as a primary means of expressing their culture in terms of sculpture and art as well as for building construction. From vessels and water pipes to surface embellishments - such as a portico over a door or covering the surface of a floor.  Covering the surface of a floor in terra cotta tile - or baked earth - has been in existence since the beginning of civilization. In Mesopotamia 2800 B.C., terra cotta bricks and tiles were made for defensive city walls, floor coverings and wall decoration of important shrines. Some archaeologists believe that the invention of firing clay into tiles and other art forms came simultaneously from the Chinese and the Sumerians from Mesopotamia."

Phew!  A little history first to underline how incredible terra cotta tile is for a building product.  Like our beloved trinity of French terra cotta, French Limestone and French Oak - one cannot be installing more green of a product than from our perfect French triad of natural building materials.

The last part of my blog are photos from one of the French factories that make our terra cotta tile and the process of making superior terra cotta clay tiles.

It must begin with the clay.  This lovely lump of clay looks like churned butter for the artisans have properly sifted it from impurities and kneaded it to release air pockets making the clay buttery smooth and malleable.  This is the first finished step before it's placed in hand-made wooden molds.

Hard work, the artisan knows just how much clay to place in each mold and for how long to manipulate the product to get a precise thickness once the tile is fired.

Various textures can also be achieved at this stage of the process.  From smooth to rough - depending on the techniques that the artisan employes.

A seasoned terra cotta tile artisan, this gentleman and his family has been making terra cotta tiles for over 2 generations.
The tiles are left to first dry in their wooden molds.  From there, they are placed on the ground for another 4-6 days to continue the drying process - and then vertically to finalize the drying process.  Important steps not to be missed to achieve a quality terra cotta tile.

The 3rd and last step of the drying process where the greenware clay tiles are stacked vertically to dry.

Finally, the terra cotta tiles are ready to be fired.  There a various ways to fire terra cotta tile, and within our factories, the artisans use wood.  Wood has so many benefits artistically and technically.  A hot wood fire - for a period of 3 consecutive days - makes the tiles more durable and less porous. In wood-burning kilns, the temperature of 1800 degrees Fahrenheit is achieved using a mixture of olive pits and their branches. The fire has to be continually stoked and artisans will sleep over night and take turns in shifts at the factory to keep a watchful eye on the temperature of the wood. Artistically, due to the wood firing, the temperature will vary in degrees and depending on where each tile is placed in the kilns, the final colors will vary from rose and red to ocher and moss.  
The photo above is one of the cavernous wood-burning kilns used at this factory to produce our terra cotta tiles.
The natural color of the clay is sublime and Pavé will introduce two new collections soon that will highlight this beauty.  Europeans understand the beauty of the natural color of terra cotta tile - and know their terra cotta tile floor will darken and patina over the years as they wear their floor.  However, many Americans want the "patina in a bottle" - and that's why Pavé Tile has been working for over 11 years to achieve terra cotta tile flooring that once installed, already looks 100 years old.

I need to end this blog with a final thought - "Wear your terra cotta tile well".  Pavé Tile's European terra cotta tile flooring is not "a bull in a china shop" situation.  This is one the best work-horses of building materials you could install in your home.  Life is messy and fortunately it's the mess that makes a terra cotta tile floor even better.  The texture will become more leather-like, the colors will deepen and any surface knicks or stains will become a part of the floor.

In that idyllic French farmhouse where they reclaimed terra cotta tiles, the living conditions were - well  - not like ours today.  Chickens and pigs in and out of the house, mud from the fields, wine spilled from too many family gatherings - and your are worried about your kids?????  Living of course with our own product installed in our home, I have watched through the years as my floor has darkened.  Installed in the front entry as well - in New England - years of mud, slush and snow have just made my floor even richer.  It cleans up so well - stains that I thought I saw are just now characteristics of my floor.  I love that floor.

À la prochaine!
Emmi Micallef
Pavé Tile & Stone, Inc.


  1. Wow, fantastic.!Its a good idea that you showed to us the process on how the artisan made the fabulous tiles. I am pretty much sure that the tiles are durable.You did a good job.!!I really had fun.
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  2. Great post!!!Amazing event, and you've compiled a wonderful set of images really looking beautiful....
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  5. Your terra cotta tiles are some of the most beautiful I have seen. D. Poulton