Proof that tiles will never be out of style

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2012, 12:00am


Tiles are one of the oldest construction materials known to man. Tiled surfaces have been found in Egyptian pyramids, the ruins of Babylon, and Roman temples.

In Hong Kong's humid climate tiles are a practical option: they're durable, virtually maintenance-free, and cool underfoot. As a natural material (made originally of clay, and later marble and other types of stone), tiles are also resistant to moisture, bacteria, moulds and mildew.

How, then, to put a fresh take on something that's been around for thousands of years?

Begin by banishing pre-conceived ideas. Remember the time when the rule was one tile colour choice throughout, alternating only between floor and wall varieties? No more. As notes, mixing and matching different tiles can create a striking high-end look. Adds 'Anything goes when it comes to tiling.' These days, it's not wrong to mix and match shapes, colours, patterns and even large or small tiles.

At his restored tong lau walk-up apartment in Sheung Wan, seasoned renovator Andrew Bell shows how being bold with tiles can have stunning results - especially when you have an interesting canvas to work with.

On a post-retirement mission to 'save' old districts that retain some of Hong Kong's architectural heritage, Bell aims to add investment value to the properties he purchases by restoring the original integrity and context. 'Hence the use of traditional encaustic tiles on the floors,' he says.

Bell imports these tiles from Thailand through his company, Earth Home, or buys from Fired Earth, which sources from Europe.

'Encaustic tiles are faced with coloured cement, sometimes in single flat colours, sometimes in patterns made up of several colours, poured into a mould,' Bell explains. 'These are then backed by plain cement, which becomes their base. We seal them, then polish them in situ to the sheen we want. It gives them a sort of old, waxed look.'

Just as colourful - and in fashion this season, according to interior design site - are mosaics, also rich with history. They're so popular that Italian mosaic tile specialist Sicis opened a showroom in Hong Kong. Two enormous exterior art installations heralded the May opening of the Wan Chai store: an elegant 'Audrey' bathtub, fashioned in the shape of a high-heel shoe, and a large vase in gold, red and white mosaics, fusing Asian and Italian influences. The black Cosmati pavements are also an important signature piece by Sicis, in glass and precious marble.

Leo Placuzzi, president and founder of Sicis, says that tile trends, dictated by fashion these days, currently follow the catwalks with 'nostalgic feeling towards the 1970s and '80s'. Therefore a lot of geometric, and strong or even fluorescent looks are in vogue.

Can there be anything new in a product that's been around for so long? Absolutely yes, Placuzzi says. 'Mosaic in particular can be very flexible and its versatility allows different uses in very different contexts - a residential bathroom ... a floor terrace, or a wall in a bedroom,' he says.

'Mosaic can be easily used in a commercial space, an institutional office, a hospitality lobby or swimming pool ... the look can be extremely diverse according to the general mood, from classic to modern, from eccentric to minimal, floral or abstract, elegant or playful, and so on.'

Placuzzi sees mosaic as more than just an interior finish but 'a versatile tool of communication, expressing trends, lifestyles and fashion'.

Apart from mosaic, identifies other tile trends for 2012, gleaned from design centres in the United States and Coverings, an influential ceramic tile and natural stone trade fair held in Florida in April. According to the site, large-format tiles and metallic and wood tile designs are joining mosaics as 'the darling of showrooms' this year.

Subway tiles are also getting a makeover, the site says. No longer just small and white, this traditional style is becoming colourful and oversized. Glass tiles are predicted to be a continuing trend (again, in a larger format than we are used to seeing), as are metallic tiles, either solo, or mixed in with other tile materials. Ultra-large tiles are also so much easier to clean than a standard tile, the site notes. Graphic patterns are 'hot' for the casual colour and pattern they add, while 'texture can be added to the mix as well, tying in yet another hot trend'.

It wouldn't be the 2000s without recycled getting a look-in. Names such as the Debris Series from Fireclay Tile, containing more than 60 per cent recycled materials, might do the trick. But if even that doesn't meet your environmental sensibilities, how about tiles made from used coffee and tea grounds, mixed with organic resin, by British designer Nick Rawcliffe (of Rawstudio; www.raw Rawcliffe views such products as 'proper sustainability', diametrically opposed to the tidal wave of 'mass produced rubbish'. And their rich mocha and chocolate hues are so in at the moment, too. Milk and sugar, anyone?


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