He may be the world's most flamboyant pop star but Elton John chose decidedly cliched images to decorate two swimming pools at his English country home. 'He went for the traditional Zeus and dolphins design,' says mosaic artist Sarah Helmore. 'Sadly, he wouldn't let us photograph them for insurance and security reasons.' Ten months after establishing a Hong Kong branch of On The Tiles (OTT), a decorative tiles and mosaics company set up by friends in England, Helmore is beginning to make her mark on the walls and floors of some of the territory's most fashionable eateries. At Lan Kwai Fong's Cafe Des Artistes, designed by New York-based Tony Chi, a large floor-to-ceiling mural of a hare, cockerel and goose evokes the atmosphere of sun-drenched Provencal villages where butcher shops and bakeries are still at the heart of rural life. 'The design was inspired by an old photograph Chi found. The cockerel detail was only about an inch square and I had to turn it into something that was more than a metre,' says Helmore. Up the road at Dillingers, Helmore's floor-level signage greets all patrons who cross the threshold. Clients entering M At The Fringe can see her work winding its way up the stairs and her next project is the sign for a new French restaurant, Aujourd'hui. Helmore's idea to set up a business in Hong Kong came after noticing how many of the buildings and industrial wall surfaces such as MTR stations are covered in tiny tiles. 'I couldn't believe that skyscrapers were covered in tiny tiles. It crossed my mind that I could source the tiles in Hong Kong for overseas. 'After looking into it, I discovered that although the tiles are incredibly cheap, they are very poor quality. They come in sheets that cost just $5. They are very grainy and difficult to work with. They splinter very easily.' Looking around Hong Kong, Helmore realised how few mosaic images there were and decided to draw on her fine art background to set up OTT. 'Mosaics have a bit of an image problem in Hong Kong. People seem to think they should be for external use. 'It's crazy to think that way in this climate because they're so cool and easy to look after. I am hoping to convince people mosaics are an alternative to a painted or wallpapered wall inside the home or office or in restaurants. Marble patterning is popular but not actual mosaic. 'I think it has to do with the modern Asia ethic where everything that's sleek and glossy is considered chic. 'One of the most interesting things I have done was a display shelf for a bakery chain in north Kowloon. That was really interesting and refreshing to see people do that. Unfortunately, it was too expensive for the company to have in each store.' Indeed, the art and use of mosaics inside and out has an ancient history. It was universally popular throughout the Roman era, having been introduced from Greece and used for floors as well as walls and vaults, in trompe l'oeil effects, geometric patterns and scenes from daily life and mythology, as well as in the traditional Roman bath. Elaborate stories were told in mosaic along the entire length of a wall or floor. Later, the use of mosaic came to be associated with both Byzantine art and early Christian church decoration in the West. Some of the best remaining examples are in 5th and 6th century churches where powerful religious images appear on walls and vaults in brilliant golds and glittering coloured tiles. Byzantine art moved away from the portrayal of people and animals and became highly stylised in its use of mosaics. Its intricate lacework patterns are still used today. Such mosaic work and imaging can be found on icons that represent the religious art of Greece and Russia. The mosaics found in Mediterranean countries can be attributed to the influence of Islamic art, a shining example being the Alhambra Palace in Spain. In Victorian England the mosaic came into its own and into the home when it wound its way up the garden path, across the doorway and into the hall, often in the form of black and white tiles, and also the bathroom and kitchen. Helmore is based in a workshop at her Lantau home where she selects, cuts and grinds the tiles before laying them out on paper. The work is then transported to site and laid out. 'Once the design has been created most of the work involves grinding and polishing the tiles. Every time you clip a tile, the edge has to be smoothed. You have to be very patient and fastidious.' There are two basic varieties of tiles: glazed, where the colour is laid on top, and the more expensive homogenous type, where the colour extends through the whole depth of the tile. Helmore mainly uses homogenous Italian tiles but sometimes mixes different qualities to vary the effect of the finished surface. Using items that are not traditional materials for mosaic is something she is beginning to explore. 'We inherited a lot of cheap wooden furnishings when we moved into the Lantau house. I am going to experiment covering the furniture. We have an old 70s coffee table that I am going to cover in a mosaic made from mahjong tiles. 'I like using really cheap things. I go to hardware stores to look at some of the items on display. I have a cabinet I'm going to mosaic in washers. 'The name OTT suits the company because it can also mean Over The Top, which is how I want to develop.' Helmore has already designed and made mosaic circular table tops that are on sale in a Staunton Street interior design store. 'My aim is to make the medium do what I want it to. I like interesting textural surfaces. I would rather do more modern work than the traditional pictorial images often associated with mosaics. It's an ancient art that should be brought into the 20th century.' Which Canto-pop star will be the first to ask Helmore to decorate their swimming pool?