A Brief History of Cement Tiles
About 1000 years ago, the Moors of Northern Africa developed encaustic cement tiles. The basic production method remains the same today. Pigmented cement is poured into a mold (much like a copper candy mold) to a depth of approximately ¼”. Plain non-pigmented cement is poured on top of the colorful cement and then compacted by hydraulic presses. The cement tiles are turned out of the molds to cure. The colorful and patterned layer at the top of the cement tiles is what we see.
In the 700’s, the Moors took their architectural style and encaustic cement tile production method to Europe. After the Moors left Europe in the late 1400’s, the use of cement tile waned.
About 400 years later in the early 1800’s, European archeological digs sparked interest in early Moorish culture and the use of vibrant colors and designs based on geometry, calligraphy, flowers and plants. The basis of these designs was adopted by Mediterranean cultures and modified to reflect the stylistic differences of each country.
In the late 1800’s, Art Nouveau re-introduced the use of cement tiles. Cement tiles were popular during this period and the aesthetic influence of the Art Nouveau style can be seen in current cement tile designs.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, cement tile was popular flooring in the Mediterranean. From here, the tiles were introduced to former European colonies, including the Western Hemisphere. Original cement tile installations from this time period can be found in the Caribbean Islands and Florida, particularly Key West. By the 1950’s, popularity diminishes when less costly, mass produced ceramic tile products are available.
The current demand for authentic design and sustainable products may have some effect on renewed interest for cement tiles. During the production of cement tiles, no heat source is required, therefore less energy is consumed in the manufacturing process. The materials are environmentally friendly and sustainable.
As an alternative to authentic encaustic cement tiles, the ceramic tile industry is reproducing the style, sizes, colors & patterns of cement tiles in porcelain tile.
Both types of tile can be found in the Studio Tile. Visit the Suntree showroom to see what’s possible.