Your First Home
2nd July 2017
Everything you need to know about Maltese Patterned Tiles
Patterned tiles have adorned the floors of traditional Maltese homes for generations, but where did they come from, how are they made, and what makes them such a popular option among homeowners today?
Along with the comforting smell of nanna’s cooking and playing hopscotch in the street, traditional patterned cement tiles found in the houses of our youth offer a window to our past, but it isn’t just this that spurs their popularity today.
Adding a pop of colour and giving an eclectic style to a space, patterned tiles combined with contemporary schemes give a real wow factor, so it’s no surprise that they’re experiencing a revival among homeowners keen to do justice to their traditional homes. What may come as a surprise however, is that the popularity of these vibrant patterned tiles is not exclusive to Malta. Dubbed as one of the major interior design trends of the moment patterned tiles have garnered a huge following, spurring tile appreciation blogs and Instagram accounts like I Have This Thing With Floors.
But, apart from the traditional Maltese varieties, where do they originate from?
Spain, France, Morocco, Italy, Greece and India all have their own versions of patterned cement tiles. There are varying accounts on where and when the first patterned cement tiles came to be, with some sources pointing to Viviers on the embankments of the Rhône, France in 1850, and others stating that the first reference to the manufacture of encaustic cement tile was in a factory in Barcelona, Spain, in 1857. Meanwhile, during the early 19th century gothic revival in the UK, an entrepreneur by the name of Herbert Minton is said to have combined his family’s knowledge of ceramics with new methods of production to develop industrial techniques for producing decorative tiles made by layering different colours of clay – a similar technique to the one used locally.
As for Malta’s version, the history behind our tiles is somewhat hazy. With origins likely to be traced back to Turkey during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the patterned tiles produced in Malta today seem to have come from Spain. Locally, it may come as a surprise that the use of patterned cement tiles is relatively young – spanning about 300 years. And despite their continued popularity, the number of artisans still producing them is, sadly, decreasing.
The process used to make these tiles is as fascinating as the patterns themselves. Generally made out of a mixture of powdered marble, white cement and colour pigment, they’re created using a mould of each particular design and pattern, in which colours are poured one by one and left to set. Each tile is made individually, rather than in batches, giving an idea as to how time-intensive this laborious process is!
Once you have them on your floor, Maltese tiles are quite durable and tend to improve with age, although some colours, such as blue, are more likely to fade with time. New cement tiles should be polished to prevent staining. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to achieve the patterned tile effect in ‘wet rooms’ like your bathroom, you may want to consider a more practical ceramic variant, since cement is porous and more prone to staining if put in contact with colours and chemicals found in beauty products.
Have patterned cement tiles at home? Why not send us a photo in the comments, we’d love to see them!