New modern encaustic tiles from Lindsey Lang

New modern encaustic tiles from Lindsey Lang

Designer Lindsey Lang has produced a fabulous collection of traditional cement tiles with vibrant geometric designs

Scallop design in electric blue by Lindsey Lang.

Traditional manufacture meets contemporary interior design in these striking Scallop tiles in electric blue by Lindsey Lang. Tiles are hand-made in Spain and cost £185m2. Encaustic tiles are not fired in a kiln but dry in the open air. Suitable for walls and floors.

We think of tiles as being ceramic, but the Victorians, of course, loved encaustic tiles, as do the Spanish and the Portuguese, which still manufacture them on a large scale.

You're probably familiar with the name, but would you know how to explain what they are if the question came up in the pub quiz?

If not, encaustic tiles are made from a sand, cement and marble dust mix with a coloured/pattered layer on top which is compacted down onto the base using a hydraulic press.

And unlike their ceramic counterparts, these tiles don't go into a kiln for firing; rather they're air-dried over a period of about a month, after which they're ready for use - as such the energy used to make them is far less than needed for ceramic and porcelain tiles, which must be fired at very high temperatures. 

Light grey Tweet Granito design
Granito Leaf design in pale yellow and mint
An encaustic tile - the colourful pattern is pressed down onto the sand/cement base
Encaustic midnight blue Leaf tile.
Blue Hex pattern
Lindsey Lang says her tiles will keep their looks for generations

Encaustic tiles aren't widely used these days, in part becauses they're fairly pricey, being a hand-made product, and because they're associated with traditional or historic patterns.  

Reviving interest in the genre

But US-born London-based artist and textile designer Lindsey Lang wants to revive interest in the genre, because these tiles have many advantages in her opinion.

The colour and pattern is a 5mm deep layer on top of the tile biscuit, whereas most ceramic tiles - and cheaper encaustic tiles - have the pattern merely printed on the surface and that surface can easily get scuffed and damaged over time.

'But with encaustic tiles, you have the deep layer of colour so if the tile gets scuffed you simply buff it up so it looks as good as new,' says Lang, who's made her name with the bright geometric patterns of her homewares, such as cushion covers, napkins, tea-towels and oven gloves.

A 19th century brass mould. Coloured clay was poured by hand into each section of mould to make the pattern
Create a beautiful hallway using Ellipse blue and grey encaustic tiles
Leaf tile in grey. Encaustic tiles should look fab for at least 100 years

So longevity is a huge plus point  - 'these tiles will easily last for a 100 years,' says Lang - and while she has not yet undertaken a lifecycle analysis of her tiles, she believes they are an environmentally-friendly product because no heat is needed to fire them and they use some waste materials, such as marble dust.

Lang develops her designs on paper, then metal moulds must be made of the pattern. These sit on the base tile and the coloured marble and granite aggregate is compressed into the mould sections, which are best visualised as a cookie cutter. Then the top layer is compressed onto the tile and left to dry out.

'It's a great way to achieve pattern. I'm developing designs for people who love contemporary interiors with vibrant colour and geometric/graphic pattern,' she says.

Lindsey Lang encaustic tiles cost £185m2. Which sounds a lot, but Lang re-iterates that they are hand-made in Spain and will stand the test of time.

And this is where living in a small flat can be a boon because a bijou bathroom can look amazing with a special tiled floor.. and if that floor is just 2mx3m, saving up for some Lindsey Lang tiles isn't beyond the bounds of possibility.