CITY, Mo. — First, the sunny yellow Moroccan tiles
with white stars and a matte finish on the backsplash of
Judy Joss’ kitchen in the West Plaza caught my eye.
while sipping coffee a week or two later in Rio de
Janeiro, I noticed a colorful tile covering the floor
and walls of a cafe. It also had a matte finish and
I’m seeing similar Bohemian-style tiles popping up on
backsplashes, floors and fireplaces in every shelter
magazine I open, from Country Living to Elle Decor. And
they are almost always described as encaustic or cement
tiles date back to the 13th century, when they were made
by using a beeswax paint to create designs that were set
with heat. Today, they’re made with multiple colors of
clay inlaid together to create the pattern and then
tiles, which date to the late 19th century, are made by
pouring mineral pigments into a mold to create the
design, removing the mold and filling the rest of the
tile with gray cement. The tile is then hydraulically
pressed and cured for several weeks.
tiles can be used indoors and out, though they often
need to be weather-proofed with a sealer.
Ireland of Prairie Village recently had the floors of
her kitchen covered in antique encaustic tile from a
northern part of Belgium once known as Flanders. She got
the tiles from L’Antiquario Antique Encaustic Tiles in
Miami with a certificate stating their provenance and
that they’re from 1870 to 1900.
didn’t want hardwood floors because the whole house
would be hardwood and that’s boring," Ireland
says. "I’m always looking for something cute with
an English cottage feel."
stumbled onto pictures of shabby chic founder Rachel
Ashwell’s home, which had encaustic tiles.
called L’Antiquario and (saleswoman) Kelly Martin
said, ‘I know Lily Ashwell (Rachel’s daughter). We
did Lily’s store and home in Venice,’ " Ireland
recalls. "Because it’s a small kitchen, I could
afford it. It’s really, really cute."
carries about 2,500 patterns of antique encaustic and
cement tiles reclaimed from churches, monasteries,
chateaus and palaces in Europe, dating from 1850 to
first noticed an uptick in its popularity about eight
years ago, and it hasn’t slowed. Prices for the
antique tiles start at just under $30 a foot.
are so rare they’re in the hundreds of dollars per
square foot," Martin says.
some retailers, L’Antiquario doesn’t require
customers to buy a minimum number of tiles.
can buy four tiles if you want," Martin says.
"The older tiles have a patina, so they look
slightly different than new ones. It’s a softness in
color and wear and there’s a depth to the tile that
the new ones don’t have. We have some patterns that
are very geometrical and are very turn of the century
— from the later 1800s — but they’re sort of
modern and can be set in a sophisticated way. The
patterns were very complex back then, and they can be
very flowery, soft and intricate or geometric and
Schmidt, a designer at Schloegel Design Remodel, is
having cement tile with a blue, yellow and cream design
installed over the range in a client’s home. The rest
of the kitchen backsplash will be subway tile to balance
out the cement tile’s busy design and to cut cost. New
cement tile starts at about $18 a square foot.
something different and clients are looking toward more
pattern," Schmidt says. "Subway tile is still
really popular, so I don’t think that’s necessarily
going away. But they use them (encaustic-style tiles) in
small spaces. It’s good in a guest bathroom or powder
Materials of Design, in Overland Park, has samples of
encaustic tiles and is getting ready to start carrying
have tons of people asking for them," says
saleswoman Tara Bench.
designer Kathy Weiss, of Decor by Design in Kansas City,
is one of those people.
doing a bedroom addition, and the client wants to
incorporate a courtyard, and he and his husband are kind
of artsy," Weiss says. "Cement tiles will be
perfect for that. They are kind of pricey, but if you
use it in a small area, you won’t blow your budget.
You pick those patterns for your wow factor."
lot of young people are drawn to the colorful tiles,
says Schmidt, and are able to get the look with
porcelain tiles that mimic the designs of cement and
encaustic tiles. Tile stores, big box hardware stores
and even Overstock.com carry them for as little as $1.49
for an 8-by-8-inch tile.