They were big in the 1980s and are commonplace in Europe, so why have we fallen out of love with the tiled worktop?
There is a cyclical nature to all things and we see trends pop up that seem novel and exciting but are in fact making a comeback from bygone decades. This is quietly becoming the case with tiled countertops in bathrooms and kitchens, which were the height of fashion in the 1980s. Take Home Alone and the McAllisters' kitchen, which features a dark blue tiled kitchen worktop. The film was released in 1990 and so filmed in the late 1980s, when such kitchens would have been a lot more commonplace than they are now. If Home Alone isn’t enough to sway you, iconic American architect Frank Gehry had a tile countertop in his Santa Monica kitchen – which is up there with the best kitchens we’ve ever seen – in the 1970s. If it’s good enough for Frank, who are we to argue? Around the same time, French artist Jean Pierre Raynaud created an installation titled ‘La Maison de Celle-Saint-Cloud’, an imaginary abode in which every surface was covered in uniform white tiles and black grout.
There are pros and cons to a tiled counter in a kitchen or bathroom and the cons are why they fell out of fashion. But first, the positives. Tiles are a fantastic way of introducing colour and texture to a space, and can feel quite luxurious. What’s more, they are a lot cheaper than covering an equivalent area in marble or wood, for example.
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Gemma McCloskey of Cúpla Studio used tiles in abundance in the Rixo flagship store, tiling entire walls, the shop's facade and adding a tiled kitchen island in one of the private spaces (above). She says of the decision, “We wanted the island to be a central feature in the apartment which people would want to congregate around. The texture of the handmade tiles helped give it a really relaxed feeling which we wanted. I think tiles are a really cost effective way to inject colour and relaxed luxe into a kitchen. I would keep the extent of the tiles to one feature surface and give the others something simpler so as to really make a feature of it.”
Hexagonal tiles from Popham Design form a striking splashback that tones with the bold geometric ‘Arch’ cement floor tiles by the same company in Pierre Frey's Normandy house. Units with white-painted wooden frames have beech cupboard fronts and a worktop in tiles from Mosaic del Sur.
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Add to this that there are endless possibilities when it comes to tiles, as evidenced by a recent Rachel Chudley project where the interior designer looked to Balineum to create a tile wave across all the kitchen surfaces in inky blue, forest green, cerise, brown and a dark teal. “The kitchen cabinets are covered in bespoke Balineum tiles and the walls behind, creating a modernist inspired mural that curves up the wall,” she says of her design.
There are some practicalities to think about when considering tiling your work surfaces – namely wear and tear, and mostly the upkeep of the grout. We all know how grout loves to discolour and when you add kitchen splashes into the mix, it brings in an entirely new dimension, which is perhaps the reason we don’t all choose this material for such a heavy wearing part of our houses. However, it doesn’t mean you have to stay away, as so long as you keep on top of the cleaning as splashes occur, and choose your tiles wisely, you can keep it looking lovely.
Sarah Watson, founder of Balineum, says “tiled kitchen countertops always makes me think of holidays in southern France, Italy and Greece,” and it is this rustic, peaceful quality that makes them so appealing. As a tile designer and maker, who has observed a few tiled countertop projects over the years, she has some tips on different tiles to choose: “Machined pressed tiles will provide a crisper and smoother installation – with the smallest grout lines. Entirely handmade tiles will have a more rustic appearance as they have a more uneven surface and larger grout lines (many 1980s kitchens or kitchens in southern Europe will be made using handmade tiles). Even if your tiles say they don’t need sealant, it is probably a good idea to apply one on a countertop installation – even if just to protect the grout. The sealant will give you a bit more time to remove stains forming on the grout: so in a kitchen to protect against red wine and greases, or in bathrooms from make up”.
A tiled surface may require a little more TLC than other materials, but when they look this good, we say it's time to bring them back to the fore.
This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.