Back to Basics: AC’s Ceramic Tile Collections

It’s that time of year, when kids to go back to school. We can’t scroll through our Facebook news feeds without seeing a tiny person holding a chalkboard sign with their name and grade on it.

While children everywhere are going back to school, let’s go back to basics and learn about ceramic tile through a few of Architectural Ceramic’s collections: Basics, London, and City Hall.

With a few simple lessons in science, geography and math, we’ll  see how ceramics are classified, where they come from, and how adding any one of our ceramic collections to your project, equals a great space.

Our Basics Collection

AC’s Basics Collection, is a simple one with a white subway tile at its core.  This collection’s features make it an easy option to mix and match with other natural stone or porcelain tile:

  • 3″ x 6″ field tile with coordinating bullnose and trim profiles
  • clean, off-white color
  • glossy finish
  • subtle surface changes make the tile appear handmade
  • an in-stock item*

Download a data sheet here of our Basics Collection.

*Please note that while we try to keep quantities readily available, depending on demand, Architectural Ceramics may not have all colors and sizes in stock at all times.

Basic Scientific Principles

Kings play chess on fancy green stools.  Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  We all have bits of information that stick with us from K through 12th grade. Let’s learn a bit about how ceramic tile is classified.

The principles used to create ceramic tile are basic. The process it goes through, however, can be involved and results in two main ceramic tile categories: handmade and machine-made.

Handmade Ceramic:  The simplest ceramic tile composition is that of natural clay.  Think back to the Moors who formed clay tiles with hand-held tools, laid the thick shapes out to dry in the sun, and later hand-glazed them.  The clay body is simple, but hand-cutting and installing the ceramics is labor intensive.

Today, several tile manufacturers still honor the handmade tradition in shaping and painting natural clay tiles, but drying is done in a closed kiln instead of in the open air.  Architectural Ceramics has several handmade ceramic tile options, from vendors like Sonoma Tilemakers or Encore Ceramics.

Machine-Made Ceramic:  Machine-made ceramics like Basics, London, and City Hall all start out as a lump of clay just like handmade ceramics.  Other elements like sand and quartz are added; each manufacturer has their preferred blend.  The mixture, also known as the body slip, includes dry and wet elements.  Thirty percent of the body slip is water, because it helps the elements bond together.  After the initial drying process, the water content is closer to six percent [source: HowStuffWorks.com].

Machine-made ceramics go through several steps and processes, before resulting in two main types: thin-body or porcelain. Just like water played an important role in creating the body slip of a tile, water is a key factor in determining whether a ceramic tile assumes its identity as a natural clay thin-bodied ceramic, or as a porcelain.

Thin-Bodied Ceramics: Our Basics Collection, along with London and City Hall, are all examples of machine-made, thin-body ceramics intended for indoor residential use.  Even though the tile is glazed, it’s not guarded against water.  A crackle glazed ceramic, for example, absorbs small amounts of water through the tiny surface cracks.  As a result, the tile expands and contracts.  Grout is used to allow for this expansion and contraction.

Porcelain: Let’s expand on the notion that a porcelain is a type of ceramic tile.  All porcelains are ceramic, but not all ceramics are porcelain.  After a machine-made ceramic tile is produced, if it absorbs less than or equal to 0.5 percent, its considered impervious and a porcelain.  Ask a ceramicist or materialist, and they’ll tell you, ” a porcelain is a triaxial composition of quartz, clay, and feldspar that, when fired between 1200 and 1400 degrees Celsius, produces a…virtually non-permeable body” [source: Bill Griese, for TCNA Tile].

Other than water absorption, the amount of strength a machine-made tile has under pressure, or its PSI (pounds per square inch) level, makes the distinction of whether a ceramic is thin-bodied or porcelain.  A thin-body ceramic has a lower PSI level, making its use appropriate for wall applications in residential spaces.  The strength and density of porcelain results in a higher PSI level, making it suitable for floor applications and commercial spaces.

Our London Collection

Going beyond the basic white subway tile, AC’s London Collection introduces a fun size and texture with this brick-like ceramic:

  • 2.5″ x 9.5″ field tile
  • 4 colors ranging from white to dark grey
  • glossy finish
  • textured surface makes the tile appear like painted brick
  • an in-stock item*

Download a data sheet here of our London Collection.

*Please note that while we try to keep quantities readily available, depending on demand, Architectural Ceramics may not have all colors and sizes in stock at all times.

I See London, I See France…

The origin of ceramic tile can be traced back to 13th Century BC, where natural clay tiles were used in Mesopotamian temples.  While we could write an entire blog about the history of ceramic tile over the millennia, it would be long and (let’s be honest) boring.

Before your eyes glaze over, let’s instead glaze over a few global contributors to see how different areas of the world shaped ceramic tile into what we know today:

Photo: A wall from the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech, featuring hand-glazed ceramic tile capped with a hand-carved molding; image via Libby Turner Dickstein for Architectural Ceramics

Africa & The Middle East: Ceramic tile’s history began in the Middle East.  Originally, handmade tiles were used to adorn places of worship like temples and mosques throughout countries like Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco.  The Saadian Tombs in Marrakech, pictured above, show how glazed ceramic tile was used to cover the floors and walls.  Because the human form was not allowed, geometric and floral imagery was widely used.  The intricately carved Arabic lettering takes on a floral appearance; the repeating phrase reiterates the importance of God.

Photo: Chinoiserie vases, painted in traditional blue and white imagery, popularized in Eastern Asia

Eastern Asia: While China may not be known for it’s tile work, decorative ceramics reign from this area.  The iconic blue and white ornamental scenes used in Chinoiseries made an impression on western Europe, where it was adopted in the 18th century.

Western Europe: It’s hard to take Western Europe’s wide range of ceramic tile and narrow it down into one small section. Countries like Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands all have signature styles:

Photo: A wall in the Alhambra; image via Libby Turner Dickstein for Architectural Ceramics

Spain: Because the Moors came up from Africa and occupied southern Spain for nearly 800 years, it’s not hard to see why ceramic tile here often looks Moroccan.  The Alhambra in Granada, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave Christopher Columbus the OK to leave for the new world, is an example of Spanish ceramic tile with a Moorish influence.

Italy: Most people likely think of marble before ceramic tile when they hear the name Italy.  The Colosseum was once clad in white marble before Emperors repurposed it for their own palaces and monuments.  Similar to China, Italy is known for its traditional pottery and ceramics from the Deruta region.  Today, the country is also known for its modern production.  Ferrari anyone?  When it comes to modernity in tile, Italy makes the most porcelains sold in the industry.

Photo via Pinterest

France: Perhaps known more for their decadent food or the Palace of Versailles than its tile, France is yet another area that adopted its own french blue and white ceramic.  While Julia Child learned how to cook in France, tile makers learned from other countries like those in Eastern Asia or the Netherlands that blue was the way to go.

 

 

The Netherlands & England: Delft tile, a ceramic with traditional blue hand-painted scenes on a white background, was born out of the Netherlands.  Similar to Chinoiserie, Delft tile’s illustrations are much simpler and delicate.

While the Netherlands became known for their imagery, England became known for their installation methods.  Holland made an excellent access point for moving tile from the Netherlands to the UK.

 

North America: In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  Somehow, we don’t think he packed ceramic tile with him.  The English, however, did bring their tile and installation methods to North America.  During the late 1800’s, North American high-society dwellers adorned their homes with specialty tiles and in some cases, imported them at a high price.  These decorative ceramic tiles dressed up vertical surfaces like a fireplace or entrance hall in large estates.  Not all residential homes however, could afford a fanciful look.  Others wanted a more universal application:

Mexico: Terra cotta tile.  Mexico paved the way for this red clay-based unglazed ceramic tile.  Terra cotta tiles range from squares to arabesques.  This thicker tile may be used indoor or out, on walls and floors.  Already, we can see that it has more applications than handmade or hand-painted ceramics.

The USA: At the turn of the century in America, ceramic tile became known as a sanitary product and it was occasionally seen in kitchens and bathrooms.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the use of ceramic tile exploded because of its use in every bathroom across America.  Europe quickly caught on and adapted ceramic tile from what started as a decorative tile, to a widely manufactured one.  By the 1980’s, making and producing ceramic tile in America became more efficient because of machine automation.  As a result, manufacturers and sellers popped up from coast to coast, making the U.S. a large market in the tile industry [source: www.tilemastercanada.com].  It’s fitting that Architectural Ceramics was founded in 1985.

Our City Hall Collection

AC’s City Hall Collection, is similar to Basics, because the collection rotates around a 3×6 subway tile:

  • 3″ x 6″  and 4″ x 12″ glossy field tiles
  • coordinating glossy bullnose and trim profiles
  • clean, off-white color
  • penny round, glossy or matte finish
  • an in-stock item*
City Hall Glossy Penny Round

Download a data sheet here of our City Hall Collection.

*Please note that while we try to keep quantities readily available, depending on demand, Architectural Ceramics may not have all colors and sizes in stock at all times.

Adding City Hall to a Designer Space

Rectangle, line, circle — The same shapes seen in a geometry are evident in our City Hall Collection.  We can offset the rectangular field tiles, align the pencil liners end to end, or measure the circumference of the penny round.

For some, like the DC-based firm Fajen & Brown, their client’s kitchen in Adam’s Morgan is an exercise in geometry.

Photo: Kitchen design by Fajen & Brown, featuring Architectural Ceramic’s City Hall 3×6 subway

The kitchen backsplash, for example, plays with angles.  By turning the 3×6 ceramic subway tile 45 degrees, it creates a herringbone pattern.  This change in direction gives a subtle contrast to the horizontal pattern of the adjacent painted brick wall.  Smaller details like the antique brass hardware on the cabinets and the overhead pendants on the ceiling mix and match square and round shapes.

Photo: Kitchen design by Fajen & Brown, featuring Architectural Ceramic’s City Hall 3×6 subway

Fajen and Brown’s simple and clean choices, also school us in the volume of the space.  The seemingly small kitchen appears larger because of the overall monochromatic scheme in white and greys.  The hardwood floors, extend the lines of the kitchen as well, and add warmth to the otherwise cool palette.

Continuing Your Education

Congratulations!  You’ve passed our basic course in ceramic tile knowledge and about our Basics, London and City Hall Collections.  Want to go for the A?  Check out Architectural Ceramic’s website for more of our ceramic tile options.  Better yet, visit one of our DC-metro area showrooms to continue the conversation with one of our sales associates.

 

For further questions about our Basics, London or City Hall Collections, or to place a tile order, please contact sales@architecturalceramics.com.  Want weekly updates about Architectural Ceramics and our product lines?  Join our newsletter here.

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