Like many of the world's most beautiful treasures, the history of patterned cement tiles, or mosaicos hidralico
, as they are known in many colonial districts of Latin America, is up for debate. Some think Mexico was the first Latin American country to make them (and Cuba the second), having arrived in Central America through European trade routes. Meanwhile, Spain and France are duking it out for the title of first nation to make them worldwide.
Whatever the case, there are a few things of which we can be certain. First, these elegant and vibrant tiles can be found across the globe, from Nicaragua and Brazil to Turkey and India. Secondly, they're seeing a resurgence in the United States. The colorful and durable tiles were used in outdoor spaces in historic coastal estates in California and Florida in the US in the '30s and '40s, but now we're seeing them in cities, in restaurants and bars, and applied in fresh ways like climbing up the wall behind a fireplace or mixed and matched on a hallway floor.
We love the assortment that ERREZ Design
principal Ruben Gutierrez chose for the kitchen nook of one of his projects in Coral Gables, FL. "When doing a mixed pattern, we recommend using all different tiles otherwise matching tiles will call attention to each other," he says. "If there's a pattern that you love and can't get enough, try clustering them together to make a larger square pattern within the wall." Gutierrez recommends the Cuban Tropical Tile Co.
as a resource, which has been making tiles by hand just like they were made 100 years ago, but the designer also produces his own contemporary collection
, which includes herringbone and houndstooth prints.
Before you get your heart set on one design, it's wise to consider where you'll be placing them. Leading West Coast cement and concrete tile producer Granada Tile
, which crafts its tiles in Nicaragua using a 150-year-old process, has an online tool to help you visualize how they'll appear in an entryway or a bathroom. Used by cult coffee shop Intelligentsia
, as well as the new Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs
, the company's Echo Collection
includes more than 140 handmade cement tiles in array of sizes and styles, which you can customize to your own color palette.
Restaurateur Joe Hargrave, who owns San Francisco Mexican hotspot Tacolicious
, now with four Bay Area locations, first discovered handmade cement tiles while visiting the family of his sous chef in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. So inspired by the colorful tiles he saw there, he searched high and low for someone to customize colors and patterns for the restaurant's second location (Valencia Street), and he happened upon Lundy Wilder of Villa Lagoon Tile
. Working with Lundy was "like a dream," Hargrave says, and she has since designed custom tiles for Tacolicious's third and fourth locations. "They're bright and cheerful, but also timeless and transcendent of fashion or fad," he says. "Though the tiles are beautiful when new and polished, they only become cooler as time passes and they fade and crack."
Click through the slideshow above to get inspired by some of our favorite tiled spaces, and shop some of our favorite patterns.
What room would you use these tiles in in your home? Tell us in the comments below.
Photographs: Bestor Architecture, Hotel De Gantes, T Magazine, Marianne Evennou, Elle Decor, Stephen Karlisch for D Home, Codis Inc. Photography for ERREZ Design, Granada Tile, Hard Rock Hotel, Light Locations, CocoCozy, Nuevo Estilo, Leivars