Most homeowners in San Francisco tend to stick to neutral colors because it’s a trend right now and they don’t want splashes of striking colors or use of bold patterns in their space. So, to liven up the design projects I work on and keep it interesting, I try to introduce encaustic or cement tiles to my clients. Encaustic and cement tile is popping up everywhere and becoming a trendy addition to interior and exterior spaces based on it’s unique artistry and customizable design. It’s a creative way to include patterns and natural colors that convey something completely different than ceramic tile or other kinds of materials – you get a Mediterranean vibe. What exactly is encaustic or cement tile? A lot of people call it encaustic cement tile as if it’s one and the same, but they are very different. The name gets confused by everyone even by tile manufactures and tile vendors. Both tiles are un-glazed, but there are very important differences. The main difference between cement tiles and encaustic tiles are the materials that are used and the production process each goes through.
Encaustic tiles are made primarily from different colors of clay which are inlaid together creating a pattern. Then, the tile is fired in a kiln to harden, sometimes more than once. It’s generally resistant to frost and can be used in any outdoor application.
Cement tiles are made of concrete and the natural color in the pattern comes from mineral pigments which are mixed and poured into a mold. The mold is removed and the gray cement is poured filling in the rest of the tile body. Then, the tile is hydraulically pressed to harden and cured for about three weeks. Cement tile (more accurately should be called concrete tile) can be used in outdoor applications as long as it’s in an area where the temperate climate doesn’t freeze.
It’s important to keep in mind that both encaustic and cement tile needs to be sealed after installation (like you would seal marble countertops), and kept clean until then. Since there is no glaze on the surface of both tiles, it makes them highly absorbent and vulnerable to stains and weather exposure, which is why they need to be sealed. One issue that is a constant problem is inexperienced contractors who will slap the grout all over the tile, which can stain the surface, so it’s important to find a contractor who has experience installing cement tiles or encaustic tiles.
Even, after the tile is sealed, cement tile in particular, will develop a lovely patina over time. If you don’t like the patina look, the tile can be sanded and resealed similar to refinishing a hardwood floor.
There are many styles, colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from. If you aren’t certain about what style to use, classic styles such as florals, geometrics, and Moroccan styles are among the most popular. I especially love the idea of using cement or encaustic tiles in the powder room, mudroom, entry, backsplash, or on a kitchen floor that flows seamlessly into the outdoor patio.
Now that you understand the difference between the two tiles, check out some images below of beautiful and creative ways to incorporate encaustic or cement tiles in your space, whether it’s on the walls, floors, fireplace, patio, vanity, or your own DIY accents!