Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cuban Tiles

This week's post first appeared last fall on Todd Vendituoli's blog, Building Blox. Todd asked me to provide some insight on a tile he had seen often in the Bahama Islands, Cuban tile. I've had many questions recently about Cuban tile, so I hope Tile Talk readers can gain some understanding about Cuban tiles from this post. If you are not following Todd's blog or Twitter feed, you really should. His unique perspective as a builder with experience in the Bahamas and the US is both valuable an insightful. I met Todd through Twitter and his passion and enthusiasm for social media is unstoppable. Todd's Twitter handle is @TALV58. And, you might also enjoy Todd's guest post on this site, The Joy Of Tile.


Cuban Tiles are Cement Tiles

Cuban Tiles are a moniker for cement tiles. I fell in love with these tiles when I encountered them in old buildings and churches from my travels in Central America and Mexico. Many installations were over a hundred years old and the tiles still looked amazing. I've never been to Cuba; but, everyone I speak to that has visited the island tells great stories about the architecture (some sadly in decay), old American cars, charming people and, of course, the tile.

Cuban Tile installation in a library in Old Havana, Cuba
Cuban Tile installation - Library in Old Havana, Cuba
Photo Courtesy of Aguayo Tile

How Cuban Tiles are Made

As the name implies, cement tiles are made from a mix of Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand and mineral-based pigments. This top 1/8" of the tile's surface is the decorative pattern you see. For each color that is required, blended pigments are placed in the corresponding section of a mold. The mold is removed and the back of the tile is filled with non-pigmented concrete and then hydraulically pressed. Because of this process, Cuban tiles are sometimes called hydraulic tiles. No firing is required and the tiles simply dry and cure for a few weeks after pressing. This process is similar to concrete that is poured in place for a sidewalk or driveway.

Cement Tile Mold
Cement Tile Mold
Photo Courtesy of Aguayo Tile

The Making of Cement Tile is a labor of love. After watching these tiles being made, I have a true appreciation for the artisan and their craft. Especially after watching a tile maker hand pour different colors in an elaborate pattern like those found in Cuban Tiles.

A Brief History of Cuban Tiles

Cement tiles became know as Cuban tiles because of their ubiquitous use in both residential and commercial applications on the island of Cuba when it was a tropical playground. The patterns in Cuban tiles are generally more elaborate than found in other cement tiles. Cuban tiles use bold, bright colors like salmon or indigo. Also prominent in Cuban Tiles is the use of double borders. Cuban Tile is de rigueur flooring for Miami homes built in the Spanish Mediterranean Revival period. In fact, Cuban Tile flooring was popular in Southern Florida homes built between 1920 - 1950. However, the patterns were often less intricate and the color palette more subdued. The 1960's construction boom in the USA and Western Europe demanded economical buildings materials that brought an end to the common use of Cuban Tiles in both residential and commercial application.

Cuban Tile Installation
Cuban Tiles in a House in Old Havana
Typical Double Border and Bright Colors
Photo Courtesy of Aguayo Tile

Fortunately, there has been a resurgence by architects and interior designers to use Cuban Tiles because of their durability and design flexibility. Also, thanks to companies like Aguyao Tile, Cuban Tile pattens have been re-discovered from old homes and crumbling estates in Havana and Camagüey, Cuba. In many cases, the structures were in such a state of disrepair that debris was removed to find the stunning Cuban floor tile. Since many of the old buildings are being destroyed or renovated, we are fortunate these designs are now preserved. Theses historical patterns are available today in our Cuban Heritage Collection. These Cuban Tiles revive patterns recovered from great estates and regal buildings in Havana and Camagüey. All of the Cuban tiles come in three colorways with one colorway based on the original colors found in Cuba.

Cuban Tile Installations

Cement tiles are being used again all over the country and in some new and exciting applications. Here's a bathroom that uses the tiles on the floor, wall, and ceiling.

Cuban Tile Bathroom Installation
Cuban Tile Bathroom Installation
Photo Courtesy of Aguayo Tile Customer

And, here's a more traditional installation completed this year for a home in Florida.

Cuban Tile Installation
Recent Cuban Tile Installation in Florida
Photo Courtesy of Avente Tile Customer

There are few products that offer the jaw-dropping beauty of Cuban tiles. Because it is a green product, very durable and available in limitless colors and patterns, it's easy to understand why Cuban tiles are a design classic that is here to stay.

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