Tiles have been used in and out of the home for quite some time. The earliest form of brick glazing, therefore tiling, known is at the Elamite Temple at Chogha Zanbil, which was built in the 13th century BC. So, suffice it to say, we’ve been tiling for a while.
Tiles are actually quite versatile, and can be used in many different areas of the home, both internally and externally. There are beautiful examples of tiles used on the exteriors of buildings, which are a testament to the love of the craftsman who built it.
Typically when we imagine tiles inside the home we think of two places: the bathroom and the kitchen, with the former being most prevalent. The reason for this is simple: not only are glazed tiles aesthetically beautiful, but they are non-porous. This has obvious advantages in bathrooms and kitchens.
One trend that’s emerging is a more haphazard approach to tile choice. Good quality, handmade tiles are very expensive. Complete sets of vintage tiles are also very rare, due to the fragility of porcelain or ceramic. Therefore one way to get around both these issues is to break up a plain wall, made from cheaper tiles with a patchwork of random vintage tiles. When done properly, it can look wonderful.
When choosing tiles, some of the terminology can be a bit confusing; so we reached out to up and coming potter, Laura Manners to answer a few questions.
Poles Direct – Could you, as simply as possible, tell us the difference between ceramic and porcelain, and glazed and unglazed tiles?
Laura Manners – Porcelain is just one of three classes of clay:
Porcelain (Kaolin) – non porous when high fired
Stoneware – non porous when high fired
Earthenware – porous, even when high fired
We get these categories of clay by determining the level of decay (age), and earth conditions of the area that the clay is sourced from.
Vitrification is a term to describe a stage of chemical structure change. When stonewear and porcelain increase in temperature they vitrify and become non-porous.
PD – Is it right that when creating a glaze on a tile, or on any piece of pottery, that it is a bit of a lottery how it will turn out?
LM – Designing a glaze for any ceramic product is actually a very precise science. Once a correct firing program (correct temperature, ‘soak length’ and ‘ramp speed’) for the relevant object form, size and clay has been developed then the glaze should be consistent. However, even a tiny malfunction or inconsistency will produce variations in the outcome, which is why studio ceramics are usually more ‘imperfect’ than mass produced ceramics. But rather than detracting from the beauty, I think that this adds to it.
PD – Do you have any advice when choosing tiles for the home? Both inside and out?
LM – Aesthetic qualities are usually at the top of the list for selecting tiles, however the way a space is to be used could influence a decision.
Like carpets, black or white flooring shows up debris and dirt more than patterned surfaces. So if it is a high traffic area like a family kitchen, or where there is a high chance of dust and dirt such as in a conservatory or utility room, this is something which one might want to consider.
With regards to wear resistance, although earthenware is lower fired and more porous than stoneware or porcelain, most people are familiar with a terracotta ‘quarry tile’ which are found in many period homes and have withstood traffic well for years. Also surface area would play a part. If you are having to cover floors with uneven surfaces or accommodate short inclines you could potentially have areas of unsupported tile, increasing the chance of cracks and breakages.
It would make sense to buy something more aesthetically driven for a wall tile, as there is much less wear and tear in this area. In the bathroom a glazed tile will ensure the room hordes less atmospheric moisture and will be more sanitary, an unglazed tile will culture bacteria in the exposed pores and will be almost impossible to clean.
PD – What was the hardest thing to learn when you started working with pottery?
LM – Ceramics theory has many elements, and you can spend a lifetime studying one single area, so becoming knowledgeable about pottery as a whole takes more study than people first imagine. It’s just as difficult as mastering the motor skills required to make the objects.
The areas of real, in-depth study are the various making techniques such as thrown, hand-building and sculpting & casting. As well as glaze design (which is very much chemistry & geology based), history of clay production in art & industry, the nature of clay bodies, firing techniques and creative design.
Each of these have many, many subcategories and to specialise in them all is nearly impossible.
PD – Do you have anything in particular you like to make?
LM – I am a thrower, which translates to making vessels predominantly on a pottery wheel. I use various traditional & non-traditional decorating techniques, mainly involving slip techniques which is liquidised clay applied to the surface of a pot.
Thank you for that! for more information about Laura and her work, just visit www.lauramanners.com