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The Use of Tile in the Home

By Alana Coons

In this Point Loma home even the few steps leading from living room to hall are decorated in tile. Photo by Sandé Lollis

While using tiles as decorative elements in the interior of the home was already considered an expression of artistic taste as a popular treatment in late Victorian and Craftsman era homes; it was during the Spanish Revival period of architecture that its use truly exploded in Southern California. This was when architects began to see how tile allowed them to introduce color, pattern and design for ornamentation that would also survive the elements.

The 1915 San Diego Expo started the Spanish Revival movement, but it took a few years for the use of tile to really take hold in a big way. By the 1920's and 30's, when many of San Diego's historic neighborhoods, such as Loma Portal, Kensington and Talmadge were developed, it was in common use. Take a walk down their streets and you can see wonderful California art tile on the exterior of many homes.

Along with the Expo's design influence, home decorating magazines, real estate developers, and furniture manufacturers made Spanish, Mexican, and Moorish themes the most popular style for California homeowners at that time. Considered functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, tiles were used extensively to clad benches, form fountain spouts and basins, and as stair risers both indoors and out. Often tiles were set right into the house around windows and doorways; interiors used tile extensively on their floors, stairs, entries, kitchens and bathrooms.

(Left to right) The entire entry and hallway in this Mission Hills home is covered in terracotta tile accented by a variety of colorful tiles, rather than a single design; similar treatment is seen in this stairway in another Mission Hills home. Photos by Sandé Lollis. Small section of the base of a parabolic arched window in front of a Mission Hills home shows the use of vibrant color and elaborate pattern indicative of the Hispano-Moresque. Photo by Bruce Coons

In the Craftsman style home, the fireplace hearth and mantel was the area most often expressed in tile. Matte glazes and nature or historical motifs provided a perfect backdrop for the heart and hearth philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement.

In homes of the 1920's and 30's bathrooms and kitchens often exhibited a bold palate of colorful tiles on walls, baseboards, sinks, and in the bathroom around tubs. It was most often the bathroom that would become a real showplace with elaborate use of tile, motifs and color.

In recent years, much California tile has met its demise in kitchen and bathroom remodels; these two rooms are the most likely rooms in a historic house to be ruined. There is a common misconception that to live in a historic home means to give up modern amenities. Beware of architects, designers or contractors who deliver this message, as they most likely don't have the skill or knowledge to do the right thing for your historic home. Bathrooms and kitchens have not changed much functionally since the 20s; modern amenities do not require you to replace the aesthetics of your period home.

The original tile in your home is something to be treasured and bragged about, not something to destroy. Keep in mind that a fireplace covered in original California tile can add thousands of dollars in value to a house. Allow the home's style to guide you through the renovation or restoration. Classic styles, designs and period colors look beautiful and never become dated. Look through books to research what was available when your home was built and then match that with your own taste. With the reproduction of historic tile today at an all time high, tile has never been more available since its heyday.

2007 - Volume 38, Issue 3/4


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From the Editor

Reconstructing Balboa Park's "Dream City"
Names & Milestones in the History of Prado Buildings

10 Vanished Balboa Park Landmarks

Historic Losses: Fires Devastate San Diego San Diego County's Historic Sites

California Tile: Our Claim to Tile Fame

The Use of Tile in the Home

Tile Resources

President's Message


In Memoriam - Beth Montes

The Beth Montes Memorial Internship & Outreach Fund

Book Reviews

Letters to the Editor

Lost San Diego

Strength in Numbers


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