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Cuban Tile Flooring - history and applications

Ines Hegedus-Garcia
ines@miamism.com

You know I love old homes and have a passion for historic preservation. Cuban Tile is one of the popular flooring materials of the known "Spanish Mediterranean Revival" homes found in Miami - not to be confused with Historic Cuban Barrel Tile used for roofs (see article).

Cuban Tile Floors

*photo courtesy El Nuevo Herald - FOTOSGALERIA - losas de la Habana*

Cuban Tile flooring is popular in South Florida and found in historic 20's homes as well as 30's, 40's and 50's and although the patterns are not as intricate as their historic counterparts, it's a great material nevertheless.

Trying to find the history of Cuban Tile, my mom brought me an article written by Sarah Moreno for El Nuevo Herald that gives great information from a gentleman by the name of Arturo Hernandez who has researched and documented these beautiful historic floors. Hernandez claims that Cuban Tile known also as cement tile, Encaustic Cement Tile or Hydraulic Mosaic Tile can be traced to Cataluña back to mid 19th century where The Industrial Revolution allowed for the technical innovation and mass production of these tiles that did not need to be fired. Even known architect Gaudi, designed floors with cement tiles that looked like Persian rugs.

I was also recently contacted by Lundy Wilder, a maker of cement tile who has a beautiful site that includes not only history, but also an array of patterns for modern installation.

Until the 1920's, colorful mosaico encaustic tiles were considered high-end ultimate flooring that decorated the palaces of the Tsars, the mansions of the Côte d'Azure, Gaudi's Barcelona and Berlin's official buildings. Later on, the encaustic cement tile expanded as a creative and durable flooring all over Europe, and the French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Around the 1950's the mosaic hydraulic lost importance and was replaced by less labor intensive, and less colorful floors. The beginning of this century, the trend for authentic products and 'green' flooring has brought attention back to the encaustic cement tile. Recent storms along the Gulf Coast have raised awareness of durable, waterproof architecture. We hope to spread the word. We have first hand knowledge of the need for sensible flooring along coastal U.S. Additionally; this type of tile flooring is perfect for high traffic areas and any place where discriminating people gather.

Cuban tile is a mixture of Portland cement, marble powder and earth pigments for coloring. The end result can be as shiny as Terrazzo floors and as beautiful as hand painted tiles. The restoration of Cuban Tile Floors can be an intricate project depending on the tile design, but I have now given you a great resource if you need to replace or compliment existing flooring with www.VillaLagoonTile.com

There are many stories why cement tile is called "Cuban Tile" here in Miami and one of the theories is that Cuban Tile was entrusted as a special order to Cuban manufacturers who would hand make these tiles for residential applications in Miami. Next time you walk into a historic home in Miami or read a miami real estate description that includes "cuban tile", you will know a little about the history of Cuban Tile, how these were made and how it is possible to restore them.

Thanks again to Lundy for sharing his beautiful website, and here's a silent video on the making of cement tiles in Morocco.

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*originally published on July 8, 2008*


Ines Hegedus-Garcia 14th March, 2009

Thank you so much for the compliments - it is a goal of ours to provide useful information. The blog is not a template, it's custom (my visual side would never allow a template ;))

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 11th October, 2009

Hi David,
Lucky you! I've never met a Mediterranean Revival home owner that is not super proud, as you should. Yes I've seen colors in spanish-med baths but the majority of well designed Med Revivals have black and white bathrooms. The floors are usually a honeycomb pattern (can be only white or black and white), have also seen checkered but that's usually a bit busy. The best bathrooms have rectangular wall tiles laid horizontally) with or without black details and inserts.

Hope that helps! (maybe I should do an article on historic bathrooms)

zita connolly 13th November, 2009

I just bought a house in Key West. The floors are Cuban Tile with a wonderful swirly design. It looks like Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Swirl. The tiles are 12" x 12". Any information would be appreciated, as well as tips on refinishing.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 17th November, 2009

Zita - for refinishing, call local marble and terrazo companies and tell them you have Cuban Tile. The finish can be glass and they will look amazing.

David MacNamee 11th October, 2009

Inez,
Thanks so much for the Florida take on the Mediterranean Revival homes. I have a 1925 "revival" home on Clearwater Beach on the west coast. We are about to redo a bathroom (the original plumbing just won't take another repair) and we are interested in the colors to use - some say white sanitary with some black and others say that the mid-20s show a lot of color (even garish). What have you found in the houses you have seen? Thanks for the help.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 19th November, 2011

Thank you Sally!! You'll find other articles that will be relevant to your restoration - windows, awnings, paint! Good luck with the project and enjoy it!

sally 18th November, 2011

I am so thrilled that I found your blog. I am renovating a 1924 Spanish Mission home in Coconut Grove, Fl. I am hoping to use Cuban tile of my budget allows. Thank you for the helpful information.

Melanie Stephens 27th June, 2012

After reading your article about Cuban tiles, I thought you and your readers would be interested in seeing the new photo sections we recently added to the Granada Tile website: http://www.granadatile.com/cuba_tile_photos.php and http://www.granadatile.com/miami_tile_photos.php. Enjoy!

Granada Tile produces handmade, sensational cement tiles in Nicaragua and exports them to the U.S. and beyond.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 27th June, 2012

Thank you Melanie - that should help some people, especially those that are doing a restoration and may need to match existing tiles.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 27th June, 2012

Thank you for the link Melanie. We've had a few clients inquire about where to purchase Cuban Tiles. I would be curious to know how expensive it is to import these to the US, since they are heavy. In the back of my mind I think shipping would end up being more costly than actual fabrication.

Melanie Stephens 27th June, 2012

It's true that shipping can be expensive. We minimize this cost as much as possible by bringing tiles in full containers. We also stock popular patterns in Los Angeles. The average cost for an in stock tile in 8" x 8" is $5.60 each ($12.60 per sq ft). For a custom-colored tile (see our interactive Echo Collection Catalog at http://www.granadatile.com/echo_catalogue.php), the cost goes up a bit to $6.60 per tile ($14.85 per sq ft) + $.89 for shipping. Considering that each cement tile is truly hand poured by expert artisans and will last a lifetime, the price is very reasonable. This is surely part of the reasons why there has been a resurgence of interest worldwide in these tiles. (It is important to note that not all cement tiles are the same. To learn how to pick a quality cement tile, please consult our Guide to Selecting Handmade Tile: http://www.granadatile.com/selecting_handmade_tiles.php.)

Maria 13th August, 2012

Hi Ines, Just started renovating a 1930's Meditteranean Revival House. Was wondering if you know of any Designers that can help guide us through thie processs? I would appreciate any reccomendations. Thank you.
Maria

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 13th August, 2012

Hi Maria,
unfortunately, i do not know of any interior designers that specialize in Mediterranean Revival homes. If I hear of anyone, I will let you know.

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