When All Else Fails, Go to the Tiles!

Updated: Oct 19, 2018


When I closed on the house, I, like Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun, had only the dimmest idea what to do next. The similarity in our situations ended there. I was not surrounded by quirky-but-cute-and-skilled teams of locals and Polish immigrants. I was surrounded by chaos.


I hired a general contractor, the first recommended to me, who seemed good enough. He and I worked out a general idea of which rooms would be where and how large they’d be.

(Because I’d never owned a home before, I had no real game plan, and certainly no idea of details to consider, like where I might want electrical outlets and whether they should be floor-based or not. I now know Basics of Home Ownership should be a high school course, so that stupid decisions aren’t literally set in stone.)


The house was ramshackle. Pigeons had moved their extended families into the attic and were filthy squatters. Yet there I sat, amid the rubble and damp, poring over tile brochures.

Tiles! Overwhelmed by it all, I focused on tiles.


How beautiful they were. There were Maiolica tiles from nearby Castelli, copper tiles for kitchen backdrops, luminous glass tiles for the bathrooms, matte slate tiles, mosaic tiles…Fixated I was. It was as if, landing on Italian soil, shards of tile had burrowed under my skin and and lodged themselves in my brain.


I think my monomania was truly sealed, though, in the two rooms of the house that were still somewhat intact. They had these great, graphic tiles. They were terra cotta and taupe (or long-faded champagne) in color, laid in three different geometric patterns. They smacked of Mediterranean authenticity to me. The years had been a little rough on them, but I desperately wanted to keep them. And I wanted more tiles.



The existing tiles

The existing tiles

I wanted one overall color scheme of tiles to roll throughout the house in varying expressions, in such a way that each room-to-room transition would maintain a sense of tile gestalt. Champagne and blue would flow into a mosaic of champagne, blue, green, and terra cotta, which would flow into blue, green, and violet. And so on.


The tile collection for the main living spaces

The tile collection for the main living spaces

I hit the ceramics store with my first architect, who was more interior designer, really. (Apparently, many degreed architects here end up specializing more in interior design work than in structural work; nonetheless, they’re qualified to have a worksite opened under their auspices.)


As we discussed what I envisioned and I narrowed my selections, she and the shop owner locked eyes and agreed: Americans were “complicated."



A few particular pieces I would use as accents

The guest bath collection. I allowed some deviation in the bath wall tiles.



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