The best design is often one that addresses a very specific need, something both straightforward and personal.
I have been admiring traditional Mediterranean architecture for quite some time, and in Catalonia, Spain, Portugal, and North Africa colourful cement floor tiles (also known as hydraulic tiles) play an important role in that tradition. Made of a mixture of marble powder, mineral pigments and cement, they are made by hand, one at a time, using a mold and a hydraulic press in a labour-intensive process that gives them a unique depth and character.
A year ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Es Baluard Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Palma, Mallorca, where I met Biel Huguet, director of Huguet Rajoles Hidràuliques, and grandson of the company’s founder. Huguet makes custom tiles for high end architecture, and amongst their clients are designers and architects like Herzog & de Meuron, Sybilla, Lievore, Barozzi Veiga and Häberli.
I became fascinated by the manufacturing process and the tiles’ possibilities. Working with tiles is similar to working with letters in that the idea is to create individual forms that you then assemble into a continuous texture. What makes it different, however, is that there is no background and foreground; the forms can’t leave any negative space, which is why hydrolic tiles are typically square. After coming back from Mallorca, I started to research whether it was possible to create decorative patterns not by printing them on tiles, but by using the tile shapes themselves.
Days of sketching and experimenting led me to this simple form.
The shape alone provides a wide range of combinatory possibitities. When colour is used, the possibilities are almost endless. I spoke to Biel, who agreed to make prototypes which would be used first in our new house in The Hague. Almost a year later, we have the first implementation.
I am very proud that Huguet now offers my bespoke tiles in their collection, available on demand. They are extremely durable, crafted responsibly by people who love not only tradition, embrace innovation and are ready to think outside of the square.