My wife’s hairdresser is retraining to become an interior decorator. I always look forward to Vinnie’s visits (when he’s allowed to cross our threshold, of course) and he speaks sense, especially about priorities in a home.
Shortly before the latest lockdown, I asked him about tiles for the bathroom my wife and I are planning to acquire for our tiny pre-fab house in Wiltshire, which is being made in a factory near Winchester.
‘People don’t give enough attention to tiles,’ he said. ‘And yet they are crucially important because at any stage you can change the colour of your walls or buy a new sofa, but seldom would you bother to change your tiles. So make sure you get them right in the first place.’
Soft palette: A kitchen with Otto Tiles
That struck a chord, not least because we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in our local Topps Tiles and trawling the internet for tiles that won’t blow the budget.
There’s a lot of choice out there. Then Vinnie, warming to his theme, suggested we take a look at a company called Otto Tiles (ottotiles.co.uk), based in North London and Istanbul, and even went as far as requesting on our behalf some samples of the company’s handmade Bejmat range.
They duly arrived and now we’re all at sea because they are beautiful, irresistible even. Gorgeous natural colours, thick, rustic, defiantly handmade. And they have an interesting back story, too.
Damla Turgut, 35, trained as a finance lawyer in Turkey and came to do her masters in the UK five years ago, whereupon she fell in love with London. At the time, her father had an export company selling ceramic tiles to African countries and she got involved.
‘I started helping him, but quickly realised I didn’t like what we were selling,’ says Damla. ‘So I started designing my own tiles and was determined to make them in the traditional Turkish way, building on the country’s heritage, but getting away from the usual black, red and white colours.’
It seems to have worked. Damla now employs six people in Istanbul and a further six in London. All her tiles are made in Turkey, using the skills of an Armenian craftsman who builds the moulds by hand and adds other ingredients such as cement and sand before it is pressed together in a vice-like machine.
Otto Tiles’s ‘Bejmat’ tile
They are then placed in natural wood-fired kilns, where the heat circulates unevenly giving different tones of colours.
Otto’s Bejmat collection come in small bricks measuring 14cm x 5cm x 2cm and cost 78p per tile or £140 sq metre.
‘We have the most imperfect tiles in the world,’ says Damla. ‘It’s the imperfectness that give the tiles their beauty. There are absolutely no two tiles alike’.
The same can’t be said for Topps Tiles (toppstiles.co.uk) or CTD Tiles (ctdtiles.co.uk), both of which have multiple stores across the UK. But what they lack in artisan character is off-set by the huge extent of their ranges and their affordable prices, which start at about 39p for a plain tile.
What’s clever about Topps — whose sales have jumped by nearly 20 per cent in the last quarter — is how the company sells many of the same designs as the likes of Fired Earth, but at a fraction of the cost.
For example, Topps’s Minton Hollins Delft Blue & White Flower inset tiles cost £4.69 each, whereas Fired Earth’s English Delft Peony tile — based on designs from the 16th century when Flemish potters settled in England — costs from £17.56 each.
‘Topps sells many of the same designs as the likes of Fired Earth, but at a fraction of the cost’
‘Tiles are popular again, particularly geometric ones,’ says John McCall, managing director of John McCall Design (mccalldesign.co.uk). ‘Bold tiled splashbacks in kitchens and bathrooms are making a comeback after years of being a no-no with the design cognescenti, who favoured marble and plain tiles, never patterned.’
Topps’s distressed Archivo Bakula tiles seem perfectly on trend. They capture the look of hand-painted terracotta tiles by using inkjet technology. The blue Bakula tile is named after a flowering Indian tree and incorporates a floral design with elements of the French fleur-de-lis motif. They are 12.5 cm square and cost £1.40 each or £89.60 per square metre.
Mr McCall also says ‘hand-cut Moroccan tiles have shed their hippy connotations and are used successfully in bathrooms’.
It seems that tiles earn their keep in practical ways in kitchens and bathrooms, while at the same time adding flourishes of colour and exotic rich textures to give any home a greater sense of place.
They can look forward to a bright 2021.