The cement tile manufacturing process was perfected in France in the mid-19th Century when the hydraulic press was introduced to production, yielding a more consistent and durable product compared to prior generations. The Lafarge Company, with their close proximity to one of the first Portland cement factories in Avignon, is credited with developing the technique that is still practiced today.
Throughout the late 1800s, the medium’s popularity expanded throughout Europe and northern Africa, as well as to former French, English, and Spanish colonies, including India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Asia, Cuba, Mexico, and the Americas. Cuba quickly became a leading force- in 1884 they were the first Latin American country to manufacture cement tile, and by the early 1900s more than 30 operations thrived in Havana alone.
Traditionally patterned cement tiles were centralized in public living areas, providing a decorative function similar to that of an area rug. Design elements typically included a patterned interior, a decorative border (sometimes multiple), and a solid field that surrounded the “rug”. In more private zones, layouts and borders were less elaborate. It was common for walls to be sparsely adorned, directing visual attention to the decorative flooring.
In the post-world-war era, cement tile demand (and therefore production) decreased dramatically, giving way to new materials such as terrazzo, linoleum, and carpeting. However, by the 1990’s a renewed interest surfaced, and it continues to gain steady momentum. The rise of green design awareness within the last decade further supports interest in cement tile; not only is it a handmade medium comprised of natural materials, but it’s cured rather than fired, providing considerable energy savings. The revival can also be credited to a collective desire for authenticity in our increasingly digitized age.