brick 101: humble, maybe. but not to be overlooked

by clé tile | published: Dec 10, 2021

clé foundry flats bricks

spare a thought for the humble brick

one of the oldest building materials, brick was first used about 9000 years ago in the middle east. the first bricks were made of mud which was then dried in the sun for hardening. (this obviously limited their use to hot environments.) along the way, straw was added. then came the kiln, which allowed bricks to be made in cooler climates. then those kilns became mobile (courtesy of those inventive romans) and soon brick became a ubiquitous building material, enabling the development of towns and cities across large swathes of the world. along the way the brick took on its now-standard format of (roughly) 2.5 x 8.

foundry flats brick in cast iron, design: susie novak interiors / photo: thomas kuoh

now let’s fast forward. materials changed: brick is now more commonly made from higher temperature clays with a larger content of grit, whether grog or sand. (this lends brick that familiar rougher texture.) so did the use: these days brick is rarely used as a structural building material in most developed areas, and has largely moved indoors or onto the patio and walkway–getting thinner along the way as it moved from structural to decorative (but still functional) element.

new california brick in fennel, design: Sarah Solis / photo: Magdalena Wosinska

It will probably come as no surprise that at clé, we’re taking it further still. 

over the years, we’ve nudged it gently to modernize it, give it a little more style, a little more design potential–all the while elevating its materiality and integrity. in many ways, we became champions of thin glazed brick, extending its use through these changes.

modern farmhouse brick in matte white, design: sarah sherman samuel / photo: stoffer photography interiors

our modern farmhouse brick took the classic subway tile and elongated it, making it more contemporary, while emphasizing surface texture. its glazes–ranging from classic white to glamorous gold–serve to highlight rather than cover over the surface variations. modern farmhouse brick has become a clé customer favorite.

but we didn’t stop there.

ever since clé’s inception, founder deborah osburn had harbored a vision of the perfect thin glazed brick: more characterful than the standard subway, honoring material, glaze, and the alchemical process that occurs in the kiln. when she couldn’t find it, she decided to produce it in-house. the result was the clé guild and its collections of thin glazed brick.

new california brick in bracken, design: Marie Flanigan Interiors / photo: Julie Soefer

clé’s guild fundamentals

clé’s guild fundamentals (a small batch, hand-produced collection made in-house) further emphasizes the materiality of both structure and glaze to create a sophisticated, elevated brick with a distinctive luminescence. the guild’s new california collection dialed up the earthiness (an unrefined clay substrate) and celebration of process expressed in variation and speckling, giving every tile character and life.

but glazed brick isn’t for everyone, or every design. sometimes something more raw and elemental was called for–perhaps conjuring up the warmth of that exposed brick wall or the simple brick floor that creates that red line with brick’s history and lineage.

foundry flats brick in sand cast, design / photo: nicole cohen

foundry flats brick in carbon, design: Ames Interiors / photo: Kate Osborne

so we scoured the us looking for a thin brick and discovered foundry flats at a family-run business with a long history of working with clay sourced from materials located within 25 miles of the factory.

the collection, which comes in two surfaces (forge: more textural; and standard: more uniform) perfectly balances earthiness and modernity. our palette, which ranges from sophisticated whites and beiges to rich, deep brick reds to dark cast iron, adds a modern refinement as well, elevating the simple elegance of the “basic” brick.

foundry flats brick in sand cast, design: studio paolo ferrari / photo: joel esposito

modern farmhouse brick in brindled blue, design / photo: Ryan Lawson

one of the marvels of brick is how versatile it is in creating new patterns: there is design life beyond the classic running bond. consider this inspiration or this or this as places to start.

while it’s evolved from its sunbaked roots 9000+ years ago, when you’re designing with brick, you’re designing with what it means to be human. you’ll never look at brick the same way again.

how will you make history?