cement tile: a primer on patina

by clé tile | published: Feb 22, 2023

image Courtesy Giovanni Costagliola via dwell magazine

the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “the only constant in life is change.”

this is never more true than with cement tile. it’s easy to fall in love with the rich color and silky matte finish of clé's cement tile but what people don’t always understand is that cement tile will begin to change the moment it’s laid.

over time, the colors may darken, or they may fade if the tile’s outdoors. in high-traffic areas, details may become less distinct, lines less crisp. even when sealed, the surface of cement tile is more porous than that of glazed ceramic or porcelain, so wet shoes, muddy paws and that friend who tends to slosh her red wine can all leave their mark.

outdoor pattern cement tiles in chile

architect: giorgia cerulli / photo: seran vainicher via Yellowtrace

while we love patina and embrace it in our cement tile as we would with a wood floor or antique leather chair, we recognize that it’s not for everyone.

if it’s not for you, consider glazed ceramic or glazed brick tiles which will still patina, but which can be more forgiving. if you’re unsure of where you stand (as it were) on tile in a constant state of flux, read on.

why cement tile is perfectly imperfect

made by human hands from natural materials, our encaustic cement tile features variations in line and hue from piece to piece. edges may waver, corners may be chipped. we call it perfect imperfection, and it's one of the elements that gives handcrafted tile (and the spaces it occupies) soul. when the tile is in place and grouted, all those tiny variations contribute richness and dimension that can never be achieved with the cookie-cutter consistency of a machine-made product.

cement tile: aging gracefully

design: artichoke ltd. / photo: Christopher Horwood

design: StudioGum / photo: Filippo Bamberghi

though it’s gorgeous from day one, what really sets cement tile apart is the character it acquires over time, the way the surface reflects the life of the space with each passing year.
you've seen it in the well-trodden floors of Parisian cafes, in the water-worn fountains of Morocco, in the surfaces smoothed by the hands and feet of centuries of visitors to churches and mosques, libraries and museums around the world. in your favorite leather purse, jacket or luggage. it’s called patina and revere it as a mark of history, of humanity, and the durability of a storied material.

for us, it’s something to be expected, welcomed and celebrated in your cement tile. in fact, many clé surfaces are what we think of as “living finishes,” meaning that they endure for decades –even centuries– changing as they age in ways that are both magical and enriching.

what is patina?

the term “patina” derives from latin for “shallow dish,” describing copper dishes that garnered a greenish film from exposure to the air. it’s come to mean the age and wear visible on the surface of materials from metal and stone to leather and wood. in the realm of cement or concrete tile, it means a gradual aesthetic shift over time -- a slightly weathered look and feel, a surface scuffed and buffed by feet and furniture, a softening and fading of colors bathed in sunlight. cement tile records both the passage of time and the rhythms of life through patina.

are cement tiles good for commercial spaces or high traffic areas?

clé cement tile is polished to a silky, matte finish and pre-sealed, and your installer will add additional sealants after setting, both for protection and to add more of a glossy sheen, if you like. a periodic re-sealing will slow the aging process, if you wish, but, much like a wood and stone floors or leather upholstery, even sealed cement will eventually age in place, and that's what we love about it.

here's the good news if you're still a little ambivalent about the idea of patina: they can be professionally refinished–just like a hardwood floor, to refresh your tile and remove (some) patina.

this is possible due to the nature of artisan cement tile where the pigments permeate the material (rather than sitting on the top, as with printed tile), so taking off the thinnest layer can wind back the clock. but  note: just as with installation, refinishing requires a skilled and experienced professional.

that said, if you are looking to eliminate patina entirely, then perhaps cement is not your material of choice.

is patina right for your project?

design: Abimis / photo: Matteo Cirenei Photos for Architectural Digest, Germany

design: Jessica Helgerson / photo: Aaron Leitz

before you choose a tile, ask yourself if a surface that changes over time is right for you and for the project at hand.

if you’re feeling reluctant to embrace patina, there are plenty of other tile choices. for a more streamlined aesthetic, opt for our subway tile, in classic white . if you like some surface variation and a little more depth, consider our various glazed brick options. the glazed terracotta tiles in our fornace brioni + cristina celestina collection offer glossy and matte color made to order or pret-a-porter. all are impeccably crafted, enduringly stylish and will retain their surface look and feel year after year.

architect: giorgia cerulli / photo: seran vainicher via Yellowtrace

Rae’s on Wategos Hotel. Design: tamsin johnson / photo: sean fennessy

design: Clarence & Graves via DeVol Kitchen

but if you’re ready to fall in love with the perfect imperfection of encaustic tile, we’re here for you, with collections that range from the high-impact hues from the new era of cement’s cinema collection: mythology and cinema collection: pavimenti to our cement standards in solids and patterns.