imperfect perfection: eastern earthenware

by clé tile | published: Jul 12, 2023

Moody, dark red semi-glossy loose tiles.

we talk a lot about the beauty of variation around here, whether it’s zellige or brick or cement. but nothing quite compares to the wild variation that’s evident in our eastern earthenware collection where glazes range from sophisticated and earthy to deliciously chaotic, all produced by the kiln-load.

wondrously wabi-sabi

in an age where precision, automation, and speed are prized across most industries (we’re looking at you, AI), every batch of this wood-fired terracotta is a glorious rebuttal. it offers rare instances where ancient alchemy stands the test of time to deliver unparalleled, truly distinctive beauty that even the most modern technology can’t replicate.

it’s practically sorcery.

Glossy, irregular jade green tiles on a kitchen backsplash.

eastern earthenware Rough jade 2x6. Design/ photo: celine ord

A close up of medium green rectangular tiles.

Eastern earthenware forest floor 2x6

in truth, it’s more of an educated guessing game — one conducted by the expert tile makers of a family-run business in Vietnam — but a guessing game nonetheless. that’s because there are a multitude of always-changing factors that influence the outcome — and it’s all utterly unpredictable.

expert-crafted and exclusive to clé

it’s what happens when you produce tile the way people have done for thousands of years: with fire — slow, organic, untamed flames. from the fusion of the glazes with clay, placement of the tiles in the kiln, the dispersion of ash, to the mildness (or harshness) of the seasons or even the day’s weather, it all serves to create an alchemy that only experienced craftspeople can rein in. but it’s a dying art. the advent of gas and electric kilns combined with evolving environmental priorities has meant producers like them are a vanishing resource.

clé is lucky enough to have a direct line to the magic.

Handmade green and blue square tiles behind a shower faucet.

Eastern earthenware Dragon bay 4x4. design/photo: dana sellers, cako studios

the genie in the kiln — and why we don’t sample

and so we bring you limited-edition, extraordinarily unique batches of eastern earthenware with marvelous richness and depth, the production of which is unlike most other collections: there are no hard launch dates, no rigid production calendars, no firm timelines. they’re simply ready when they’re ready. it’s the nature of the art.

it’s all down to what we call the genie in the kiln. and it’s not for everyone: only those who want to embrace that shapeshifting magical alchemical mystery, those ready to give up a little control, those ready for the heady, thrilling and splendid adventure it will take them on.

Irregular jade green tiles on a wall.

Eastern earthenware Forest floor 2x6. design: sophie goineau / photo: michael clifford photography

Dark red square tiles in a bathroom.

Eastern earthenware temple urn 4x4. Design: willow house / photo: michelle nash

so, no, we don’t offer samples of eastern earthenware: it’s neither true to the spirit of the journey with the genie in the kiln — nor is it even possible.

in the same way a small sample of a rare painting wouldn’t serve any real purpose in providing a true impression of its magnificence, neither would a single tile accurately convey the high-variation spectacle that is eastern earthenware.

so we say it again: it’s not for everyone. it’s for the courageous, experienced designer who’s comfortable making decisions based on inspiration, mood, and spirit — and perhaps less so for those who require precision.

but if you do find yourself drawn to the unknown, we offer a newsletter so you can be the first to know about our eastern earthenware drops. you can sign up here.

Square black and charcoal semi-glossy tiles on a shower wall.

Eastern earthenware gunpowder 4x4. Design: celine ord / photo: reagan taylor

A contemporary restaurant with a blue/green tile wall accent.

Eastern earthenware sacred river 4x4. Design: roy hospitality group / photo: Lauren Edith Andersen

and if you’re just not able to wait for our somewhat sporadic eastern earthenware drops (or in your heart of hearts, not really that adventurous), our eastern elements collection may be more your speed, with three unique glazes on the white spectrum — smooth, subtle or speckled. still deliciously imperfect...just a little less untamed.

embrace the genie in the kiln