The Glory of Patina: Embracing the beauty of imperfection

by clé tile | published: Oct 19, 2023


anyone who’s ever watched Antiques Road Show (where the experts swoon over blackened bronze, honeyed varnish and crackled glazes) knows the allure of patina. Patina is what makes a well-worn leather jacket or pair of boots look ruggedly cool, what gives a silver locket heirloom soul, what lends old wood its mellow richness and burnished glow.

Simply put, patina makes the passage of time visible. It reflects the life of an object or surface: the touch of hands, the fall of feet, the sweep of the broom. It tells the tale of stormy winters or sunbaked summers, of salt sea air or bone-dry desert. It invests places and things with a sense of history, a palpable soul that newness and perfection lack.

solid steps in the tower of pisa with indents worn in where people have stepped

the steps in the leaning tower of pisa

a well-worn tile floor in front of a mural.

santa barbara mansion belonging to Huguette Clark— image courtesy of wendy haworth

Perfectly Imperfect

Cultures the world over view patina in different ways. Most famously, the Japanese embrace wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection and age, mending broken pottery with gold-dusted lacquer to accentuate the cracks (kintsugi) and patching worn textiles with bold blue fabric and bright white stitches (shashiko). There, objects are seen as more lovely the more they have been loved.

gold lacquer filling in cracks on a white surface

kintsugi detail — image courtesy of garance doré

a bowl with kintsugi

kintsugi bowl— image courtesy of the smithsonian

In the West, perfection has long reigned supreme, thanks in part to Greek ideals of beauty that placed the highest value on symmetry, harmony and mathematically precise proportions. Such was the mythic power of perfection: that Helen of Troy’s flawless beauty sparked nine years of war and centuries of art and poetry.

But it’s no accident that today we find Ancient Greece’s monuments to perfection all the more beautiful as fragments and ruins. The Gods of Irony are having the last laugh.

Indeed, perfection seems to have largely lost its standing, as we seek the simple and soulful, the handcrafted and unique. Patina is what makes things (and places) “rustic” and “old world,” genteel and storied. It has a dynamic magic and a romantic intrigue that unyielding perfection simply can’t match.

a grand room with plaster walls and a patinated floor

Villa Medici — image courtesy of hotel overture

a living room with patinaed plaster walls and tile floors with a modern dining table and midcentury danish dining chairs.

the Balthus House, Castello Montecalvello — image courtesy of creative exchange agency

Embracing the Process

Picasso said that “every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” and nowhere is that more literally true than with the creation of patina. You may visit an historic home and swoon over the worn wood floors, but that first scratch in your own newly laid hardwood? Well, that brings lightheadedness of another sort. Wax poetic about the well-trod floors of Les Deux Magots, yet that first stain on your beloved cement tiles will no doubt have you swearing in French.

But as the daysmonthsyears go by, if you resist the urge to remedy each flaw, those singular imperfections will become part of a gorgeous composition, one that tells a story unique to you and to your home, which chronicles the passage of time and captures the moments — eventful and quotidian — that make up life.

a room with a floating staircase, rough-hewn walls and a checkerboard tile floor.

design by studiogum — image courtesy of filippo bamberghi


the Balthus House, Castello Montecalvello — image courtesy of creative exchange agency

Fast Forward

Of course, if you want to nudge the hands of time and skip those first gasp-inducing marks altogether, there are ways to cheat just a bit. While we’re not fans of intentional “distressing,” preferring to let nature take its course, we do love surfaces whose inherent imperfection is what makes them beautiful. We love the soft soulfulness of tumbled travertine, for instance, the elemental earthiness of brick and the ancient inklings of our Casale Rustico terracotta. Character-rich right out of the box, these surfaces just get better over time.

clé tiles on a wall and floor, in herringbone and hexagonal patterns

floor: pantry pavers hex in pumice; wall: casale rustico cigar herringbone 

five different colors of foundry forge bricks.

a selection of foundry flats forge tiles

State of Grace

In fact, at clé, patina is at the heart of our design DNA. We revel in the beauty of imperfection, the richness and character that comes from shifts of shading, rippled surfaces, hand-hewn edges. And we celebrate the beauty bestowed on “living surfaces” like clay, stone and cement by time, by the elements, by life well lived.

Sure, if you want the crisp consistency and minimalist precision of ceramic subway tile, we can give you that. And we understand there’s a place for it in this world. But truly, what makes our eyes go all heart-shaped is tile that’s seen years of parties and pets, family and friends and remembers it all — tile that ages gracefully and becomes truly a part of the space it adorns and the daily rhythm of life within it.

fall in love with patina