terracotta: the material, the color, the tile

by clé tile | published: Aug 19, 2022

belgian reproduction star + cross in flemish red. design: celine ord / photo: nick sorrentino
antique terracotta hex. design: sarah ruth interiors / photo: theresa wooner photography

terracotta is a timeless material, a perennial that’s having a moment. while clé’s extensive collection of handcrafted terracotta tile features terracotta both unglazed and glazed, we’ll focus on unglazed terracotta in its classic terracotta hue–all the colors of the sunset from light, dusty pinks to deep burnished oranges.

why classic terracotta is so in-demand

antique terracotta hexes and squares

classic terracotta is a perennial favorite and has never been more popular with its european vibes and mediterranean mood. 

it’s a shade that’s almost neutral, and a great way for anyone color phobic to inject their homes and spaces with just a little more vivacity—without feeling they have committed to a ‘color’.

antique terracotta hex. design: half baked harvest / photo: emily redfield

a true terracotta (the only kind clé offers) has a visual and tactile softness that belies its strength. this soft-but-strong combination comes courtesy of the way authentic terracotta is produced: it’s fired at a very low temperature, resulting in a tile that’s less porous and brittle than less-authentic terracottas. 

designers are also embracing terracotta for its durability and its characteristic earthy texture. terracotta has the ability to bring an authentic, organic feel to a space: it is, after all, baked earth.  

our collection of classic terracotta tile

belgian reproduction star + cross in flemish red. design: celine ord / photo: nick sorrentino

our love of terracotta (the material) comes through in our various collections— catering to every design need from earthy and rustic to more design-forward and refined. 

among clé’s collection of unglazed terracotta tile in its characteristic terracotta hue, is antique terracotta, belgian reproduction in flemish red, le sol, and of course, authentic cotto—terracotta—from three exclusive collections from fornace brioni: fornace brioni + clé, fornace brioni + cristina celestino, and fornace brioni + giovanni barbieri.

fornace brioni + cristina celestino bibiena. design: logan killen interiors / photo: augusta sagnelli

the collection features a range of terracotta tones along with a variety of shapes, from the simple plank to the classic star + cross. our terracotta collection even features sculptural, 3D tile for an even more emboldened and artistic look. 

the throughline: all our terracotta is handcrafted and bears the mark of the artisan. they’ll vary (some slightly, some more) in their color, size, and thickness. as artisan tile, they should always be installed by a professional installer with experience installing handcrafted terracotta.

le sol grand plank + rectangle

how to choose among our terracottas

each terracotta tile has a distinct personality and in many cases, a multitude of uses. consider:

  1. how elevated you want your space to feel
  2. what shapes you’d like to use, and 
  3. how much variation you’re okay with. 

here’s a snapshot of your options, but be sure to read on for details. 

the key to our terracottas

antique terracotta

design: sarah ruth interiors / photo: theresa wooner photography

a heritage terracotta tile reclaimed from european farmhouses, many over a century old. this tile has a great deal of variation: the color ranges from a light, barely reddish brown to a classic, deeper terracotta. because we receive these tiles in intermittent lots, we never know whether the tiles will skew deep red or show more patina and be lighter in tone. this is a tile for someone looking to embrace heritage.

keywords: european heritage, patina, textural, elevated. 

formats: hex and square 

use it: for a special, distinctively heritage look where variation is a key part of the story. can be used indoors or outdoors where it doesn’t freeze.

curation: maison clé

belgian reproduction flemish red

design: celine ord / photo: nick sorrentino

a thick, wood-fired terracotta with noticeable variation in thickness and size that brings a rustic yet refined feel to any space. this tile is a great mix of refined design with earthy rusticity.

formats: available in squares and planks; hexes and circles; and bundles of circle + losange and star + cross.

keywords: rustic, varied, deep, with a classic european feel

use it: for a classic but elevated terracotta look for floors and walls. can be used indoors or even outdoors where it doesn’t freeze.

curation: clé heritage

fornace brioni + clé—traditional cotto rosato

design: bowerbird architects / photo: matthew williams

handcrafted italian terracotta doesn’t come more authentic than this: made by italian terracotta specialists fornace brioni from clay sourced from the po river valley. this is traditional terracotta at its best.  

formats: available in tavella (field tile) shape. 

key words: warm, earthy, sunbaked, soulful, textural, rustic.

use: wherever you want a classic take on european terracotta. 

curation: clé heritage

fornace brioni + cristina celestino collection

our most expressive and elevated terracotta collection shows just how modern this ancient material can be. designed by architect, interior designer and fornace brioni creative director cristina celestino, this collection features classic shapes and sculptural tiles that draw from italian history but are utterly and distinctively modern. 

formats: listellos in cotto rosato are a classic elongated plank shape. trama, in a classic diamond shape, are smooth terracotta mosaics that manage to be delicate without being too precious. 

labirinto acanti, mantegna, and giulio romano are all sculptural 3D tiles. this elevated collection of terracotta shows off the true virtuosity of terracotta (and its producer, fornace brioni). 

use: these tiles give a classical feel to modern decor, or a soft modern edge to a more traditional room. use cotto rosato rectangles (tavella) for a touch of subtle elegance anywhere, or choose a sculptural 3D tile for a stand out wall that brings texture and interest. 

key words: elevated, sophisticated, and assured, bringing a modern sensibility with a heritage feel.

curation: maison clé

le sol

our newest collection of terracotta, this classic moroccan terracotta is one that you might find on the streets of morocco, with all the variation you’d expect in a handcrafted tile designed for everyday use. also offered in smaller formats, it looks great on floors and walls and comes in a wide variety of shapes. le sol pairs beautifully with zellige or eastern earthenware.

keywords: moroccan, easy, bohemian, highly varied. 

formats: diamonds, planks and rectangles to hexes and scallops and in bundles including circle + losange and star + cross

use it: indoors and outdoors, wherever you’re looking for a sun-kissed, laid-back look. the perfect—and traditional—companion to our zellige tile.

curation: clé heritage

terracotta hues—but not in terracotta

if you love the color of terracotta but want a more uniform look, consider cement and our flowerpot shade of pavimenti from the cinema collection: pavimenti. with larger format, hand-crafted cement tiles in classic shapes such as lanterns and octagon bouchon, pavimenti offers a smoother surface and more subtle variation in tone.