Encaustic Tiles: Should You Embrace the Trend?

Encaustic tile bathroom

From Apartment Therapy

Those of you who have been reading my musings about accent tile for years now could have easily predicted that this post was coming.

Well, here it is.

First, you should know that I did not even know how to say Encaustic before January of this year? I still worry when I say it that I’m not pronouncing it right. The reason I’m telling you this is because until 2016 it’s been a fringe trend. But now it’s here because my clients are asking me about it.

But should you run out and introduce it into your home?

My fabulous design assistant Tricia Firmaniuk is going to tackle this one. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Maria and I were having a conversation about the encaustic tile fad trend, and I said, no wait, this is not exactly new. Encaustic tiles have been around for centuries. They come in and out of fashion. Rarely is anything in the design world entirely new.

In my five years of art and design school (and the required art and design history courses) , I learned that, most often, we’ve been somewhere like here before.

A more ornate period in design will inspire a reactively austere period in design and vice versa. The pendulum rocking us back and forth. Keeping us in motion, holding our interest. Now that we have such efficient cultural exchange and global communication plus unforeseen capabilities for material production, this swing of trends has become so accelerated as to become nearly manic. And yet we try to keep up. It’s interesting and entertaining after all. Life is busy, don’t we all need some fast paced diversion?

Encaustic tiles (def.) are creamic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colours of clay. They are usually of two colours but a tile may be composed of as many as six. Wikipedia

Popular in the very ornate Victorian and (more austere but still ornate by modern standards) Edwardian eras, and dating all the way back to Medieval times, graphic encaustic (or cement) tiles are enjoying a revival.

Okay, it’s suddenly a HUGE trend.


Encaustic Tile Trend

From Honestly WTF?

It looks so fresh and new! It’s bold and graphic! And exactly the opposite of trying to make our floors look like the bottoms of ancient wine caves with muddy, blotchy porcelain tiles, in the Tuscan trend right (below)?


Image via Home Bunch Popular look of the Tuscan Brown trend


Encaustic tile kitchen


As much as I welcome the return to ornamentation and rustic charm on the heels of too many slick modern spaces; and as lovely as all of the images of patterned kitchens and bathrooms flooding Pinterest are, this trend makes me uneasy because I can see several ways for it to go badly wrong.

So let’s unpack the potential and pitfalls of this very seductive new (yet old) trend.

Choosing a pattern that doesn’t suit your house

The key is to make sure the pattern and colourway you choose suits the style of your house for greatest success and longevity. If you have a modernist house from the 50’s or 60’s, you might get away with the mod geometry of the trendier patterns. But if you throw these into a new build with builder molding and finishes, it is going to look bad.

mod tile kitchen

From Limaonagua

If your house is more classic and Edwardian in style (think Brooklyn Brownstone below), look to the patterns of that time for inspiration. A patterned floor is an elegant way to add interest to a foyer in this kind of house. Ideally, you would use it in an enclosed space so that your entire decor doesn’t have to answer to it forever.


Brownstone via Apartment Therapy | Entry Hall via FrenchyFancy

Encaustic tile foyer

via Pinterest

Using a colour way that will boss you around

Yes gray might be the neutral of the moment, but remember how we desperately wanted to “warm up” the battleship gray fixtures of the late 80s and early 90s once the Tuscan trend arrived?

When choosing a colourway, make sure it includes white or cream. A little black is a good idea too. This way it will always relate to classic white, cream and black finishes. If your colourway is all grey, or buff, or any mid-tone neutral with an undertone, you will always get bossed around by it.

Encaustic tile bath

Manglola via Tumblr


Mixing it with older fixtures creating the dreaded “old kitchen, new backsplash” look

If you have a standard builder’s grade kitchen and you are looking to spice it up with some patterned tile, think again! You will end up with a look that’s yesterday and today all together. Encaustic tiles have a rich artisanal quality to them, and they will make your generic cabinets look sadder by comparison.

Related post: How to Mix Yesterday and Today in your Renovation

designer kitchen

Walls and Floors Inc.

Beware of cheap, tacky imitations.

Which brings me to my next point, when cheap versions of encaustic tile appear at your local home improvement big box, beware, they have become trendy, ubiquitous, cheaply produced and in the end, tacky. The better the craftsmanship the more enduring the look. Remember your mother’s patterned linoleum in the 70’s? That was going for a Victorian thing.

70s linoleum

70’s Linoleum via Pinterest

How fast trends change

Just think about how your taste in fabric patterns for throw pillows and ottomans flip flops every couple of seasons (I know mine do). Remember how great chevron was seven or eight years ago? And now? Yawn. Right.

Moroccan motifs are certainly classic to encaustic tiles, but will they hold your interest past the next few years? My main concern with this trend is our short attention spans and how fatiguing a strong pattern can be over time.

The point is, this is not a budget and DIY friendly trend.

You really have to know what you’re doing and why like a professional designer, I very nearly put some black, cream and yellow Mexican encaustic tiles on my backsplash last year, and I am so relieved that I opted for classic cream subway tiles instead. Thanks Maria! I LOVE my little vintage kitchen in all of it’s clean (ok, sometimes messy) simplicity.

Related post: The Best Backsplash Tile for your Kitchen

subway tile

Annieolee via Tumblr

We are bombarded with exciting new images and products daily and we are more fickle than ever in our tastes. This is why this blog has always advocated for classic simplicity in fixed elements like tile. This way, you maximize your flexibility to introduce pattern and colours in less permanent elements like textiles.

A great rug is an excellent way to introduce some pattern into your life by the way.

Related post: Bad Design Advice: Fall in Love with all Your Finishes

designer kitchen encaustic                                                             via Pinterest

All that said, if you have the budget to hire a high end designer and create the right setting for the look (and the budget to rip it out when you tire of it); or you are so happy that the Bohemian trend is here because you have always been a little Boho; or again you have always been in love with mod geometrics and are sure it’s not a passing fascination, then by all means, go for it!

geometric tile

Diario Design

I just wanted to make sure we really thought this one out first. It’s a big commitment.

Thanks Tricia!

Over to you! What do you think of this fad? Let’s be clear, that’s what it is. I have been writing this blog for 7 1/2 years and inside that time, accent tile trends have changed four times.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.


Related posts:

The Debate on Interesting and Trendy vs. Timeless

Selecting your Kitchen or Bath Backsplash? Accent Tile or Not?

One more Reason you Should Skip accent Tiles Altogether



leave aREPLY

  1. Hi Maria, I’m recently start a business to fabricate encaustic tile in Mexico, and I fill disappointed wen I read a negative comment about this beautiful product, I assume that they didn’t get the Right place to buy their product, in Mexico there is many of places were you can buy this product, however I have to said that most of them don’t have quality,
    PS, I truly believe in the beauty of this product.

    • Hi Efrain, this is a trend with a short shelf life. Just like every accent tile. It’ll be hot for a couple more years and then it’ll be mostly over. It belongs in very custom situations like I mentioned in this post. Maria

  2. My house is my art project, which is why I choose not to live in a gated community with an HOA. What once were considered weeds by most people – and have adorned all of my yards for years- and are now being sold as perennials for “butterfly gardens.” I say follow your artistic self, create your home, and don’t worry about what the next buyer may think.

    • I’m with you. I just ordered 354 sqft of custom med grey-blue and white encaustic tiles for my kitchen floor, front entry and basement bath. I chose the colors based on some Parian porcelain wall art I’ve owned since the ‘80s. I bought and painted/glazed new doors for my cabinets in a French vanilla color. The counter to ceiling backsplash behind my open black pipe/aged wood shelving will be white arabesque porcelain tiles that are half plain/half floral embossed. I haven’t touched my kitchen in 20 yrs and now that I’m redoing it, it’s going to be unabashedly an explosion of MY aesthetics because it’s my forever home. Trends be damned!

      PS I’m letting my wasteful lawn be gracefully eaten up by “weeds” with flowers the pollinators love, too. Mowing sucks. 🙂

  3. Hi Maria and Tricia,
    Well written article. It looks like this was originally written in 2016. Now in 2019, what do you think? I am renovating a new home and find it more difficult than renovating a home I have lived in. I don’t know lighting or have a feel of the house yet. I have been shopping for tiles for months now (redoing 5 bathrooms, laundry room and kitchen) and it seems like the encaustic look is revving up. Each time I revisit a store they seem to have more patterns than the last time I visited. For me, I am trying to walk the Style line right down the middle so when I sell the house in 20 years it is still somewhat relevant. But will white subway tile still be relevant? Probably not. So what’s girl to do? My island will be calacatta Caldia and my perimeter quartz (which my husband thinks looks super fake). Backsplash white subway? Or encaustic? Both will be dated in 20 years.

    • Subway tile is a classic that just happens to be trending right now. Encaustic tile (which you will get tired of 10 minutes after it’s installed) will most certainly be dated in 20 years and is already behind the most current trendy accent tiles which are more geometric.

      Tile stores will continue to sell them long after those in the know stop buying and specifying it.
      Hope that helps,

  4. Oh my Steven…are you speaking of Maria’s or Tricia’s kitchen? I just checked them out and they are both stylish.