To­tal ter­ra­cotta: the earth­i­est thing on earth

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

have depth and tex­ture, but that also have a clean-lined moder­nity. Ter­ra­cotta’s part of that trend,” says Tom Hous­den, an ar­chi­tect who set up his own light­ing com­pany, Hand & Eye Stu­dio, which makes mod­ern ter­ra­cotta lights. He’s a fan of the ma­te­rial be­cause “it has colour and rich­ness, but it’s not slick and per­fect,” he says. “On our lights, you can see spots of ir­reg­u­lar­ity, or where the clay has been wiped. Those tiny dis­tor­tions are part of the charm.”

Hand & Eye Stu­dio’s prod­ucts in­clude sen­su­ously bul­bous over­sized pen­dants, some dipped in white glaze for a two-tone ef­fect, and play­ful-look­ing cap­sule-shaped ta­ble lamps, with ter­ra­cotta bases and glass tops. Its A-beam de­sign is some­thing dif­fer­ent still, a slim, lin­ear bar sus­pended on near-in­vis­i­ble wires with a dif­fused strip of LEDs run­ning inside it. There are plenty of min­i­mal-look­ing prod­ucts on the mar­ket al­ready, but they are usu­ally metal, giv­ing a rather cold, engi­neered im­age – not some­thing most peo­ple would want at home even if they pre­ferred a pared-back look. Mak­ing it in ter­ra­cotta has added in­stant warmth and do­mes­tic­ity: the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of craft and moder­nity that Hous­den so loves.

There’s a feel­good, buy-Bri­tish side to this story, too. Ter­ra­cotta may call to mind sun-soakedProvence, Ibe­ria or Cen­tral Amer­ica, but it has a long his­tory in the UK, with na­tive clay go­ing into our bricks, chim­ney pots, sew­er­pipes and gar­den planters. Hous­den works with a Not­ting­hamshire com­pany that uses Etruria marl clay from Stafford­shire. Most lampshades are slip cast, where liq­uid clay is poured into plas­ter moulds: mois­ture at the outer edge is ab­sorbed into the plas­ter, and the rest of the liq­uid is poured out, leav­ing behind a thin skin.

It’s an old tech­nique per­fected over a long time, but that doesn’t make work­ing with ter­ra­cotta easy. “It mis­be­haves, and you don’t know why,” Hous­den says. “We could be mak­ing a light for a year, and it’s all fine, and then sud­denly they all start to go a bit oval. Is it the po­si­tion in the kiln, or a slightly dif­fer­ent type of clay? Is the mould worn out? Is the at­mos­phere too dry, or too hu­mid? As any­one work­ing with pot­tery will tell you, it’s not an ex­act science.”

Riba’s House of the Year, Car­ing Wood in Kent, is dom­i­nated by build­ing prod­ucts in the rust-red of the lo­cal clay. Con­ceived as a mod­ern take on an oast house, the ex­te­rior con­sists of a se­ries of an­gu­lar smaller build­ings, clad in hand­made clay tiles, sur­round­ing a cen­tral com­mu­nal space con­tain­ing the main liv­ing ar­eas. Inside, ter­ra­cotta has been used for the floor­ing of this com­mu­nal area, ma­te­ri­ally link­ing inside and out. Ter­ra­cotta floor tiles sur­round a tran­quil pool in a cen­tral court­yard, with walls clad in tim­ber: both tim­ber and ter­ra­cotta have a broad range of shades to them, and these sub­tleties be­come the main dec­o­ra­tive feature of the oth­er­wise plain room.

Barcelona-based ar­chi­tects Arqui­tec­tura-G used ter­ra­cotta tiles to al­most sur­real ef­fect for a re­cent house ren­o­va­tion project, us­ing it on ev­ery hor­i­zon­tal sur­face, from floors to kitchen work­tops and bath sur­rounds, with noth­ing but white ev­ery­where else. Short­listed for an award by the Span­ish tile in­dus­try, Tile of Spain, the his­toric house has the air of a sculp­ture that you can walk through.

Ter­ra­cotta’s re­cent up­ward tra­jec­tory is not re­stricted to the ma­te­rial. As a colour – used for paint, tex­tiles and ac­ces­sories – this dis­tinc­tive shade of burnt or­ange is adding a rich­ness and depth to many in­te­ri­ors schemes. “It’s a very neu­tral colour to me,” says So­phie Ashby, an in­te­rior de­signer at Stu­dio Ashby. “Within the spec­trum of earth tones, it there­fore forms the per­fect ba­sis on which to layer other colours. I like the com­ple­men­tary op­po­sites of ter­ra­cotta with ice-cool pale blues and greens.”

For Ashby, it’s per­sonal. “Ter­ra­cotta is the colour of earth for me. I grew up be­tween Devon and South Africa, and ‘Devon clay’, as well the colour of the hot earth in the bushveld, has strong red, burnt or­ange tones. It also re­minds me of hol­i­days in Europe and sunny cli­mates – I spend a lot of time in Por­tu­gal and it’s the colour of roof tiles, plant pots and paved streets.”

At One Crown Place, a new tower de­vel­op­ment on the City’s fringes, Ashby took in­spi­ra­tion from the mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture of the build­ing, which has slim ver­ti­cal fins of ter­ra­cotta in­ter­rupt­ing the gleam­ing glass walls. Rust colours are used as an ac­cent on chairs and soft fur­nish­ings, with the same warm tones picked up in the tim­ber fur­ni­ture.

Ho­tel group Soho House has also used ter­ra­cotta as an ac­cent colour in the bed­rooms at Ket­tner’s Town­house, its lat­est open­ing in Lon­don, with rust-coloured vel­vet up­hol­stery on the chairs and sofas, made even more sump­tu­ous by thick fring­ing around their bases. “The scheme for the bed­rooms is a bold use of pat­tern on pat­tern,” says Linda Boronkay, Soho House’s de­sign director. “Or­ange, here used in a more sub­dued form as a ter­ra­cotta, works against the blues and greys of the Wil­liam Mor­ris wall­pa­per, head­board up­hol­stery and cur­tains. It adds a cosi­ness and warmth – qual­i­ties ev­ery bed­room should have.”

The colour is also turn­ing up in chic Sev­en­ties and Eight­ies-in­spired colour pal­ettes. In­stead of look­ing to com­ple­men­tary shades such as blues and greys, pair ter­ra­cotta with other hot colours such as pink and peach, add brass light­ing and some dark green mar­ble ac­ces­sories, and sud­denly

So­phie Ashby’s de­sign for One Crown Place, right; Sum­mer Pe­can 1, a shade by Du­lux, be­low; ter­ra­cotta tiles sur­rounded by white, bot­tom, in a scheme by Arqui­tec­tura-G

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