AN EXPLOSION OF COLORFUL TILE
IN REPRODUCTION, HISTORIC CALIFORNIA TILE HAS MADE A DELICIOUS COMEBACK.
“The project really sings because of the Spanish-style tile, tile, tile,” says architect Ione Stiegler. [See previous story.] “And for that, homeowner Susan Comden gets all of the credit. “My firm has many vintage catalogs from Southern California tilemakers,” Steigler continues, “as well as books on the subject, so we were familiar with the tiles Susan was looking to re-create. But it was her tenacity on eBay and at antiques stores, finding the historic tiles, which is truly awe-inspiring.” The Spanish Colonial Revival house has some original tile, as well as vintage and reproduction tile added during renovation. “California” tile, often in stylized patterns inspired by Islamic art, became an almost universal garniture of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival houses of the period 1915–1930s. Besides Hispano–Moresque designs, stylized floral and aquatic themes—fish, waves—were popular in decorated tiles. “Susan and Len’s project is an homage to California’s rich tradition of tile making,” says architect Stiegler. Illustrious makers included Catalina Pottery and Malibu Potteries, Batchelder tile in Pasadena, California Clay Products, and Gladding McBean. Vintage tile, when you are able to find it, is usually priced at a premium, especially if you find it unset (still in the box) and in any quantity. That was the case involving a cache of unset Tropico Tile that Susan found at an antiques store in Pasadena. The tile types available in the 1920s and ’30s have been revived. Today’s offerings include Spanish-influenced California tiles (Malibu and Catalina), textural Batchelder tiles, and handpainted Talavera tile. Revived techniques— cuenca, cuerda seca, tubeline—are still used by small-batch artisanal studios as well as larger manufacturers.
ABOVE Back and front iron gates, probably dating to the 1920s, came from a local antiques store. The tile inserts decorating the piers are original Tropico tiles collected by the homeowner, as “unset” units purchased in a box of two dozen. LEFT In the more public downstairs bathroom, tile is a stunning reproduction of a Malibu Potteries (1926–1932) design found in the 1929 Adamson House in Malibu. OPPOSITE In the kitchen, antique tiles set into a generic field are Tropico (1920–23) tiles found by the homeowner.