We fell in love with the beauty of Saltillo tile years ago, on our first trip to New Mexico.
There are knock-offs, photographic reproductions on big porcelain squares, but nothing beats the saturated variations of earthy color, or the hand-made shaping, of the real item.
In the city of Saltillo, in central Mexico, freshly dug clay is soaked overnight in clay pits. Softened and well mixed (by a worker up to his knees in heavy mud), the clay is then ready to be hand-pressed into pre-soaked wooden molds and smoothed with a wet trowel.
After drying in the sun, the tiles are fired in a kiln, a process that takes about a week from start to finish.
The fired tiles can be stained or left in their natural color. Our tiles are sealed, but not stained.
Each terra cotta tile is unique. We selected simple twelve inch squares for our house, but Saltillo tile is available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Laying the tiles is labor intensive as they must be soaked in water first. Terra cotta (fired clay) is very absorbent. In order to adhere to the wet mortar without cracking, the tiles need to be wet.
In this close-up it is easy to spot the steady rise of air bubbles
Small white spacers are placed between the tiles to maintain a standard width for the grout.
The tile is cut to fit around corners and cabinets. It will also be cut to create a six inch shoe molding around the walls.
Here are the wet tiles before being grouted and cleaned. The colors vary from yellow ochre to peach to burnt sienna.
The circular holes in the floor are for electrical outlets.
The built-ins continue to move around the house waiting to be installed in their proper places.
Here is the tile out in the guest house. Some of the antique doors will have to be sanded down to accommodate the thicker than average size of Saltillo tiles.
On the staircase leading up to the studio, the Saltillo tile will be used along with colorful Mexican Talavera tile.