Title: Variety and vitality in ceramic tiles
Pages: 28 - 35
Author: Lucien Myers
Text: Variety and vitality in ceramic tiles
by Lucien Myers
A new breath of life is apparent in the ranges of ceramic tiles currently being produced by British manufacturers. Technical and design developments are providing fresh opportunities for imaginative applications by architects and interior designers. Yet the lack of effective information and distribution channels remains a deterrent to many potential users-a problem which the industry is now beginning seriously to tackle.
1 Dolphin modelled tiles, no TS18. Designer A. B. Read. Maker Carter Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 inches square. Other sizes available.
As a nation we are not tile conscious. According to the last statistics (1959), our per capita annual consumption of glazed wall tiles is the lowest in Europe, apart from Finland. For France, the figure was some 70 per cent higher, for West Germany, Holland and Sweden nearly three times as much, for Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg over three times, and the Italians used five times as much as we did. The reasons for this seem rather complex. In the puritan 'twenties and 'thirties we turned our backs on the lush, over-elaborate ornamental tiling of the Victorians and Edwardians. For about a half century, prior to the last decade, tiles in England carried a lavatory image which, in the minds of many people, still persists today. During this time, British tile manufacturers were concerned almost entirely with the production of vast quantities of white, cream and plain coloured tiles for use in factories, canteens, hospitals, underground stations and public lavatories; decorative tiling was confined almost entirely to the mottled tiles made for fireplaces and the patterned borders and inserts used with them and in bathrooms and kitchens.
The industry today
The commercial tile factories (which numbered between 50 and 60 in 1948) were established during the second half of the last century. Concentration of the industry has reduced the number today to about 14, though the total labour force has increased and now amounts to about6,000. These 14 factories include those producing all types of tiles for walls, floors and fireplaces. The annual output of glazed tiles increased between 1948 and 1963 from 7 million to 12 5 million sq yds, of which 4 million were exported (the average value is just over £1 per sq yd). Of this output, 85 per cent is produced by member firms of the Glazed and Floor Tile Association, which is responsible for the price structure of the industry, approved by the Restrictive Practices Court. At the hearing of the case in January 1964, Mr Justice Buckley said he was satisfied that the industry was an efficient one and that this applied especially to the larger firms. They were working, he said, on a low profit margin, improvements and increases in efficiency had been substantial, and the major benefits of these had been passed on to the customer. "In our judgment", he said, "the abrogation of the (price) agreement would lead to the erosion of standardisation and consequently to an increase in costs, and we feel certain that these increases would be passed on to the consumer".
In recent years the industry has been dominated by the 'big four': Richards Tiles Ltd and H. & R. Johnson Ltd. both of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent; Pilkington's Tiles Ltd. of Clifton Junction, near Manchester; and Carter Tiles Ltd. of Poole, Dorset. At the beginning of this year Pilkington and Carter merged so it would now be correct to refer to the 'big three'. Richards, with its associated companies of Campbell Tile Co Ltd. T. & R. Boote Ltd and others, is the largest producer in the country, followed by Johnson, a powerful organisation with four overseas factories. Pilkington, which also manufactures abroad, has a long standing reputation for design, and has employed eminent designers and artists from the firm's beginnings in the 1890's. Carter has associated companies in other types of architectural ceramics, and a large tile contracting company. It has been the acknowledged leader of the industry as far as design is concerned.
Improved manufacturing techniques
During the post war years, the 'big four' have led the industry in modernisation and the introduction of new techniques. In wall tiles, a major technical advance has been the introduction of an improved type of body which has made possible the elimination of variations in size and shape.Today' s tiles are all true to sizeand dead square. Another important improvement has been the introduction of small lugs, which greatly facilitate fixing and ensure an accurate and consistent joint. The new body has also eliminated crazing, another bugbear of the industry. Frost resistance for external tiling has been achieved by a process of dipping earthenware tiles in silicones. A vitreous tile, as made abroad for external use, and preferred by some users, is also made here, though in a limited range of finishes (there are problems of glazing and decorating with this material).
Two other technical advances of recent years link technological with artistic progress in the industry. Colour variation, or 'shading', was a serious problem for a long time. Now this has been overcome. The large tile producers al I make extensive ranges of coloured glazes which come true to type, both in bright end in matt or eggshell surfaces, which are increasing in popularity. Two major producers, Richards and Carter, now make a range of colours matched to part of the BS2660 range of colours. in parenthesis, it is worth remarking that the technical improvements in tiles,together with the overcoming of 'shading' of coloured tiles, have encouraged builders' merchants and tiling contractors to promote coloured tiles more actively. This, together with rising living standards, has led to a much greater use of coloured tiles, as against white and cream. Whereas, until recently, coloured tiles formed only a small proportion of the industry's output, nowadays coloured tiles - including plain, mottled and flecked colours - account for 45 per cent of wall tiles, and white and cream 55 per cent. Johnson states that coloured tiles now form 52 per cent of its output.
The second comparatively recent technical advance which has an important artistic bearing is the application of silk screen printing to wall tiling and, very recently, to floor tiling. The impact of this has only been feltthroughoutthe industry during the last decade. During the same period modelled tiles - variously referred to as sculptured, profile or surface relief tiles - have also been introduced by the leading firms in the industry. One firm, Malkin Johnson Tiles, has introduced a range thatfeatures interesting glaze effects both with and without more or less elaborate surface modelling. Another firm has a development of this sort "on the stocks". But most of the work on tiles with unusual glaze effects, modelling and other surface techniques is being done by a small number of craft potters. The public is showing increasing interest in decorativetiles but, for various reasons, mainly concerned with problems of distribution inherent in the tile industry, development of the whole decorative side is very slow and still in its infancy. At present decorative tiles, both the flat patterned and the modelled, form less than one half per cent of the industry's output. If one includes textural finishes - flecks and mottles-the proportion is 10 per cent to 12 per cent, the remainder being plain colours and white.
Silk screen printing on tiles was pioneered by Carter at Poole in 1948, when tile designer Peggy Angus worked in collaboration with Reginald Till, then head designer at Carter, on a job for architects Yorke, Rosenburg and Mardall. Further designs by Miss Angus and by Mr Till were introduced by Carter during the next five years, and Miss Angus continued to design screen printed patternsfor Carter intermittently and contributed a group of patterns to the 1964 range. After A. B. Read joined Carter as design consultant at the end of 1952, he contributed several designs both for screen printed and for surface modelled tiles and commissioned various artists, including Gorden Cullen and Laurence Scarfe, to design patterns; and Ivor Kamlish, who until recently was head designer at Carter, has contributed designs in both patterned and modelled tiles. From about 1954the other leading tile manufacturers began to introduce both screen printed and modelled tiles into their ranges. Pilkington has employed Professor Baker as design consultant and Patrick Begley and Malcolm Partridge as designers. Johnson has employed Derek Hodgkinson (who designed the award winning Planet patterns). Designs for the outstanding Turinese range (glaze effects and modelling) have been made for Malkin by James Rushton in collaboration with the firm's art director Leonard King, who has also designed other modelled and patterned tiles for the firm (Malkin tiles are now marketed by Johnson). At Richards the head designer is J. F. Adams, who has designed several patterned and modelled tiles for the firm and is now engaged on an interesting new project that is still on the secret list. Among Richards' associated companies, Campbell Tiles has patterned ranges by its head designer Patrick Begley, and has also had some designed by Derek Hodgkinson; and T. & R. Boote has the Arabesque range, designed by Michael Caddy. These patterns are made both as silk screen prints and as surface modelled tiles. Mr Caddy also designed the Design Centre Award winning Dimex tiles which are made by wade Architectural Ceramics and marketed by Richards.
Screen printed tiles fall into various categories. Small scale patterns were designed originally for the fireplace trade,for table tops and other small areas. These are tending to go out of favour, partly owing to other materials being in vogue for fireplaces, and partly owing to their misuse for cladding large areas for which they are out of scale. For architectural use pattern-building tiles, of which four or more form a larger scale unit, offer much more scope and are receiving increasing attention. Other tiles are printed so that they can be put together in many different ways to form patterns on any desired scale. Tiles in all these categories can be used in conjunction with plain coloured tiles, and when this is done with taste and discretion they can produce very satisfying results that are also much less expensive than the use of patterned tiles alone (cost becomes an important consideration in cladding large areas). There is also a school of thought concerned with the development of tile patterning that exploits the interplay of different colours and shapes of plain glazed tiles. Here also, matt glazes and those with some textural interest seem more appropriate than the smooth bright surfaces traditionally used indoors. Langley Ltd. the leading importer of Continental tiles, specialises in external tile cladding work entirely on these lines, eschewing all patterned tiles. It also promotes the use, both in flat and modelled tiles, of much larger units than the tiles that British manufacturers are introducing for architects.
The recommendations of the Modular Society, which are aimed at encouraging the introduction of standard modular units throughout the trades supplying the building industry, have not yet been adopted by the tile trade. The Modular Society's representative on the British Standards Institute committee for tile standards has proposed that the range of tile sizes be based on the 4 inch module. This would mean that wall tiles would be 3 15/16 X 3 15/16 inches to allow for joints of ,'6 inch (the modular size includes the actual size of the component plus one joint). The tile industry has made great efforts to rationalise and simplify production and to increase productivity, and in so doing has achieved a considerable degree of standardisation. The adoption of the 4 inch module would mean the introduction of an additional size, and this would create formidable technical difficulties and would undoubtedly increase production costs. The very large stocks of existing standard size tiles that are held by distributors all over the world would have to be matched for a considerable period of time. For these reasons, it is unlikely that the 4inch modular tile will supersede the 44 inch size for some time to come. The ceramic tile industry recognises, however, that the introduction of a standard module is highly desirable, and it is quite prepared to play its part by producing a 4 inch modular tile as a standard size if it is shown to be universally acceptable. Small quantities of this size have already been produced, but it is, of course, regarded as non-standard at present.
Most tiles produced in this country, whether plain or patterned, are still used industrially, that is for factories, hospitals, schools, public buildings, restaurants, shops, swimming baths, underground stations and so on. The use of tiles in modern British houses is still Iimited. By and large, both architects and ho me owners think of tiles as suitable only for the kitchen and bathroom. Other uses yet to be exploited include entrance lobbies, vestibules, halls, corridors, stairways, landings, chimney breasts, skirtings and external cladding for housing.
While the industry as a whole has plenty to offer in the way of decorative tiles, there is no doubt that much of the most interesting work is being done by a small number of inventive craft potters, using techniques and thinking that are understandably outside the range of the large producer. Outstanding in this sphere is the work of Kenneth Clark, London's most versatile craft potter. He and his wife, Ann Wynn Reeves, have created a wide range of standard tiles, using distinctive glazes and decorating techniques. They also carry out many special jobs, working in collaboration with architects. A newcomer to the field is Christopher Russell, who has run a craft pottery at Swanage in Dorset for several years and founded a remarkable pottery and arts centre in Barbados. He decorates tiles with unusual and striking glaze effects, fused glass and metals, to create troth pictorial and abstract panels. Others doing stimulating work include Kenneth Townsend, Allan Wallwork and the Chelsea Pottery, and interest among craft potters in architectural ceramics is steadily increasing. Future developments in this work can he expected from, for instance, the Troika Pottery at St Ives, which is producing some remarkable wall panels and plaques with striking motifs in surface relief, unusual glaze effects and sgraffito work of a highly individual character.
But in all this there is a problem of distribution. Tiles are marketed for the most part through builders' merchants and tiling contractors. Even in the case of plain coloured tiles, the merchants have felt disinclined to stock or promote more than a very small selection, due to problems of storage and the variations in size' shape, and colour which have only recently been overcome by the industry. In the case of decorative tiles, the distributive trade feels that the variety and complexity of designs is altogether beyond its scope. There are exceptions, but showrooms where architects and the public can see sample ranges of patterned and modelled tiles are few and far between. This is a problem that is now being tackled energetically by the British Ceramic Tile Council which acts for the industry and is currently organising a publicity campaign together with permanent tile displays in the various Building Centres in London and the provinces. Its most important pioneer project is the new British Ceramic Tile Centre in Nottingham, where members of the public can see a permanent and changing display representing the output of the industry in all types of tiles. This is in the nature of a ballon d'essai and it is hoped that it will lead to the formation of other centres where the public will he able to see all the latest designs, which at present can only be seen by visiting The Design Centre and the showrooms of the various manufacturers and craft potters. The demand likely to he created by such a venture should, in turn, encourage local builders' merchants and contractors to show samples of decorative tiles and even stock some of the more popular designs. It is not too much to hope that Britain may, in time, become a tile conscious nation.
Craft potter tiles
The commercial tile makers, who are naturally concerned with quantity production, concentrate on producing their standard ranges of tiles, whether flat printed or modelled, and only a very few of them produce hand painted tilesto special designs.But just as the individual artist potter can excel in making certain pots, using skills and techniques unsuited to the commercial producer, so in the sphere of decorative tiles a number of craft potters are producing interesting work that is outside the scope of the trig commercial firms. Some of this work consists of decorating commercially produced plain tiles, and some in making the complete tile. Where commercially produced tiles are decorated, special methods of printing, painting in glazes, sgraffito and other techniques can be used which are beyond the province of the commercial producer since, apart from being handcraft methods, they give rise to variations which are the bugbear of all quantity producers. The craft potter can also make unusual sizes, shapes and thicknesses that would be 'non standard' in a factory, and he can exploit specially composed bodies that have rough or textured surfaces and other characteristics. These again will give variations between one tile and the next, and this is precisely what some architects and interior designers want. Where an atmosphere of individuality is to be created, as in an intimate restaurant, the designer may want not merely an individual pattern, hut the essential characteristics of the hand made tile, which only the craftsman can provide. And since the craft potter almost always works in close collaboration with the architect or interior designer, the applications of craft tiles are often happier than those of the factory made product.
2 Hand silk screen printed tiles, models Pomme, Victoria Plum, Crystal, Snowflakes and Star Flower. Designer Ann Wynn Reeves. Maker Kenneth Clark Pottery. 9s 9d each. 6 inches sq.
3 Hand decorated tiles, nos A-E. Designer and maker Alan Wallwork, of Greenwich Studios. 6s 9d each. 6 inches sq.
4 Hand decorated tiles, nos MB1, 2 and 3. Designer Kenneth Clark. Maker Kenneth Clark Pottery. 6s each (plain black) 15s (patterned). 6 inches sq. One of the tiles from this range is shown on this month's cover.
Screen printed tiles
Any process that makes possible the reproduction of patterns in quantity places a big responsibility on designers and on those who commission designs. It also lays the way open for the easy proliferation of design cliches of sentimental appeal. In the case of tiles, this has happened with some of the ranges of lithographed motifs that are readily available throughout the trade for decorating individual tiles; fortunately, the architectural uses of such tiles are very limited. Apart from occasional 'spotting-in' on kitchen and bathroom walls, their use is mainly confined to such articles as trays, stands, plant troughs and so on.
There has been no such debacle with the silk screen printed tiles produced by leading British tile manufacturers. Although many of the designs are open to criticism, a certain standard has nevertheless been maintained and the best, when rightly used, can take their place unashamedly alongside leading patterns in other fields. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Tile producers have been mindful of the permanent nature of patterned tiling, and also of the fact that their products are likely to have to pass the approval of an architect or interior designer. Creative designers have been employed to produce the designs. The very process by which the designs are reproduced each tile is individually printed by hand - gives pause for thought. This is very different from printing thousands of lithographs that are sold by the sheet to tile makers and tile decorators, to be slapped on to white tiles and sold to the public through retail outlets.
Where screen printed tiling has been visually unsatisfactory the fault lies more often in the use than in the design of the patterns themselves. To cite one example, small scale patterns designed for fireplaces and other small areas have been used to clad large walls. The busy, niggling, all-over effects produced in this way have given a bad name to the whole concept of patterned tiling. On the other hand, some fine effects have been achieved where due consideration has been given to scale. Tiles designed so that four or more build up one bold motif, a foot square or more, are suitable for many wall treatments especially when they are set in areas of plain coloured tiles. For still larger spaces, tiles are available that can be put together in a variety of ways to form patterns on any desired scale.
5 A pattern of repeating tiles, model Hot Spot. Designer and Maker H. & R. Johnson Ltd. ls 6d each. 4 1/4 inches sq.
6 Large scale pattern made up from Chiaroscura range, nos SK113-115. Designer Company's design group. Maker Pilkington's Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 inches sq.
7 A random pattern from the Chiaroscura range, nos SK100-104. Designer Company's design group. Maker Pilkington's Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 inches sq.
8 Silk screen printed tiles from Zenith and Meridian ranges. Designer Company's design group. Maker Pilkington's Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 inches sq.
9 Dolphin pattern-making tiles from Classic range, no CPR623. Available in 33 colours. Designer Lawrence Scarfe. Maker Carter Tiles Ltd. Is each. 6 inches sq. Other sizes available.
10 Pattern-making tiles, Arabesque pattern no. 10. Patterns available in 30 colours on a choice of 65 background colours. Designer Michael Caddy. Maker T. & R. Boote Ltd. 2s 3d each. 6 inches sq.
Variously known in the industry as modelled, sculptured, textural, profile, and surface relief, this is a type of tile British manufacturers excel in at the present time. They are a newer introduction than screen-printed tiles, which themselves have only become widely available within the past decade. Only a small number of designs are made in modelled tiles and nearly all are of a high standard. With the experience of printed tile design behind them, producers have obviously given careful thought to considerations of scale, restraint in designs and suitability for internal or external cladding of modern buildings. The very high cost of dies needed for making this type of tile is another factor that encourages care in choosing a design for quantity production. Surface modelled tiles have a wide range of applications and their potential use seems to be considerable. Architects and designers who may be dubious about cladding wall areas with something as definite as printed tiles feel differently about a treatment that relies on the subtle effects of light and shade to create a pattern which may become minimal under some lighting conditions. Indeed, the fact that modelled tiling on external walls (and in some internal positions too) gives different effects at different times of day is one of its attractions. Glazes can be bright or dull and colours are usually neutral in both light and dark ranges. All in all, this seems to be a cladding material that should appeal to even the most purist architect or interior designer. But the final effect must depend on how the tiles are arranged and, unfortunately, even this well mannered material has been seen used to create a restless, jazzy effect.
11 Modelled tiles, no 9423. Available in 80 colours. Designers Alex C. Hardy and J. F. Adams. Maker Richards Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 inches sq.
14 Faceted faience tile, available in 30 colours. Designer and Maker S.G.B. (Dudley) Ltd. 2s 3d each. 6 inches sq. Other sizes available.
15 Dolphin modelled tiles, no TS17. Designer A. B. Read. Maker Carter Tiles Ltd. 2s 6d each. 6 Inches sq. Other sizes available.
12 Surface textured tiles from Turinese range, no 5027. Designer L. G. King. Maker Malkin Johnson Tiles. 2s 6d each. 6 inches sq.
13 Surface texture tiles from Aztec range, no Z5023. Designer and Maker Malkin Johnson Tiles. 1s 8d each. 6 inches sq.