Cement Tiles: The New Necco Wafers

If San Franscisco-based tile guru Deborah Osburn says it, you can pretty much take it to the bank.

Like the color palette for her new line of cement tiles. The red, for example, is not quite red, nor pink nor orange. Moreover, teamed up with black and tan in a tile, it takes on a dusty hue that would have Josef Albers doing handsprings.

“They’re the Necco Wafers of tiles,” she says proudly of the new line.

They’re also hot as a firecracker right now, for use in the kitchen, in the bath, by the pool, or around the fireplace.

“It’s what the design world is using now,” she says. “They’re fun tiles and they’re popular because they’re so darned affordable.”

Like $12 per square foot, for starters. A similar pattern in a ceramic tile would easily cost upwards of $100 per square foot.

This is the second concrete tile launch for Osburn’s company, cle tile, in three years. The first referred to the tiles as encaustic, a term the French used for the process when they invented Portland cement 150 years ago. They lifted that descriptor from the English, who’d been using it to describe their twice-glazed Cathedral tiles. They, in turn, had appropriated the name from the lost wax casting technique.

Alas, an American journalist blew the whistle on the term as “incorrect” a couple of years back. Now no one in the U.S. dares use it. So today, cle’s products are simple, spare and unadorned concrete tiles.

“I’m an online resource, and because of the word encaustic, we got dropped in searches,” she says “So we have to call them cement tiles, but I’m doing it kicking and screaming.”

They come in 20 shapes, some as small as 4″ x 4″ and others as large as 24″ x 24″; 8″ x 8, though, is standard. And she’s offering them in 50 pastel-like colors.

That’d be enough to send Albers into cartwheels and somersaults.

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