With vivid, mesmerising patterns, Maltese floor tiles are an iconic addition to any house of character. Handmade by a dwindling number of artisans, these tiles have a rich history and a resurgence in their popularity may yet save this endangered trade. This is how they are made.
Maltese tiles are made out of a blend of cement, powdered marble and coloured pigment. The patterns on the tiles are created using a metal mould, which has individual sections for each colour block in the design. To achieve the desired result, the tilemaker creates small batches of the mixture in the required colours then pours them into the mould, before securing it with a square brace as it sets. Each tile is handmade and an experienced tilemaker knows that the ambient humidity, temperature and viscosity of the cement mixture all impact the quality of the final product.
Colours and patterns
Most Maltese people will fondly recall the tiles in relatives’ homes and many of those designs have survived over the years. These range from the simple – squares, the Maltese cross – to impressively intricate floral designs, twisting vines and dizzying concentric shapes.
Colour combinations can vary too. Some tiles have just two colours while others can have up to five or six. Individually, a tile is a thing of beauty but when a large space is tiled, the effect is enchanting.
A varied history
There are various theories about the origins of the Maltese cement tile. Many Mediterranean regions, including Greece, Spain, Morocco, and Italy, have a history of making patterned cement tiles that resemble the Maltese type. Patterned tiles also appear in property in France and India.
The origins of Malta’s tile tradition will probably never be fully understood but the technique used to make our tiles most closely resembles the one used in Spain. Maltese tiles have been made in the same way, with only a few modifications, for over 300 years – plenty of time for tilemakers to develop their own quintessentially Maltese style.
Modern day applications
Today, homeowners restoring traditional properties are often keen to include Maltese tiles in their design. They not only bring a sense of authenticity to the space but they are also hard-wearing, with many often improving in appearance as they age.
Because they are handmade, it is possible to commission tiles with a bespoke pattern, in custom colours. It’s worth noting that the use of blue has fallen out of favour as the colour tends to fade quite quickly.
When considering Maltese tiles as a feature, it’s important to keep their care and maintenance in mind. In a traditional Maltese townhouse, patterned tiles were most often used in entertaining spaces such as the dining and reception rooms, and there is a good reason for that. Cement is porous so it will absorb spilled liquids and become stained very quickly, making these tiles unsuitable for spaces like kitchens and bathrooms. Ceramic tiling, vinyl or laminate are better options these rooms.
Polishing new cement tiles can help to protect them from staining, so make sure to factor that in when making your budget and repolishing might be needed over time.
Maltese tiles are a beautiful addition to any house of character, with a fascinating history and unparalleled craftsmanship poured into every single one. Adding a tiled floor to the right space can create a timeless, durable celebration of Maltese heritage.
If you’d like advice on how to add Maltese tiles to your home, speak to us!