Beneath the Surface

Our approach to design has been emphasizing organic and natural materials more and more over the last several years. This earthy renaissance has given rise to a new power player: terracotta. Elegant and homey, this humble material is proving that it can transform any modern kitchen floor with its Old World charm.

Terra Cotta Kitchen Floor Tiles in Los Angeles Spanish Colonial Revival Home

Source: Architectural Digest / Design: Charlie Barstein Interiors / Photo: Ye Rin Mok

A Brief History of Terracotta

Terracotta was originally used as early as 4000 BCE in the creation of sculpture and pottery in Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica. For thousands of years and through various cultures, the material was adopted for similar purposes by the ancient Greeks, Romans, early Indians and West Africans.

Its use spread gradually, extending into Asia and Europe, and over time its applications in architecture and design became more widespread. Today, the terracotta kitchen floor still evokes a sense of the past and its Mediterranean history in particular–conjuring visions of old French farmhouses or Tuscan villas from centuries ago.

Terracotta Relief on Chota Govina Temple in Bangladesh
Terracotta Relief on Chota Govina Temple in Bangladesh / Source: Wikipedia 

A Timeless Tradition

From pottery and sculpture to architecture and design, terracotta has been around for millenia. It’s simple, durable, and versatile. It’s also easy (and cheap) to produce. It’s no wonder this unassuming and ubiquitous material has gained so much traction on our kitchen floors and throughout our homes.

It can even be used as a stunning and rustic alternative to more traditional wall coverings and backsplashes, as seen in this Joshua Tree residence, or the “Bauhaus-meets-American” traditional kitchen with beautiful terra-cotta tiles from Jesse Parris-Lamb featured in Architectural Digest.

Moroccan Natural Zellige Terra Cotta Tile Backsplash in Tucson Kitchen

Source: @thejoshuatreehouse


Dark Square Terra Cotta Tile Wall and Backsplash in Brooklyn Kitchen
Source: Jesse Parris-Lamb / Design: Jesse Parris-Lamb / Photo: Kirsten Francis

Hexagon Terracotta Tiles

Though terracotta kitchen floor tiles come in a variety of sizes and shapes, perhaps the most iconic choice is the Hexagon. This geometric option brings the comfort of an outdoor patio to the home’s interior while adding dimension and dynamic variations in both color and texture. These reclaimed tiles in particular shine in the kitchen designs of this Greenwich Village duplex and this Spanish-style residence in Hancock Park.

Kitchen with Hexagon Terra Cotta Flooring in Seth Myers' Greenwich Village Home
Source: Architectural Digest / Design: Ashe Leandro / Photo: Shade Degges

Breakfast Nook with Terra Cotta Floor Tiles in Seth Myers' Greenwich Village Residence
Source: Architectural Digest / Design: Ashe Leandro / Photo: Shade Degges

Kitchen Floor with Reclaimed Terra Cotta Tiles in Hancock Park Residence
Design: DISC Interiors / Photo: Jenna Peffley

Terracotta Patterns

With their rustic simplicity, it’s only natural to get a little creative with how you install them. Terracotta tiles have a lot of flexibility in terms of shapes and sizing, so a unique and personalized kitchen floor is guaranteed. You can add an offset border around the main floor design, play with a variety of colors, and even introduce bold, bespoke patterns if you feel inspired.

One of the easiest ways to introduce some unexpected movement is a herringbone pattern, like the ones used in these English country style and modern farmhouse kitchen designs. It’s a simple, customizable way to add visual interest to your floors.

Classic English Kitchen with Rectangular Terra Cotta Tiles in Herringbone Pattern

 Source: deVOL Kitchens / Design: deVOL Kitchens / Photo: Tim Cooper

Custom Detail Terra Cotta Flooring in Victorian Rectory design by deVOL Kitchens

 Source: deVOL Kitchens / Design: deVOL Kitchens / Photo: Tim Cooper

Herringbone Terra Cotta Kitchen Floor in Wiltshire, England Farmhouse Design

 Source: Dezeen / Design: Emil Eve Architects / Photo: Mariell Lind Hansen

Terra Cotta Floor in Herringbone Pattern in Wiltshire, England Farmhouse Kitchen

 Source: Dezeen / Design: Emil Eve Architects / Photo: Mariell Lind Hansen

Natural Beauty

Italian for “Baked Earth”, terracotta is simply made by firing clay in a wood-burning kiln. Like all ceramic tiles, terracotta floor tiles can be glazed during their last firing. This can add pigments or patterns, and a waterproof seal to the tiles. But there’s an unfinished (and undeniable) beauty to an unglazed terracotta floor.

The most common colors for terracotta range from lighter yellows and oranges to deeper, darker reds and browns. For something a little bolder, you could take a page out of Studio Shamshiri's book, opting for a rich chocolatey terracotta like the Spanish Alicante used in their Los Angeles Headquarters. 

Dark Rectangular Alicante Terra Cotta Floor in Los Angeles Headquarters of Studio Shamshiri

 Source: Studio Shamshiri / Design: Studio Shamshiri / Photo: Trevor Tondro/OTTO

It's a simple material with a storied past. With countless applications and customizations, we're happy to see the terracotta takeover is alive and well--on our kitchen floors and beyond. Even the world of home decor has leaned into the craze–flooding Pinterest boards and springing up in new collections from Target to Pottery Barn. It's safe to say that terracotta's moment in the sun is far from over. 

Did any of these projects give you inspiration for your own kitchen? Let us know!


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