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Using decorative tiles on the interior of homes was a popular expression of artistic taste in late Victorian and Craftsman era architecture. It was during the Spanish Revival period, however, that the use of tile truly exploded in Southern California as architects began to see how tile allowed them to introduce color, pattern and design for ornamentation while surviving the natural elements. The 1915 Expo started the Spanish Colonial Revival movement, but it took a few years for it to actually take hold. By the 1920s and ’30s, when many of San Diego’s historic neighborhoods such as Loma Portal, Kensington and Talmadge were developed, it was the architectural style of choice.


Along with the Expo’s design influence, home decorating magazines, real estate developers and furniture manufacturers made Spanish, Mexican and Moorish themes the most popular style for California homeowners at that time. Considered functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, tiles were used extensively to clad benches, form fountain spouts and basins, and adorn stair risers both indoors and out. Tiles were set into walls around windows and doorways and could be found extensively on interior floors, stairs, entries, kitchens and bathrooms.


In Craftsman-style homes, the fireplace hearth and mantel was most often the area to feature decorative tile work. Historical or nature motifs in matte glazes provided a perfect backdrop for the “heart and hearth” philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement. In houses of the 1920s and ’30s, bathrooms and kitchens exhibited a bold palate of colorful tiles on walls, baseboards, sinks and around bathtubs. In many cases, with the application of elaborate tile, motifs and color, it was the bathroom that became the real showplace of a home.


Today, a fireplace covered in original California tile can add thousands of dollars in value to a house. Tile enhances both the aesthetic and monetary value of a historic home. It is something to be treasured and bragged about, not destroyed by unnecessary kitchen and bathroom upgrades where this tragic mistake most commonly occurs. Created to weather constant use and the passing of time, the classic styles, designs and period colors of California- made tile continue to look beautiful and never become dated.


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