Lisbon’s Ceramic Tiles: How Portugal Started the Trend We Love

Lisbon, Portugal is a coastal city that abounds in design elements. Unbeknownst to many, the azulejo tiles that blanket its facades have inspired a wall-tile trend the world over, lending a modernly historic atmosphere to homes, restaurants, and hotels everywhere. 

 Azujelo, which means polished stone in Arabic, is now commonly used as the name of Lisbon’s tiles. The azujelo is known to have transformed the entire city into a colorful masterpiece over the ages covering floors, building facades, metro stations, and monasteries alike in Portugal. Today, it inspires many artists and designers to do the same.

Azulejo façade of A Mercaderia restaurant in Lisbon.

There are many forces that shaped this design trend into being in Lisbon. Despite being under Moorish conquest, the first tiles were brought to Lisbon by Spaniards in the 15th century.  The Islamic architecture of Alhambra, a palace and fortress in Granada, inspired the king Manuel I to bring azulejos from Seville to decorate his own palace in Sintra. While traditionally the tiles only represented geometric figures, some Portuguese artists began to employ human and animal representations into their designs. Eventually, these azulejos became apart of the Lisbon art scene. They branched out into a myriad of colors and, eventually in the 17th century, created blue and white carpet-like tiles inspired by the porcelain in Ming Dynasty China. Even today, modern artists create their own unique styles for the Lisbon Metro Station.

Lisbon’s ceramic tiles of soft pastels and solid yellows and blues create a quaint and delicate atmosphere that is replicated in various spaces we design-hunters love. Here are three creators at Wescover that are adding their own personal twist to the azulejo trend to create warm and unique atmospheres.

  1. Otto Tiles and Design – based in London and Istanbul, their designs reflect the richness of their culture and the different civilizations that Turkey has housed. Turkey, like Lisbon, has strong Moorish influence and Arabic roots. Their designs reflect architectural findings with a modern touch. Their hand-painted floral motifs can be found in the tiles lining the bathroom walls of Soho House Hotel in Istanbul and the kitchen of a private residence in Georgetown, Texas.
  2. StoneImpressions, founded by single-mother and trained painter Melinda Earl, offers a unique experience with elegant designs. They offer a customized line of tiles, where you are open to choose the stone, size, color, and design. Their designs can be found in various private residences, from contemporary powder rooms to private home bars.
  3. Grenada Tile creates eco-friendly and hand-made cement tiles for various cafes in Los Angeles such as Intelligentsia Coffee and Beachwood Cafe, as well as beautiful historical hotel Casa Laguna in Laguna Beach. The couple Marcos Cajina and Melanie Stephens fell in love with the historical tile floors they saw in Granada, Nicaragua. Not surprisingly, the city was named after the Spanish city of Granada, the same city where the azulejos in Lisbon originated. Granada Tile’s artwork is both modern and cheerful, bringing life to the spaces they inhabit.

Interiors that incorporate these ceramic tiles become spaces that are cozy and intricate. Usually, their guests are unaware that they’re surrounded by an art trend that can trace its story to civilizations past. Lisbon is one of those cities with design roots and those early Moorish touches eventually came to have their own Portuguese identity. It’s one of those places that will always inspire us with its own unique and unmistakable city palette! 

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