11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Dwell
Cement tiles, terrazzo, and exposed shiplap boards are just a few traditional building materials that are experiencing a resurgence.

Many architects and designers are choosing to implement historic building materials into their modern projects, but with a fresh, contemporary perspective. Take a look at these examples to see how they've either preserved original aspects of interiors—and designed around them—or installed updated versions of classic materials.

Cementitious Tiles 

Also known as encaustic cement tiles, cementitious tiles originated in the 1850s in Catalonia, Spain, and spread to the United States after the turn of the 20th century. Its popularity began to wane in the 1920s. 

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 1 of 12 - As a traditional flooring, cement tiles originated over 150 years ago, but are seeing a newfound appreciation. Shown here is Paola Navone's shower in her renovated industrial-style home in Italy. The floor is lined with custom Carocim tile from Morocco.

As a traditional flooring, cement tiles originated over 150 years ago, but are seeing a newfound appreciation. Shown here is Paola Navone's shower in her renovated industrial-style home in Italy. The floor is lined with custom Carocim tile from Morocco.


11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 2 of 12 - A renovated apartment in the Catalan city of Barcelona preserved the existing historic cement tiles, which maintains the original room layout in the home.

A renovated apartment in the Catalan city of Barcelona preserved the existing historic cement tiles, which maintains the original room layout in the home.

Unlike other types of tiles, cement tiles are not fired or glazed. Instead, the pigment is hydraulically-pressed into the surface. The result is a brightly-colored tile with a matte finish, rather than a glossy, light-reflecting surface. 

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 3 of 12 - In Jaime Hayon and Nienke Klunder’s nearby studio in their home in Valencia, Spain, is an appealing place to work, with its high ceilings and historic cement tile floors.

In Jaime Hayon and Nienke Klunder’s nearby studio in their home in Valencia, Spain, is an appealing place to work, with its high ceilings and historic cement tile floors.


11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 4 of 12 - Off the living room, two small bedrooms and a bathroom can be reached through sliding doors that, when closed, continue the cheerful pattern of the Moroccan cement tiles covering the wall.

Off the living room, two small bedrooms and a bathroom can be reached through sliding doors that, when closed, continue the cheerful pattern of the Moroccan cement tiles covering the wall.


11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 5 of 12 - Brightly-colored encaustic tile has a matte finish that contrasts with the glossy white of the bathroom fixtures.

Brightly-colored encaustic tile has a matte finish that contrasts with the glossy white of the bathroom fixtures.

The classic tile is being reborn in modern renovations and designs, covering floors and walls again—but this time, with more contemporary patterns and colors like geometric shapes and stripes. 

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 6 of 12 - Architect Barbara Bestor added a striped floor of Santander Granada Tile, Douglas fir cladding, and Granada Serengeti tile flipped to create a one-of-a-kind pattern on the wall.

Architect Barbara Bestor added a striped floor of Santander Granada Tile, Douglas fir cladding, and Granada Serengeti tile flipped to create a one-of-a-kind pattern on the wall.

Terrazzo 

Terrazzo is another traditional building material that's seeing a resurgence, but with a modern spin. It was originally developed by builders in Venice, Italy, as a low-cost flooring option, and consisted of chips of marble, quartz, or other stone that was held together with a binder.

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 7 of 12 - The international transit lounge at Gander Airport in Newfoundland, Canada, has a custom terrazzo floor, which was common in midcentury buildings in North America.

The international transit lounge at Gander Airport in Newfoundland, Canada, has a custom terrazzo floor, which was common in midcentury buildings in North America.

Terrazzo flooring was popular during the 1950s through the 1970s for its durability and ability to be poured into countless patterns, logos, and shapes. But recently, it’s expanded its use and has seen a renaissance in furniture and furnishings.

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 8 of 12 - Copper piping extends out from the wall to become the faucets in a terrazzo-covered bathroom in Paris, France.

Copper piping extends out from the wall to become the faucets in a terrazzo-covered bathroom in Paris, France.

While you may be used to seeing terrazzo on your floors, be prepared to start finding it on everything from platters to chairs.

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 9 of 12 - Terrazzo platters from Serax feature an innovative use of the building material.

Terrazzo platters from Serax feature an innovative use of the building material.

Shiplap

Like terrazzo, shiplap also has a long history as being a traditional building material, and was often used to sheath wood-frame houses. Recently, it’s been seen as a desirable and celebrated feature in older homes. 

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 10 of 12 - Exposed wooden boards like shiplap can act as a feature wall and add texture and depth to a space.

Exposed wooden boards like shiplap can act as a feature wall and add texture and depth to a space.

Shiplap is typically composed of interlocking horizontal wood boards that cover the wood framing members. It can often be found covered with plaster on the interiors of buildings. 

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 11 of 12 - The walls and ceiling would originally have been covered in plaster, but are instead just covered in paint to reveal the texture of the wood underneath.

The walls and ceiling would originally have been covered in plaster, but are instead just covered in paint to reveal the texture of the wood underneath.

Many homes with shiplap walls have started to remove their plaster, revealing the character and texture of the natural wood boards underneath—similar to spaces that have exposed brick walls.

11 Examples of How to Incorporate Traditional Building Materials Into Your Modern Home - Photo 12 of 12 - Crisp white walls contrast with the surface of the painted white boards of the ceiling, keeping the interiors modern and clean.

Crisp white walls contrast with the surface of the painted white boards of the ceiling, keeping the interiors modern and clean.

Shiplap and other types of interior wood boards can be left exposed, adding character and history to a space. They can also be painted over for a more subtle pattern and texture. 

What other historic materials have you noticed are experiencing a resurgence? Let us know in the comments!

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