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

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

By Kate Reggev
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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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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