Terra Cotta Floors

By Kate Riley May 29, 2018

I was reading Julia’s article about the villa used in the film Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the book by Frances Mayes. The home featured is not the real Bramasole from the book, it was the home nearby that was used for the film, but it’s been completely renovated to capture that perfect Tuscany aesthetic but with modern amenities, and throughout the villa the flooring is terra cotta tile.

The kitchen in the home I stayed in last week also had terra cotta tile floors (with radiant heat!), and loved how earthy they felt, especially since we see so many stark white spaces in design these days. Terra cotta is a material in its natural state has an warm orange base but when glazed it’s available in any color.  “Earthy” is the perfect adjective to describe this tile since “terra cotta” literally means “baked earth”.


via hooked on houses

In Mediterranean or Spanish Revival homes, terra cotta tiles look absolutely perfect. They’re a unique style that pairs beautifully with plaster walls, wood beams, and arched entries often admired in that style of home.


design by laurel beebe

In a modern home, terra cotta tile floors are a more interesting choice, one of personal taste. They provide a warm and textural contrast to modern cabinets and appliances, and present a hint of Old World alongside the new.


cecy j interors




devol kitchens


amber interiors

Orange is the complement to blue on the color wheel, so terra cotta is a lovely accent in spaces decorated in blue hues. Doesn’t it also look fantastic with copper accents in this kitchen?


house beautiful

Blues and greens are mostly safe bets but because of its undertones, terra cotta orange can be trickier to pair with cool pinks, saturated yellows, or bright reds, they can clash if in direct competition.


el mueble

Terra cotta is a transitional material, it can move from outdoors to interiors seamlessly. It’s also a perfect material to line borders, pathways, and pools in landscaped yards.




Some people are anti terra cotta tile as flooring because it can be uneven and a tripping hazard for the elderly (or clumsy!). I’ve tripped myself on uneven tile so I completely understand this sentiment.

Despite the potential for slight unevenness, terra cotta tile possesses a wonderful warmth that can offset a bright white space, like in this combined kitchen and dining space.


traditional home

Aside from the look, installing tile is a question of practicality. In warmer climates, tile keeps a house cool, I know from living with them in the desert climate of Las Vegas. Tile is waterproof but hard underfoot, and less kind to your back if you’re walking around on it all day. Tile is also unforgiving on anything breakable, say goodbye to glass or ceramics if you drop them on tile floors, unlike wood or vinyl where they might stand a chance.

Some people argue terra cotta tile is a dated look, and I agree if absolutely everything else in the space (furniture and decor) is dated as well.

However, terra cotta floors are a timeless material that feels most at home in Spanish revival homes or spaces with a Mediterranean vibe. I’m a fan because terra cotta tile floors take me back to many of the places I’ve visited in Italy and France.


source unknown


And as several of the above examples demonstrate, terra cotta tiles can warm up a modern space when used in a thoughtful way.

What’s your experience with terra cotta tile floors? Do you have fond memories of them in a relative’s home or in a sunny vacation spot? Or do they just come across as “ick” to you?



  1. We rented a house for seven months with floors like the one pictured in the third photo from bottom, watermarked “Traditional Home.” Cleaning those floors was an absolute, abject nightmare. They wouldn’t vacuum because the grooves were so deep and uneven, we couldn’t sweep without getting stuff stuck along ledges, and you absolutely could not mop.

    I tried everything. I ended up having to kneel and crawl across the kitchen, dining room, entry, and mudroom sweeping and wiping each individual tile and grout lines. Time consuming, still not as clean as I’d like, and back breaking. I think they’d be okay on a patio where you could just pressure wash, but I’ll never put such an uneven “texture” in my home.

    (Coincidentally, we had the same experience in another rental with slate tiles. Again, great for outside but not indoors.)

  2. We are in the process of moving to San Antonio and many homes there are Spanish style with Saltillo tile. I think it can be a fantastic look if done right. I immediately started redoing bathrooms and kitchens in my mind using blue and white talavera tile as an accent. I loved the saltillo tiles that were white-washed. I believe that they are easy to care for IF they are sealed. Those tiles are very porous so they absolutely have to be sealed. Anyhoo, thanks for the lovely inspiration since I’ll likely be living in a home with terra cotta tile. ?

    • Terra cotta tiles with blue and white talavera as an accent would be SO beautiful! Do it!

  3. I love them in vacation homes but wouldn’t want them in my home. They are just too uncomfortable on the feet, as in Ouch! Also, they seem like a hot clime type of flooring. I would put them in my laundry room for a nice touch though.

  4. I have owned two homes with Saltillo floors, I personally love them, but they do require a little more love than other flooring options. But even with the extra work required, I still love them

  5. It always amuses me when people comment about something classic looking “dated!” Everything will, at some point!
    Buhbye white everything, (fake) overly mid-century, and one ironic fiddleleaf fig.
    There’s a style of home calling for Terra Cotta floors and they make sense in warm climates.

    To the person moving to SATX, my hometown, you’re lucky and your vision is classic.
    Just don’t go overboard with the Talavera!
    You’ll tire of it much more quickly than you will the lovely tile floors.

    My Georgian townhouse (least fave style) is in HoustonTX, and the builder saw fit to install Saltillo in all 11 homes back in the late ’70’s… An incongrous choice for Georgian but a popular, readily available material down here where it’s SO hot! Most owners have replaced them with hardwood.
    (And in the case of future flooding, my downstairs might just make it!)

  6. I like this idea of getting the terra cotta look in a porcelain tile. Terracotta is a type of ceramic. Ceramic and porcelain are both clays but porcelain isn’t porous like ceramic.

  7. 20 years ago we purchased our home BECAUSE of the Saltillo floor. I absolutely love how it has aged and weathered over time. However, to respond to Jane’s comment, they are a bear to clean. We have just resorted to a semi-annual “get down on your knees and pray to the terra cotta Gods” event. It’s the only thing that really does the trick. However, they have complimented all the design styles I’ve gone through over the years; white washed southwestern, vibrant Mexican, rustic cowboy and ranch, and now farmhouse (thanks Gaines’ for getting me hooked!). They’re like a comfortable old friend always there underfoot. We even have coyote foot prints in a couple tiles which is supposed to be good luck. They are not for everyone I agree. But if you can handle the upkeep and the unevenness, they can really warm up any space.

  8. My mother lived in an old house in San Juan with terra cotta tile floors and took me there in my teens. The house was built with large windows and they were oriented to maximize catching the breeze. She told me how on cleaning days, they’d move their light woven furniture outdoors to air and oil the wood and she and her sisters would throw down buckets of soapy water to wash the tile. They would then push broom the water out the doors and air the house. I’ve cleaned houses before to pay for school and ever since then, I’ve longed for the airy openness that my mother described in that house, the way the floor could be scrubbed and the furniture moved about. One day, I hope to have such a house, that melds the indoors and outdoors together, and gives such an unstudied, easy living approach.

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