The old values ​​are back. Originals are better than fakes. Craft has golden soil. Slowness clearly takes precedence over speed. Neither delivery bottlenecks nor military conflicts were needed for handmade tiles to take off like phoenixes from the ashes of deceased industrial societies for several years. Would you like two examples?

Karak, a young tile manufacturer in the middle of the Alps in Vorarlberg, is so passionate about small and fine handmade ceramic products that the team has decorated the trigger of its forge with gold leaf. And at Huguet in Campos, Mallorca, they’ve been struggling for generations to throw products onto the market that are made out of — now: recycled — cement. Like confetti. The ingredients that are sprinkled in are as colorful and sensuous as life itself. Nevertheless, the overall works of art come across as fairly down-to-earth.

The Mallorcan Biel Huguet has been working with his family business for several years for world-renowned architects and designers who have been building a new terrazzo art since around 2015: Herzog

Huguet’s company has been producing floor tiles and terrazzo products in the Mallorcan tradition since 1933. In the 13th and 14th centuries, tile art had reached its peak in Spain (Alhambra in Granada, Alcazar in Seville). Mallorca was the main hub for Spanish tiles, which is why all colored glazed tiles were later called “majolica”. The coveted export article reached Italy, France, England and Holland.

But the trace of these stones goes back much further into the past: Just think of the mosaic floors in Pompeii (set in August 79 AD) or the bikini girls in the Villa Romana del Casale near the town of Piazza Armerina in Sicily ( perhaps around AD 310).

Huguet’s business was one of around a hundred in Mallorca in the mid-20th century. But then the construction boom of the 1970s began with the tourist run on what was then “Housewife Island”. Huguet’s manufactory was threatened with extinction: the industrial production of tiles was faster and cheaper. The company was forced to adapt and now produced vault set pieces and girders made of cement. Biel Huguet, the grandson of the company founder, dates the comeback of the Huguet tile to the nineties. At that time, people developed a soft spot for traditional culture and sought art and enjoyment. Not only Germans had “planes in their stomachs” when they thought of “Malle”. Optimism and hedonism formed the spirit of the time. Since then, Biel Huguet has been experimenting with shapes and colors. The palette currently consists of 36 soft shades. The tiles are plain or patterned, traditional or modern in design, always made by hand, in growing dimensions: “The tiles have been getting bigger and bigger since 2005, now up to one meter by one meter,” says Biel Huguet, who now also makes washbasins with his terrazzo art and basins and manufactures colored concrete furniture such as benches and hotel counters from a single mold – optionally also with sprinklings of cork or shredded Nike sneakers.

Thomas Rösler and his co-managing director Sebastian Rauch are also dreaming of a new stoneware era. With your company Karak you have reinvented the clay tile. Starting from a cube, from which they drew spherical arc patterns, they started producing design tiles in 2015. They studied the Japanese raku firing technique and today interweave it with digital graphics. Ornaments constructed geometrically on the computer are applied to tiles by screen printing and fired using the archaic, 700-year-old technique. Each piece is taken out of the oven red-hot at 800 to 900 degrees Celsius, buried in sawdust and then quenched in cold water.

Due to the strong acting elemental forces, each tile is unique. “The tile glows white, we apply the glaze and spruce sawdust,” says Rösler: “The glaze made of finely painted glass melts. This is pure alchemy. There are 3600 different glasses, then there are twenty other raw materials that you can add. The burning of the sawdust draws oxygen around the tiles and creates an atmosphere. Carbon is produced during combustion and turns the white black – carbon always wants to form compounds with metal, for example with copper oxide. So it actually becomes completely uncontrollable tiles.”

Rösler is one of the philosophers of this craftsmanship. “Everything we’ve done revolves around the question: how much order does chaos need?” he said in June in his workshop during the readers’ trip “Architecture and Enjoyment in Vorarlberg”, to which Der Tagesspiegel and the organizer “Ticket B” had invited. For Rösler and Rauch, tiles are a material that creates sensual spaces. The way is the goal. “Producing the tiles, doing it, that’s our life,” says Rösler at the current company location in Bludenz: “The finished tile is survival. We are a classic manufactory, the minimum order quantity is one piece.”

Many customers come and buy just one tile. That’s not enough for a floor, but it’s good for a coaster: “That’s a deep appreciation,” says the ceramics man from Karak. “Eighty percent of our customers are medium-sized households. They buy two to five square meters of tiles, for example for the tiled stove. Or for a backsplash in the kitchen – like a painting.” The premium tiles are also used in showers, bathrooms and toilets, for bar design or for partition walls.

The uses show: The tile is not everything. But without tiles, a lot is less. “People come into our showroom looking for tiles,” says Huguet, “but they get a floor covering.” That describes the first learning curve when it comes to selection criteria. Even more important is the insight formulated by the publicist and architect Wilfried Wang: “The tiles must be seen in connection with the architecture.”

While Portland cement is an important basic component at Huguet, pure sound makes the music at Rösler. “There is white clay, the most abundant raw material on earth, and brown clay, with a lot of manganese in it, and red clay, which contains a lot of iron. The clay is burned. If I fire above 1100 degrees Celsius, I have earthenware, if I fire below 1100 degrees Celsius, then I have stoneware, if I fire over 1200 degrees Celsius, I have fine stoneware.” Earthenware, stoneware and fine stoneware belong to the group of fine ceramics. “The material only really differs in terms of water absorption,” says Rösler, “the color also changes a little with the temperature. The material is pressed at 120 tons and then we have a blank.” Quartz stone is used to polish the surface.

The tiles are handled up to thirty times before they are laid at their destination. It’s about passion instead of high-tech. Is that economical? Rösler works in other categories. “We can do five hundred square meters a year,” he says, “that’s half an hour’s production of a large industrial tile production. For them we are the biggest crackpots.” However: the industry can no longer supply such a product in this quality.

Mallorquin Biel Huguet also complains that industrial production methods have smashed a lot of historical knowledge about the production of tile art. “Variations are enormously important because they make the difference to industrial production. This is also the difference between something living and something dead. You can tell our tiles are handmade – there are different shades depending on how the light hits them. Industrially produced standard tiles are not really pretty. What really has a future is natural, handmade, sustainable, warm and unique.” On this point, Huguet and Rösler argue as if they were made of one piece.

Both firmly believe that you can feel every production step that goes into their products, whether they are made of cement or clay. “The industry and we – these are two different things,” says Rösler: “In our democratic world of facts, we are always told: If it can’t be measured, then it doesn’t exist. This is the most abstruse nonsense I’ve ever heard. Sometimes things just get mixed up. It’s like a beautiful person. It doesn’t matter that he’s handsome. That’s a whole different thing. Everyone actually knows. Extremely ugly people can be beautiful. What we are doing there is justified. The industry would call it poor quality and we call it just right quality because our pottery is ancient. Today, however, ceramics wants to be everything – except ceramics. Today, ceramic wants to be marble, or wood, or look like an old worn tile. An exciting concept, isn’t it? We have to laugh about that. Isn’t it funny when material printed from a laser printer is supposed to look like natural stone?”