Stationed in the hillside outside the city of Valencia, Spain,Ceramica Decorativais a company that treats the tile production process as an art form.  A family run operation -- now in its fifth generation -- the Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer began fabricating terracotta tile in 1862.  More than a century later, Ceramica Decorativa continues to produce high-end quality products.  It is most known for its handcrafted tiles that are supplied to markets worldwide.

“This is not such a technical tile manufacturer,” said Ernest Catafal of Ceramica Decorativa.  “We are more traditional.  In this area, a lot of companies make handmade terracotta.”

According to Catafal, the company began making custom tile for projects about six years ago. “Now, it is about 30% of our work,” he said.  Several recent large-scale projects that Decorativa has produced custom tile for include: massive ceramic tile tree trunks surrounding the Spanish Pavilion at the Zaragoza 2008 International Exposition by architect Patxi Mangado; the Santa Catarina Market in Barcelona by Benedette Tagliabue; and the Conference Center of Aragon, also in Zaragoza.

The process

During TILE Magazine’s recent visit to the company’s facility, Catafal explained that the process begins with the clay.  “The clay is mixed and kept outside for two years,” he said.  “Every few days it is mixed to take out any organic material.”

In addition to its custom pieces, Ceramica Decorativa produces two products: floor and wall tiles.  “Floor tiles are easy to glaze, and wall tiles are more complicated,” said Catafal, adding that the traditional floor tile is made by hand.  “We have very skilled workers.  They make it look easy, but it is not.”

Artisans take the clay and press it in a wooden mold to form the floor tile. Once the mold is removed, the handmade tile sits on textured wood.  The underside of the tile is then glazed to give it a rustic look.

Depending on the product, the tile can be fired three different ways: a roller kiln, static kiln or tunnel kiln. Most large-scale tile production facility’s use a roller kiln that fire the tile quickly at high temperatures.  While Ceramica Decorativa has a roller kiln that is used for certain products, the company primarily uses a tunnel kiln for it handmade floor tiles.

“The handcraft process is like baking,” said Catafal, explaining that floor tiles in the tunnel kiln take four to five days before they are ready.  “The tile ‘cooks’ slowly -- like cooking food.  If we go fast, the tile can crack.”

The tiles are fired twice -- once before the glaze is applied, and once after, according to Catafal.  It takes a day to dry before the glazing process can begin.  “We are not in a hurry,” said Catafal.  “We take our time making our tile.”

In addition to hand making tiles, Ceramica Decorativa also utilizes its skilled artisans for hand glazing on special occasions.  “We only do hand glazing when we have a specific order,” Catafal explained.

The artisan will follow a drawing and replicate it on the tile.  “[Again], when they paint, it looks easy, but it is difficult,” said Catafal.

Overall, Ceramica Decorativa is a company dedicated to producing high-quality one-of-a-kind products.  During TILE Magazine’s visit, it was evident that a high bar for standards has been set.  The company’s operation includes a quality-control station where workers ensure that only tiles meeting the standard for perfection are packaged and ready to be shipped.