Munnar floor tiles

Shabby Chic in India

Munnar floor tiles
Floor tiles in coffee shop, Munnar

Well, I’m back from a wonderful holiday in Kerala, Southern India.

If you’ve never been, then I can highly recommend Kerala as a holiday location. The people are exceptionally friendly and helpful. The traffic, while it may seem a bit mad to those more used to Western roads, actually works well with its own logic and rhythm.  The iconic auto rickshaws or tuc tucs are a very cheap and convenient way to travel. We also tried out air-conditioned coaches, local buses and the rail network during our two week break and all worked well. The food was tasty and plentiful: I went vegan for the fortnight with great success.  Some of the Indian bread was spectacular!

As expected, I took some time out to observe the Indian tile scene. My long-suffering wife of 30 years, Janet, is well used to my running commentary on lipping, grout lines, incorrectly applied patterns, etc; so it will have come as a happy surprise to her that I was so favourably impressed by Kerala’s use of tiles.

We weren’t sure what to expect when it came to hotel and home-stay accommodation, but the overall standard, especially at the ridiculously low prices charged, was quite excellent. Most rooms featured 600 by 600mm polished porcelain on the walls and 600 by 600mm matching unpolished porcelain on the floors; with nearly every en-suite bathroom designed in a wetroom style, with no shower screens or curtains.

One hotel room featured dramatically dark 500 by 500mm wood-effect floor tiles, and I also saw examples of brick-slate porcelain tiles as a facing on retaining blockwork walls, and some wonderful exterior tiling with matching step treads and bullnoses.

But the one tiling installation that really caught my eye is shown above. On the penultimate day of our holiday, in the tea plantations around Munnar, we decided to visit the local market to buy presents for friends, family and the team at our confectionery manufacturing company, Goupie. The market was wonderful with brightly-coloured fabrics, incredible spices and vegetable arrays, jewellery, tiffin tins, and much, much more.

Our last stop was at Munnar’s only AC shopping mall. In one corner of the lower ground floor I spotted a Lavazza logo.  Now good espresso coffee, apart from in Cochin and Verkala, was the one thing I found hard to find in India – I am a self-confessed coffee addict – so, when the shopping was done, in we went.

The floor really caught me by surprise. It was tiled in a patchwork of non-matching porcelain floor tiles in a discordant range of designs, colours, formats and finishes. My first thought was that this was a money saving ruse from some dodgy contractor. Only slowly did it dawn on me that it was actually an Indian take on shabby chic. And it got me thinking. Why not put a diverse range of different tiles together on the same floor or wall?  Providing that they share a common calibration, the result can be beautiful, surprising, inspiring, funny, playful, etc, while still offering a practical, hard-wearing, easy-to-clean, hygienic, surface.

And what a great way to use the end of runs of deleted tiles.

So, thank you India for a truly great holiday and a whole fresh seam of tiling inspiration.

A new post from Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, February 2017.

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