Victorian Tiles - Encaustic & Geometric

The Victorians loved their houses. Encaustic and geometric tiles were both stylish and inexpensive. They were stylishly patterned, with the Gothic look that was so fashionable in the latter half of the 19th century. The development of mass-manufacturing techniques meant the Victorian tiles were relatively cheap, were extremely hard-wearing, and the colours in encaustic tiles were inlaid into the clay before firing, so the patterns never wore off or faded. Even if the tiles were chipped or scratched, it would be barely noticeable, as the colour ran right through them rather than being painted or glazed on.

Victorian Tiles


From the 1850s through to the early 1900s, Victorian homeowners installed splendid floors, paths, porches and hallways, using encaustic and geometric tile floors. The craze was exported to the farthest corners of the empire. Wherever the British flag flew there are examples of encaustic and geometric tile floors, even in some places where the flag did not fly, notably the United States.

Victorian Tiles
The Inverlochy pattern takes its name from the design on the original floor at Inverlochy Castle, a grand house built in 1863. In 1873 Queen Victoria spent a week there to sketch and paint. She wrote in her diary, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.”


Most manufacturers had dozens of designs and you rarely see two floors exactly the same. Interestingly, the medallions used in the palace of Westminster were duplicated in the U.S. Capitol building. The only exception was the use of a cherub in the center rather than the British coat of arms!

antique tile floor
Geometric floor tiles are part of Britain’s heritage and were used originally to ornament medieval churches and monasteries, and the homes of the aristocracy. Their popularity was enhanced in the 1830s when the young Queen Victoria came to the throne, and they soon became one of the hallmarks of the new Romantic Movement.

In the 19th century, a housemaid would have the job of scrubbing the Victorian tiles thoroughly once a week and then lightly oiling them or buffing them with wax for a high sheen. These days, however, few cleaners are so assiduous. If you have original encaustic and geometric antique tiles that look dingy, simply cleaning them can do much to perk them up. To bring back a neglected floor, you need to deep clean. This is a job that anyone can do if they have the time and inclination. Products recommended are readily available in the United States by companies such as Custom Building Products, Miracle and Aqua Mix.

antique tub and tiles
Oxford pattern with Melville border incorporating Cardigan decorated tile. Original Style Artworks tiles on the wall.

A penetrating sealer should be added to new tiles after installation or tiles which have been stripped of sealer. The tile should be clean and dust free. The tile may not seem to readily absorb the sealer. This is because they are fired at very high temperatures therefore very hard. But they do absorb enough. Wipe off the excess - avoid "pooling" the tiles in the sealer. After the tiles are installed and grouted the tile can then be sealed again. How many coats you apply depends on how high the traffic will be over the tile, the use of water etc in the area (kitchen, bathroom, outside, often-used hallway), etc. More coats will build up a sheen on the tile, so it is also a question of aesthetics - do you like a subtle or more shiny look? Full installation guidelines are available from Tile Source. It is MOST important to follow the guidelines of the manufacturer of the sealers. 

Inverlochy pattern in Buff, Red, Blue, Black and White


After installation tiles should be swept with a soft brush daily, or vacuum, to remove dirt which can wear down the sealant. Clean with plain clean water - any cleaners should be PH neutral - nothing to attack the protective sealant. Rinse well.  After many years of traffic and adequate maintenance you may have to strip off the sealant and reapply. These floors are far more hardwearing than stone or wood.

Simply follow the instructions on the bottles. This kind of floor is very low-maintenance. Once it's properly cleaned and sealed, all that is needed is regular sweeping and mopping. If detergents are used, though, it is important to rinse away every trace of soap using clean, cold water, as a build-up eventually makes the tiles look grubby.

encaustic tiles encaustic tiles
Vestible Project: Before and After

Renovation of Old Floors:

Cleaning-up encaustic tiles is hard work. You can do it yourself by purchasing kits of cleaner, sealer, scouring pad and rubber gloves; or hire specialist companies who come with scrubbing machines. The difference can be stunning.

Often, some repair work is needed alongside cleaning. Typically, where central heating has been installed there will be some damage to tiles. If carpet has been laid over the original tiles and then taken up, the peripheral tiles may have been drilled to take gripper-rods and need replacing.

There may also be loose tiles in areas of particularly heavy wear, such as at the foot of a flight of stairs. Tile Source can get tiles made to match in terms of color, pattern and texture.

encaustic tiles
The interlacing knot designs on the Galway and Dublin decorated tiles were inspired by motifs seen in Celtic art and mosaics from ancient Rome.

New Floors:

Or you can make a new floor, from design to finish. Most Victorian-style tiled floors are actually a mixture of encaustic (genuine or simulated) and geometric (solid body tile - color goes all the way through) tiles. The encaustic tiles are individually patterned, while the geometrics are small, plain tiles that fit together to make a pattern of squares, triangles or diamonds. True encaustic tiles are made by pouring or pressing the clay into the mould so the pattern goes all the way through the tile (consequently much more expensive). As the tile wears so does the pattern with it, so it always appears. Simulated encaustic is where the pattern is silkscreened just onto the surface of the tile. With modern day production methods these tiles are very hardwearing and it will take many years for the pattern to wear off revealing the solid body of the tile below. The more detailed a project (more tiles, many small pieces to make up design) the more expensive.



A geometric/encaustic mix compares favourably to the cost of a good-quality wooden floor, and it will last a lifetime and beyond; at least as long as all those surviving Victorian examples, and probably longer. Production processes have changed very little, but we use more refined, stable materials, so the floors are even more hard-wearing.  Customers need to be happy with the designs they choose, as they will be living with them for a long, long time.

Cambridge pattern
Cambridge pattern with Cavendish border in Black and Dover White. The chessboard pattern is a classic in black and white, but any combination of colours looks great in any room or situation. A practical choice for bathrooms, Victorian floor tiles can be installed with underfloor heating.

Cleaning and renovating existing encaustic tiles really does restore them to their former splendour. And if you have some in your home, you are in good company. The very first encaustic tiles were hand-made by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, and some medieval examples still exist. They were revived by Victorian architects, and before mass-manufacturing techniques brought them to the middle-classes they were considered very upmarket indeed; Pugin was one of their early champions. They can be found in many public buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, U.S. Capitol, New York State Capitol. Even Queen Victoria was a fan; there are some fine encaustic examples at Osborne House, her home on the Isle of Wight.

Palmerston is a magnificent decorated panel of 36 tiles which incorporates many classic Victorian design motifs. It is an ideal centrepiece for large spaces such as conservatories and reception areas.

Tile Source continues the tradition of Victorian and geometric floors. Their family was one of the original tile families of the Potteries in the UK and have done business in the United States for 60+ years. They are proud to say that they have tiled many courthouses throughout the US, many historic homes, modern homes, and such prestigious projects as Bethesda Gardens in Central Park New York, and the New York State Capitol in Albany. James Malkin is joint owner of Tile Source Inc., and is 6th generation in the Ceramic Tile industry with 29 years experience in the U.S. Tile Source supplies both genuine and simulated encaustic and geometric tiles, as well as an extensive range of Victorian wall tiles. All their tiles are manufactured in England. Visit their web site,, to see many images of their products and photos of their finished projects.

Tile Source Inc.
49 Cotesworth Pl
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
843 681-4034