Terracotta floors

The Cotto Fiorentino floor

Cotto floors have a history stretching back thousands of years and still today have an appreciative public. It is certainly much less in demand than in the past but still appreciated by those who are looking for a natural, breathing floor, rich in warmth and charm and which improves as it ages.

Here you will find news and insights on Cotto floors, as well as photos of both new and old floors.

enjoy your reading! 

A wonderful old terracotta floor in Matera

How is cotto produced?

Florentine terracotta tiles are produced in three stages:

  • kneading of the clay,
  • shaping the piece unbaked,
  • firing the piece. 

The clays, the soils, must be ground and mixed and to do this they are placed in akneading machine adding water and a little sand. The mixer breaks up the clods and grinds the earth, mixing the different components. 

Once it has been mixed, the raw earth is shaped into tiles, and this is done by pushing the mixture through an appropriately shaped die. The result is a continuous ribbon, a sort of 'huge macaroni', which is then cut with a wire to the right size. This tile-forming process is called "extrusion" and it is relatively easy to obtain special shapes: L-shaped steps, bullnose steps, tops, etc. 

Once the desired pieces have been obtained, they must be left to rest for a few days so that the raw clay loses some of its moisture. After this drying period, the pieces can be placed in the oven where the clay is transformed into terracotta at high temperatures. An ancient process, only slightly modified in recent times, but which has always given us solid, resistant, hygienic artefacts that defy time. 

Types of cotto: Florentine, Spanish...

The different clays characterise both the colouring and the properties of the material.

For example, Spanish cotto is made using lighter-coloured clays, which give the finished product beautiful shades that vary from yellow to pinkish. Very popular in the "handmade" version, Spanish cotto is, however, less resistant to outdoor use.

In Umbria there are still kilns producing a pinkish cotto, just as, in the Venetian area, there are kilns producing cotto floors with clay extracted in the Veneto region.

The most widespread, however, is Florentine cotto, which is produced with red clay from the Impruneta area, rich in iron oxides. It is to these oxides that we owe the colouring of cotto, which varies from brick-red to dark orange. Moreover, the composition of these soils gives Florentine terracotta technical characteristics that are better than any other terracotta, to the point that it can also be used outdoors.

 

How is Florentine terracotta laid? The importance of the screed

We have dedicated a page to the laying of ceramic floors, but compared to normal porcelain stoneware, cotto requires a little more care. It must be said that the terracotta tile is the last layer of the floor and that the final result depends a great deal on how the underlying layers, in particular the substrate and the screed, have been laid.

For this reason it is necessary to carry out checks on how these products have been executed, which are fundamental for the final result: this is to avoid subsequent complaints and replacement or repair work. 

Posa cotto fatto a mano
Laying a handmade terracotta floor


We have assumed that Florentine terracotta is laid by gluing it to a screed. But it can also be glued by overlaying on an existing floor, like a normal tile. What we do not recommend, however, is laying with sand and cement: cotto is a porous material and also absorbs from the substrate, so it is essential to use an adhesive rich in latex in order to block (or at least reduce) the passage of calcium carbonate from the laying bed.

But in addition to this, there are other installation precautions which we will look at in the next paragraph...

Precautions for laying Florentine terracotta tiles

Once it has been ascertained that the substrate and screed are suitable for laying, it is time tocheck the quality of the tiles to be laid.

Always remember that the tiles must be checked before laying, so when you arrive at the building site - and before you start laying - you will have to open several boxes and check that the product is the one you chose when you purchased it. 

The fact that cotto is made solely of clay means that it is a "natural" product with normal variations in tone and colour. Assess this too before buying it and before laying it: do not expect a homogeneous and uniform product like glazed stoneware. The non-homogeneity of the product is the reason why it should be laid by taking cotto tiles from different boxes (and from different pallets) and then mixing the products together.

Especially with the more "rustic" products, such as handmade cotto or the cotto artisans of the Il Palagio collections, it is normal to notice a certain unevenness in the tiles. For this reason, cotto must be laid with a joint of at least 3 millimetres. If the tile is more irregular, a spacer of 5 millimetres or more must be used.

If you have chosen a terracotta floor to be laid outdoors, you must first ensure that there is a slope capable of properly disposing of rain and avoiding stagnation or puddles. You will also need to take into account expansion and contraction due to temperature changes and therefore provide expansion joints. The terracotta tile must be laid on a screed that is suitably protected with a liquid membrane applied with a spatula. 

 

Estimates for Florentine terracotta tiles? 

If you are planning to purchase terracotta tiles for your home, you can write to [email protected], our colleague who handles on-line sales of flooring. We will be happy to give you all the information, suggestions and even a price for your new floor. 

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