Terracotta Bathroom: Décor Inspiration From the Desert

Used for centuries across the globe, this unglazed brownish-red earthenware building material can be found from Arizona desert abodes to Spanish-colonial terraces. Terracotta remains a popular and timeless choice for bathrooms across a variety of interior styles, including Spanish-revival, Mediterranean and contemporary. To incorporate this classic look into your bathroom, follow these inspiring tips.

Terracotta History and Care

Terracotta is one of the oldest building and interior decorating materials. Originally hailing from the Southwestern US and Mexico, terracotta clay tiles can be either dried in the sun (which makes them more fragile) or hardened in a kiln. Terracotta is usually used to create a rustic, weathered look, Karin Beuerlein at HGTV writes.

Despite the fact that these tiles can be glazed to create a more polished and sophisticated look, the rustic nature of the material is usually its biggest selling point. When terracotta tiles emerged as a major decorating trend in the 1980’s, for example, they were sought after for their uniqueness and simplicity.

“People liked these primitive tiles for their authenticity—especially if they had stray pieces of straw, or footprints left by a dog or chicken,” Clé Tile founder Deborah Osburn explains.

High quality terracotta is both beautiful and taking care of it properly is key to making it last as long as possible. “Several cleaning methods will remove all but the most stubborn stains from your sealed or unsealed terra-cotta,” Rachel Steffan at Hunker writes. Abrasive and harsh cleaning products should be avoided as they can scratch and stain the tile.

This entire tile care process includes cleaning, oiling and sealing, explains Real Homes writer Helaine Clare. She points out that homeowners should conduct a water droplet test once a year. This helps homeowners assess the porosity of the tiles. Since terracotta is naturally so porous, it tends to attract dirt and stain easily. The test can make it easier to see whether or not the tile is still sealed enough to prevent stains.

potted plants on patio - terracotta bathroom

Terracotta Color Palettes

Terracotta comes in a number of colors with earthy and muted hues. “The clay-like quality of terra-cotta has much more depth and range. Think toasted shades like cinnamon, rust, ochre, pale pink, and burgundy,” writes Sarah Beaumont at online interior design marketplace Laurel & Wolf. The dusty pink and red tones of terracotta lend themselves to retro, bohemian, contemporary or even modern design styles.

Terracotta is also an adaptable color that blends well with a variety of color palettes. It also works well in a monochromatic bathroom scheme, as highlighted by design blog Coco Kelley. Millennial pink subway tiles adorn the walls while terracotta hexagonal tiles cover the floor in this modern bath.

Another interesting point is that terracotta tiles don’t necessarily have to be made from clay, for those seeking a lower maintenance and possibly more polished look. Porcelain tiles, for example are available in tan, red and brown terracotta colors, yet are easier to maintain, writes the team at Coco Kelley.

Of course, terracotta itself doesn’t have to be red or tan. Zellige tiles are terracotta tiles that have been colored white or grey. “Zellige tiles stem from Morocco and have a shimmery yet organic nature, making them a popular choice for tone-on-tone showers and textured backsplashes,” home décor consultant Gabrielle Savoie explains.

Southwestern and Spanish-Revival Bathrooms

Because terracotta is most commonly associated with Mexican and Southwestern homes, it works well in Spanish revival style homes — a popular style across California and the western United States.

Adorning a vanity countertop with terracotta tiles is one of the most common ways to decorate in a Southwestern style. Terracotta retailer Mexican Tiles Designs shows how hand-painted tile can be combined with solid-colored tile to create a more decorative look for the sink. This style also ties in well with a hand-painted or decorative, detailed sink, which is a popular choice for 2019 bathroom remodels.

Steps and wall borders can be spruced up with hand painted terracotta tiles as well. Star and cross designs are popular in Spanish handpainted tile, explains Rustico Tile and Stone owner Melanie Ocana. While this example showcases painted tile on stairs, the look could be used on a step up into the shower or as a border along the edges of a bathroom wall or around a bathtub.

For something more glamorous, yet still rooted in Southwestern style, consider this bathroom designed by the Portuguese tile retailer New Terracotta. A terracotta accent wall is featured behind the freestanding tub in a sleek, all-white bathroom. The polished, fire-colored tiles contrast with the white space for a dramatic look that instantly attracts the eye.

Terracotta can also be incorporated into a bathroom through pots and planters. Succulents and cacti are a staple in Southwestern-inspired homes; potting them in terracotta containers reinforces this design style. Gardenista’s Michelle Slatalla showcases a glazed, two-toned terracotta pot with a rope hanger. She says neutral hanging pots are the most versatile because they go with any color palette.

Interior of villa - terracotta bathroom

Coastal Mediterranean

Terracotta works well when combined with white, especially when seeking a coastal or Mediterranean vibe. “Terra cotta tile possesses a wonderful warmth that can offset a bright white space,” Centsational Style founder Kate Riley points out. She adds that terracotta floors are a timeless look that work well in both Spanish revival and Mediterranean-inspired homes.

So how exactly should white and terracotta be paired to create a coastal European feel?

White wood-paneled walls and a white freestanding tub create a laid-back coastal vibe when paired with terracotta floor tiles. Katie Holdefehr at Apartment Therapy highlights how the whitewashed look of one bathroom design allows the orange and yellows of the natural clay tiles to pop. A vaulted ceiling and rustic painted shiplap boards throughout add character and uniqueness.

A similar look is created in an elegant bathroom displayed at Better Homes and Gardens by writer Katie Bandurski. Here, brick is combined with white shiplap walls to create contrast. These two elements are combined with an unpainted wooden board which is upcycled as a robe and towel hanger.

Contemporary terracotta tiles also come in a variety of hand-painted designs, especially those inspired by Mediterranean countries. Blue, teal, gray and white are the most popular colors used in these designs, as seen at custom terracotta tile manufacturer, Tabarka Studio. These would work well in a Spanish, Portuguese or Italian-inspired homes. Tabarka’s creative director, Meir Zenati, designs these tiles with various floral, hexagonal and leaf-inspired shapes that evoke a soft and natural look.

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