One of the last companies on Mallorca to do so, Huguet still produces decorative cement tiles by hand. Nowadays renowned designers and architects provide the templates with different motifs.
Cement. This word is associated with grey concrete dams, squeaky concrete mixers, and dusty construction sites. Or let´s put it differently: Hardly anyone would associate the material cement with decorative handicraft and vanguard designs. Only if you take the time to visit the tile factory Huguet in Campos.
There, ornamental and lovingly handcrafted cement tiles and fittings for walls, floors, bathrooms, and kitchens have been produced since 1930. They are called ‘baldosas hidráulicas’ in Spanish. This name goes back to the hydraulic-moulding technique, which made its invention in the 19th century in France possible. Later they became particularly popular in Portugal and Spain.
The manufacturing process is complex and fascinating at the same time: each tile is created by hand and with three layers. The top layer presents the colour and the design. The middle layer consists of grout mixed with fine sand and Portland cement which provides the stability. The bottom layer is a porous mixture which guarantees a certain resistance to impact. The desired motif for the tiles is made prior to the slip-casting as a metal mould which separates the different colour gamuts. The metal gamut has to be fitted into a frame. Then each part of the mould is filled with a paste-like mixture of marble dust, rock granulate and colorants. By removing the metal moulds the typical, soft transitions between the different ornaments appear. The dyed top layer of the tile is quickly covered with almost-dried grout. In the following the cement tile is pressed hydraulically under high pressure. To dry and harden the cement the tiles have to be stored for several weeks. Only then they are ready to use.
Up until way into the sixties, cement tiles were used in Mallorca for construction and decorative purposes in private homes and public buildings. “With the increasing tourism, the construction of more and more hotels, and the resulting demand for cheaper building materials, cement tiles were more and more forgotten,” says Manena Huguet who, among other tasks, is responsible for the marketing in the family-run enterprise. For most of the traditional tile factories on the island the advancing industrialisation of the regional building industry meant their end. The Huguet company also had to change their production process radically in order to stay in the business of building materials.
In 1997 Manena’s brother, Biel Huguet, took over the management of the company. With the help of the one and only remaining tile master of the island, he resumed the traditional manual production of the ‘baldosas hidráulicas’ again. However, the Mallorcan company Huguet now mainly opts for – next to the classical Art Nouveau patterns – contemporary, geometrical forms, and modern designs. “Nowadays we work with international, renowned designers and architectural offices, who provide us with the templates for the tile motifs,” explains Manena Huguet. Among these are the designer Sybilla who lives in Spain and is represented with her own tile collection in the comprehensive catalogue of the Huguet enterprise, as well as the prestigious Swiss architectural office Herzog & de Meuron.
The result of this joining of traditional handicraft and modern designs is now internationally recognised. Today, you can find the cement tiles and bathroom fittings produced on Mallorca by the Huguet company all over the globe – whether in trendy designer restaurants like Jaleo´s in Washington, or in classical hotel lounges in New Zealand. At the beginning of the year the Catalan architectural office Barozzi & Veiga received the ‘Mies van der Rohe Award’ (the most important European prize for architecture) for the construction of the purely white and futuristic concert hall for the philharmonic orchestra in the Polish city Szczecin. The Huguet company played a big part in this success as they provided 44,000 pentagonal tiles which decorated the entire floor of the concert hall. The building’s futuristic wash basins and the long reception desk were also built by Huguet.
Besides international architects, property owners and builders from Germany, England, Switzerland, and the rest of Europe have also acquired a liking for the high-quality, robust wall and floor coverings made on Mallorca. “Each tile is unique. The silky soft surfaces are not only nice to look at but also guarantee robustness und durability,“ Manena Huguet says. “And the design possibilities are as varied as their potential owners.”
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