June 08 2011
In contrast to the clinical look of machine-made tiles, handmade, hand-glazed tiles boast infinitely nuanced variations of colour and texture. Playing with chance – from how loaded a paintbrush is with glaze to differences in firing techniques – ensures that each tile is unique. Designer Lubna Chowdhary, who is based in a light-filled studio in her garden in south London, is a virtuoso tile designer whose bespoke commissions (priced from £1,500 per sq m) are highly individual for capitalising on these nuances.
Laid out in rows, like cakes, in her studio, Chowdhary’s tiles come in a mouthwateringly rich spectrum of shades – inky midnight blues, zingy, incandescent shades such as molten-lava orange or cooler tones including fawn and shrimp pink. Muted matte and lusciously lustrous finishes are sometimes combined on the same tile. And tiles are either smooth or textured and mottled.
“I take my clients’ preferred colour palette into account and mix glazes to suit their requirements,” says Chowdhary, whose rather 1960s-retro aesthetic is inspired by cities and the built environment: “Clients visit my studio three or four times to view how the design is progressing. If they can’t, I update them by e-mailing them images of it at various stages.”
Chowdhary has created tiled panels for fashion designer Margaret Howell, who sold them in her shops in London and Japan, but many clients are private individuals: “I once designed tiles for the kitchen of a food writer’s house in Italy. I used colours evocative of the local area’s food and landscape: its olive oil, lemons, stones, sky…”
Arranged in grids, her tiles often feature semicircles that join to form circles, or triangles that abut to create diamond patterns. But within these grids, the tiles can be reconfigured almost endlessly. “My designs are very flexible,” says Chowdhary. “My clients and I keep adjusting the work until everyone is happy.”