Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Tetris with Tiles

“You should really put white tiles in the bathroom of your art studio,” friends said as I began to renovate a small dusty warehouse into a creative studio. “People love white tiles.”

And they’re right. Many people really do like white tiles: there’s something soothing and inherently clean about them. White tiles are inoffensive. They’re a blank slate, and match any bathroom accessories, from the outrageous to the mundane. Most of all, they appeal to the broadest possible numbers of potential buyers of the studio, someday far in the future when I sell it.

But I’m not interested in designing a place to suit ‘most people’.  Because, well, I’M not most people, nor are the artists who will stay here. And nor is the person who will buy this little house from me someday.

So I picked up a bag-full of vintage kitchen tiles from Rome and Palermo for my Sicilian studio, and found smaller new tiles to work as a borders and splashbacks for the sinks and shower. The cream-colored ones were inspired by the marble and stone curbs that line the streets of Cianciana.

Here’s my husband tiling what will soon be the shower. The two big blue-and-white tiles on the right are from Rome, and were handmade around the turn of the 20th century:

Tiling Shower

I tried all sort of combinations of blue-and-white tiles for the kitchen. It was like a giant Tetris game.

This arrangement looked rather boxed-in:

Tile Trial 5

and this one looked…too straight and narrow. It had something of the bachelor pad about it, very clean and conservative. Neither word could be used to describe me:

Sink Tile Trial 2

And this version looked wild and tame all at once, abandoned with restraint. It echoed the pattern within the tiles which were made for a kitchen in the 1930s or ’40s somewhere in southern Italy. So I chose this one, because it reminded me of…well, of me. Of my life going in many directions at once:

Sink Tile Trial 3

As we transferred tiles to cement, the patterns I’d laid onto the floor began to dissolve into abstract puzzle pieces, a fragile game of Tetris from floors to walls.

Tetris Tiles

Until they were all laid out in a row,

Sink Tiles

ready to be sealed and painted around and connected to domestic appliances and, someday soon, to be a place where creatives wash their paintbrushes and their dishes, and send their worries down the drain to be forgotten for awhile.

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