TILE IS NO longer confined to floors and counters. New sealants have inspired architects to sheathe entire buildings with it. In addition, there are glorious all-tile hearths and exquisite tile-encased kitchen and bathroom fixtures.
Each country developed its own art of tile-making. Ancient tile paintings of Egyptian gods, Moorish arabesques, Chinese courtiers and Japanese landscapes are still reproduced. So are Holland's traditional marines and pastorals in blue-and-white delft. Look for the sculptured cherubs and majolica fruits of Renaissance Italy, the ribboned nosegays of Medieval France, bold heraldic and Islamic motifs from Spain, vivid birds and beasts from Portugal, vibrant terra cottas from Mexico.
Tile murals depict caged parrots, pots overflowing with flowers, fairy-tale scenes and--for country kitchens--strings of fish, game and vegetables. Narrow border tiles form stunning friezes and create abstract designs in endless colors. Elegant lettered and numbered tiles identify names, addresses and everything else from herbs to powder rooms.
Thirties hexagonal, octagonal and chevron floor tiles in all colors are available with contrasting diamonds. Three-dimensionals range from Greek shapes and bright French bricks to Italian ribs, stripes and geometrics.