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Chameleon-like charisma

Tiles made of cement, such a commonplace material, are shot through with personality. Vivid patterns that can look traditional or exotic are gaining in popularity because of their versatility.

March 30, 2006|Craig Nakano | Times Staff Writer

Those practicalities are important, but for Tisa Adamson, co-owner of the family-run Mission Tile West in South Pasadena and Santa Monica, the appeal is largely nostalgia. She fondly remembers her grandparents' 11-bedroom house in Nogales, Mexico, and its abundant cement tile on the floor, on the bathroom walls and as wainscoting in the hallway.

"I've always had a passion for it," says Adamson, whose South Pasadena store recently opened a kitchen and bathroom extension that includes three types of cement tile installed on the showroom floor. "It becomes part of your self-conscious."

She says clients who live in inland areas such as Pasadena like the tiles because in the heat of summer, they feel cool underfoot. Others use the tile like a rug, a decorative accent surrounded by less-expensive terra cotta.

"A lot of times people will see a tile and not know it's concrete," says Budd Newcomb, spokesman for the Concrete Tile Manufacturers Assn. Indeed, preservationists who remember the vibrant lobby floor inside the Julia Morgan-designed Herald Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles may not have realized that the tile was cement, not ceramic. Ditto the mod tile recently installed at the Spider nightclub in Hollywood.

The San Diego showroom of Classic Tile & Mosaic recently installed Granada's $18 tiles in a 5-foot-wide strip from the front door to the rear of the store and up a wall. Manager Victoria Horn says the response was immediate.

"Even though it's concrete, it feels very warm. It's quite inviting," she says. Some people choose it so their renovations are historically correct, she says. And others? "Some people just think it's cool."

Craig Nakano can be reached at

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