Learning Italian with Tile

The Italian influence on the tile industry is so strong that you'll often hear Italian words and phrases used by professionals and tradespeople in the tile industry.


Let's take a trip to Italy to learn some words you'd hear in your everyday tile store!

A History Lesson

The Colosseum in Rome is made of travertine
Several ancient Roman buildings, including the Colosseum, are made of travertine, a natural stone still used in tile installations today!

Basic ceramic/clay-based tiles have been around for over 4000 years, found in the ruins of Babylon and in ancient Egyptian pyramids.


While ceramic (clay-based) tiles from the Middle East had made their way to the late Roman empire, common use of tile in Italy didn't take off until the Middle Ages.

Early Italian tiles were colorful and hand-painted with patterns ranging from flora and fauna to religious motifs. They became widespread during the Renaissance and were used on many buildings including public spaces, churches, and private residences. 

The Latest Trends in Fashion and Tile

A grey, black, and white hexagon pattern made of tiles
Italian tile manufacturer Mirage at Cersaie International

Milan, Italy, is one of the world's fashion capitals, and Italy is also where tile trends are born. Italy is the leader in ceramic and porcelain tile production and innovation.


While the US has its own annual flooring showcase called Coverings, Europe is always a step ahead of us with the trends shown at Cersaie International in Bologna, Italy. 


Recent trends from Italy include 3D tiles, wood-look porcelain tiles, and extra large format porcelain tiles. 

A Vocabulary Lesson: Common Tile Terms

BATTISCOPA (BAT-is-SCOPE-uh) Italian term for bullnose trim tiles

Bullnose tiles are trim tiles created to accompany porcelain and ceramic field tiles. They have one rounded edge that creates a finished look for the edge of your tile installation. They're typically 3" - 4" tall and the same length as their field tile.

Most Italian-made porcelain tiles will have a battiscopa available. 

BIANCO (bee-AHN-ko) Italian for "white"

Bianco Venatino or Carrara Marble Bathroom, shower, and floor tiles. Black and white mosaics with a white pedestal sink and a white claw foot tub.

A common color name for white and off white tiles, specifically porcelain tiles and some natural stones. 


Bianco Venatino translates as "White Veined" and is a relatively popular marble quarried in Italy. It's very similar to the popular Carrara marble, which comes specifically from Carrara, Italy. 

Italian color names are common enough that even a tile made in the USA, Argentina, or China could be called "bianco".

GRIGIO (GREE-zhi-o) Italian for "gray"

Grey porcelain floor tile designed to look like stone. In stock in Kent, Washington

With gray tones growing in design popularity, "grigio" is becoming a more popular color. 


Used as a color name for porcelain tiles; rarely used as a color name for natural stone tiles.

LAPPATO (la-PAHT-o) a Semi-Polished finish

Gray bubble tiles and grey lappato semi polished tiles

Not a 100% matte finish, not a 100% polished finish, and not a 100% textured finish; a lappato finish is what happens when you take a tile with a little texture on its surface and polish or hone the top of the texture without polishing all of the texture away. 

A semi-polished finish like the one shown here has more depth and less glare than a fully polished, mirror-like surface.

LISTELLO (lis-TEL-o) Italian for "border"

Black and gold vine patterned border tile
This black and gold floral listello could dress up a backsplash, shower, or fireplace surround.

A listello is a pre-made border. Listellos can be a solid piece of ceramic with a pattern printed on the surface, or a mosaic of small stone tiles mounted on a mesh. 


Listellos are usually 3" - 4" tall and appx. 12" wide, although some can be as small as 1" tall or as big as 6" tall.


Most listellos are used as accents in backsplashes or in showers and tub surrounds. If the listello is made of strong enough materials, it can even be used on floors as decorative transition pieces or to create faux-carpet patterns.

MONOCOTTURA (mon-O-cot-TYUR-a) Roughly translates as "cooked once"

Refers to ceramic tiles that are only fired once during their production process. Both the clay and the glaze are "cooked" in one step, compared with other tiles where the clay is fired, and then the glaze is fired in a separate process later.

Since it's only fired once, the production costs are lower, leading to a less expensive tile.

NOCE (no-CHAY) Italian for "walnut"

Brown noce travertine and porcelain tiles
Noce travertine baseboard, noce travertine floor tiles, and a listello made of noce and ivory travertine framing World Travertine Noce porcelain tiles.

Noce is a very common tile color name worldwide; almost as common as "beige" or "white". Noce is one of the most common colors of travertine, and several porcelain tiles designed to look like travertine have "noce" as one of their colors.


Our World Travertine Noce porcelain tiles (produced in Argentina) are currently 20%-30% off as part of our inventory clearance sale. 


If you walk into a tile store, you're bound to encounter at least one "noce" tile.

A Trip to Italy

Natural stone mural featuring landscape in Tuscany
Tuscan Landscape mural

The next time you want to add some Italian spice to your life but can't make it to Italy, why not stop by your local tile store? 

Whether you want a Tuscan-inspired mural or some trendy Italian-made tiles for your bathroom, there are hundreds of ways to introduce an Italian touch to your next tile project.

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