Photo by K. Emily BondA friend came to visit us here in Seville a couple of weeks ago and was looking for the perfect gift to take back to her loved ones. “I have no idea,” I helpfully suggested.
It was really hot that day.
“Let’s get a cerveza and think about it.”
On the way, we stopped by a beautiful plaza I absolutely had to show her when, lo and behold, it occurred to me: tiles!
Tiles, or azulejos, are as ubiquitous on the Iberian Peninsula as 40°C (104°F) days are in summertime.
Like azotea, the word azulejo is derived from Arabic, in this case al-zulaij meaning ornamental tile. While the most exemplary tile work in Andalucía can be found at the Alhambra, which dates back to the first half of the 14th century, nowadays Triana is where you will find the most world-renowned workshops that craft tiles for building facades, churches, bars, patios, and fountains.
On a more intimate level, though, smaller and simpler geometric patterns -- best purchased in multiples of two or four for a complete set -- make great coasters, serving platters, and all other manner of inventive conversation pieces en casa.
For example, custom-fit a frame around a pattern of eight and use it for serving appetizers or drinks. Sixteen, and you’ve got a trivet big enough for casserole. My friend settled on a set of four for her mother who, if memory serves, is rather obsessed with making sure everyone uses a coaster.
That reminds me, I should remind her to line the individual tiles with felt, cork, or adhesive rubber dots before gifting to avoid any controversial scratches.
If you happen to be, I don’t know, busy this summer and can’t make it to Spain to visit the tiendas de azulejos and workshops, might I suggest a visit to the tile and stone department of Home Depot. It’s not quite the same, but neither is H&M. The aim of the DIY tile is, above all else, style.