From the Floor Up

Lessons in Mosaic Tile: San Francisco’s Hidden Garden Steps

Posted by Daltile Team on Jul 3, 2015 6:00:00 AM

 Avondale in Castle Rock 10 x 12 and 2 x 4 mosaic in brick joint

In the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood in San Francisco, there is a whimsical staircase on 16th Avenue between Kirkham Street and Lawton Street. One would almost expect to be transported into some magical secret garden when taking the stairs—and for 148 steps, that’s exactly what they do.

Local artists, Colette Crutcher and Aileen Barr were asked to help revitalize the graffiti and litter-ridden area and make it a focal point of the neighborhood. The stairs are covered in 450 square feet of tile mosaic including representations of native flora and fauna in bright colors. The hillside is crawling with succulents and other drought-resistant plants. A local school, Woodside International School, coordinated a painted mural and bench at the foot of Hidden_Garden_SFthe staircase to complete the cooperative effort.
The grandeur of the staircase is the full view. Taken in from the bottom, you’ll see a continuous mural of tile artistry. A butterfly fluttering among the flowers takes up steps 103–125. Further down on the staircase, a bright blue and orange salamander spans steps 37–46. There are so many hidden treasures, each step is worthy of closer inspection.
Most of the tile on the staircase is irregularly shaped. The artists mostly used leftover handmade ceramic tiles from their supplies or custom-made pieces as needed. The project took about five years from fundraising to completion. About a year was spent working on the staircase.

Mosaic Tile and You

Mosaic tile is versatile and can give your home an incredible upgrade, just like the once rundown hidden staircase in San Francisco. Here are a few lessons we learned about mosaic tile from studying the Hidden Garden Steps.

Lesson 1 Mosaic Tile Can Go Just about Anywhere

If tile can turn a rundown staircase into a work of art, even a simple mosaic can change your home. Mosaic tile has nearly limitless applications. It can go just about anywhere you want to take it:

  • Tub surrounds
  • Shower
  • Floors
  • Backsplash
  • Walls
  • Fireplace
  • Pools (liners and decks)
  • Fences
  • Outdoor seating, planters, etc.

You name it; you can probably put tile mosaics on it. Be sure to consult all manufacturer guidelines for tile applications before you make any final decisions. Some tiles are not rated for floors, harsh climates, or extreme temperatures.

Lesson 2 Materials for Mosaic Tile are Expanding

Glazed ceramic is the traditional material for mosaic but there are lots of other options.

  • Natural stone: limestone, marble, slate, and granite
  • Glass in tumbled , iridescent, and polished finishes
  • Metallic finishes: stainless, copper, brass

The use of different materials can take your design up a notch. 

Lesson 3 Patterns and Design are Limitless

As you can see in the Hidden Steps, mosaic lets you achieve any design in any color scheme. Many mosaics for the home come on mesh 12 x 12 blocks for simpler installation. However, individual tiles afford you huge flexibility and customization. In fact, you can design your own custom mosaic. Use Daltile’s mosaic designer to build your materials, color scheme, textures, and patterns from the ground up. The sky’s the limit when it comes to mosaic designs.

Urban Metals in Bronze 1 x 2 brick joint moasic trimmed in Ellipse 3/4 x 12 wall liner

Lesson 4 Mosaic isn’t Just 1 x 1 Squares

Mosaic traditions are strong and classic designs in 1 x 1 squares or hexagons will never go out of style. But consider some other shapes and sizes for your design:

  • Rectangles
  • Triangles
  • Rhombus
  • Ovals
  • Penny rounds
  • Diamond (harlequin)
  • Baroque

Tiger Eye mosaic

Lesson 5 Mosaic Can Create a Focal Point

Just as the Hidden Steps have become a center place of the neighborhood, your home’s mosaic can define your space functionally and design-wise. A herringbone or chevron pattern on the floor can subtly direct traffic. Linear pencil tile mosaic on the wall can enlarge a room. And colorful penny rounds on a bathroom backsplash can demand the attention of onlookers over the other elements of the room.

Enjoy the high style of mosaic tile in your own home and give it the upgrade it deserves.


Topics: Mosaic

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