When you hear the word, terracotta, do you think chunky pots or the colour? Most likely the former, yet recently, it’s been tipped as a potential colour of the year by the American paint company Valspar, who described it as, “a security blanket for our homes”, while others, including myself, put our votes firmly behind the blue to green end of the spectrum. Despite this, I feel it’s true that we might see something of a resurgence of this colour in the home beyond plant pots and old-style floor tiles.
That said, any image of a patio or balcony replete with terracotta planters and trailing greenery has me seduced. It instantly connotes the Mediterranean, all heat and the hazy, lazy sound of cicadas; shots of worn’n’wobbly teracotta-tiled floors have me picturing the rambling rural farmhouse I dream about retreating to one day. But, maybe what is really striking a chord, is the sense that both of these looks are ridiculously easy, and relatively inexpensive, to recreate at home, instantly lending a touch of the continental or countryside wherever you might be; albeit the pots will probably be planted with geraniums rather than fragrant bourganvillea.
On another level, I think we’re drawn to terracotta because as a material it has such an inherent warmth and honesty to it. Combined with a rather joyful brightness — one that’s not as strident and shouty as either red or orange, but with more imbued vitality than burnt umber or any other shade of brown — it occupies a lovely middle ground between look-at-me-jolly and cosy comfort. And it speaks of the utilitarian simplicity of bricks. By which I mean, terracotta entrusts a space with a language that is beyond style, it’s a non-statement sort of statement: for floors, pots and products, terracotta just is. As our regular colour columnist, and author, Kassia St Clair, puts it, “terracotta, literally translating as ‘baked earth’ is a generally unglazed porous ceramic so humdrum and established that it has long since lent its name to the colour it turns after firing.”
But, slap it unadorned across your walls and suddenly you’re saying something quite different. As a flat paint finish it’s quite unusual. Last year the colour saw fame as one of the fashion world’s catwalk trend picks for the season, but it wasn’t a shade everyone could wear. Great for those with tanned or olive skin tones, a lot less flattering for those of paler complexion, too over-whelming. And therein lies the lesson for our Northern hemisphere homes.
You see, in my humble opinion, clusters of terracotta planters complete an already sunny patio, because the flowers will naturally bloom and the imagineering of even warmer climes is easily possible, the pots are simply another visual nod in the right direction. Likewise, the most common use of terracotta floor tiles is in kitchens and hallways; warm, homely, and easy to clean… in these busiest of spaces, they make sense.
However, I recommend caution elsewhere. In a room with plenty of bright, natural, south-facing daylight, then a judicious use of this fulsome hue might pleasingly exaggerate and complement. It could be used to flank a fireplace, or perhaps for the wall behind your hob, hearth or oven, all places that already reference heat. After all it can be balanced with grey, or softened with powder pink. In rooms with a colder light though, I think it feels at odds, whatever you might try. Underfoot as rugs, yes; on the walls, much harder to get right, whatever Valspar might say. Alternatively, I’ve seen great examples of terracotta used to make wonderfully contemporary lights, both pendant and table versions (it’s that intrinsic warmth thing again). Likewise when upgraded with clean lines and contrasting finishes, it’s perfect for modern cookware, pots and crocks. Terracotta, definitely back on the trend map, just don’t get too carried away!