Cornwall LivingIssue #82
The magic of alchemy
We catch up with Mel Chambers at Alchemy Tiles and discover some of the secrets behind her expert tile inlay techniques.
After meeting Mel Chambers at Alchemy Tiles a few years back, we revisit this vast and ancient technique as it takes on a whole new role in her repertoire.
Since moving to her new Studio in Mawnan Smith, the space has allowed Mel to develop the technique further and she has gone on to specialise in interior work with kitchens, bathrooms and fireplaces – or just about anywhere that there’s a surface to decorate!
“The real magic, however, is in the carving, which is all done freehand.”
With her skillset as a talented draughtswoman she has the ability to create bespoke and unique pieces for any space, shape or home. This includes everything from unique back splashes to exquisitely detailed fireplace surrounds. Mel works closely with each client to establish what kind of images and words resonate and have meaning for them, as well as ensuring it fits with the surrounding décor. The real magic, however, is in the carving, which is all done freehand.
Rather than painting the tiles Mel uses the ancient inlay (or ‘encaustic’, as it’s technically known) technique, each piece is carved free hand into the wet clay before being filled in with coloured slip (running clay with oxides and stains added). Not to mention that all the colours are her own unique recipes, which she has developed over her career, continuously bringing new colour ranges out each year.
Once the inlaid clay has dried, the top layer is scraped back, revealing the design underneath. After a long drying process the tiles are then glazed with a clear crackle glaze and fired raw (only once) very slowly. When all the tiles are removed from the kiln, a stain is washed over the tile to highlight the unique crackle effect of the glaze.
The whole process can take from four to eight weeks depending on the design and because the colour is actually fired earth, embedded into the tile, the colours will never fade or lose their vibrancy. Indeed, archaeologists are still uncovering ancient floors today that are thousands of years old and still as beautiful as the day they were laid.
What makes these creations so special is that because of the way they are made, using raw organic materials, no design can ever be replicated – making each piece a bespoke unique creation, held eternally in earth and time.
Mel’s work has gone from strength to strength and is now in homes across the globe, even as far as America and Australia.
"The real magic, however, is in the carving, which is all done freehand."