Decorative cement tiles, some by Singaporean designers, gain a following

Over 100 designs on offer at tile shop, some the work of S'porean designers

An Huat Trading director Lau Sze Siong (left) with Mr Mike Tay, designer of some of the tiles in the shop.
An Huat Trading director Lau Sze Siong (left) with Mr Mike Tay, designer of some of the tiles in the shop. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Customers walking into Mr Lau Sze Siong's tile shop in Zion Road will be greeted by not only the traditional floral designs seen on the floors of many old shophouses in Singapore, but also modern geometric patterns, some of which are the work of Singaporean tile designers.

Four years ago, the 45-year-old director of An Huat Trading, which was established in 1975, had but four different designs of the decorative cement tiles. Today, he has more than a hundred designs on offer, a result of his own love for ceramic beauties.

"I liked them myself so I brought them in... If you're daring enough to venture into this, the outcome will be different," said Mr Lau.

Sales of these tiles at his shop have increased significantly over the last four years, said Mr Lau, although he declined to reveal by how much, citing business sensitivities. But he let on that the shipment from his partner factory in Vietnam stands at about 25 tonnes of tiles a month.

He attributes part of the success to people posting photos of his tiles online and getting their friends interested. The company has both a Facebook page and an Instagram account.

Its tiles have been installed in places like Hong Kong and the United States. Back home, they can be found in numerous eateries and department stores, such as Hard Rock Cafe and Robinsons.

The tiles cost an average of $4.50 apiece, with a minimum order of 30 sq m for a newly created design for which moulds have to be made.

Mr Lau said his tiles are environmentally friendly too, being finished using an energy-efficient hot press - essentially a very hot iron - instead of firing in a traditional kiln.

His shop now supports Singaporean designer Mike Tay, 46, who launched a set of tile designs called My Home last year. When pieced together, they resemble three-dimensional repeating structures in the facades of Housing Board apartment blocks.

Mr Tay, founder of local design studio Onlewo, was inspired by his own early years living in Block 1, Cantonment Road, which has been demolished. In its place now stands the next-generation The Pinnacle@Duxton.

Mr Tay gets a share of An Huat's revenue from the tiles, which are sold at a small premium over other designs. He is already working on his next design slated for release next month, inspired by Singapore's greenery which has given it the reputation of a Garden City.

Housewife Cheryl Spencer Teo, 42, had her own design ideas for different parts of her family's recently renovated semi-detached house near the Botanic Gardens, and found in Mr Lau a person willing to experiment. Every one of the six toilets in the house has a different theme, for example.

"Unlike carpentry, which you can change relatively easily, tiling is something in which you must invest correctly from Day One. It would be very troublesome to rip them up later," said Mrs Teo.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline Decorative cement tiles, some by Singaporean designers, gain a following. Subscribe