Learn how Italian tile has been making homes around the world ‘belissimo’ for centuries

Learning Italian with tile

“Fare la differenza un piede quadrato alla volta.” That’s Italian for “Making a difference one square foot at a time,” the Tiles Unlimited mission statement.

The Italian influence on the ceramic tile industry is so strong that you’ll often hear Italian words and phrases used by professionals and tradespeople in the tile industry. Let’s take a trip to Italy to learn some words you’d hear in your everyday tile store!

A History Lesson

Basic ceramic tiles have been around for over 4,000 years, found in the ruins of Babylon and in ancient Egyptian pyramids. Early Italian tiles were colorful and hand-painted with patterns ranging from flora and fauna to religious motifs. They became widespread during the Renaissance and were used on many buildings including public spaces, churches, and private residences.

The Latest Trends in Fashion and Tile

Milan, Italy is one of the world’s fashion capitals, and Italy is also where tile trends are born. Italy is the leader in ceramic and porcelain tile production and innovation. While the US has its own annual flooring showcase called Coverings, Europe is always a step ahead of us with the trends shown at Cersaie International in Bologna, Italy.


Common Tile Terms- A Vocabulary Lesson

Battiscopa (Italian for bullnose) – Bullnose tiles are trim tiles created to accompany porcelain and ceramic field tiles. They have one rounded edge that creates a finished look for the edge of your tile installation. They’re typically 3″ – 4″ tall and the same length as their field tile.

Bianco (Italian for white) – A common color name for white and off white tiles, specifically porcelain tiles and some natural stones. Bianco Venatino translates as “white veined” and is a relatively popular marble quarried in Italy. It’s very similar to the popular Carrara marble, which comes specifically from Carrara, Italy. Italian color names are common enough that even a tile made in the USA, Argentina, or China could be called “bianco”.

Grigio (Italian for grey) – With gray tones growing in design popularity, “grigio” is becoming a more popular color. Typically used as a color name for porcelain tiles; rarely used as a color name for natural stone tiles.

Listello (Italian for border) – A listello is a pre-made border. Listellos can be a solid piece of ceramic with a pattern printed on the surface, or a mosaic of small stone tiles mounted on a mesh. Listellos are typically 2″ – 4″ tall and approximately 12″ wide, although some can be as small as 1″ tall or as wide as 6″.

Most listellos are used as accents in backsplashes or in showers and tub surrounds. If the listello is made of strong enough materials, it can even be used on floors as decorative transition pieces or to create faux-carpet patterns.


Matita (Italian for pencil molding) – A pencil molding is a long, thin molding that is rounded on one side like a pencil. They may be decorative, but are typically plain in style. They come in many materials, including marble and can be installed to create frames, such as around a fireplace.

Moldura (Italian for chair rail) – A chair rail, sometimes called a dado rail, is a type of molding fixed horizontally to the wall around the perimeter of a room.

Nero (Italian for black) – Expect to see this term often as black is a very popular color option.

Noce (Italian for walnut) – Noce is a very common tile color name worldwide; almost as common as “beige” or “white”. Noce is one of the most common colors of travertine, and several porcelain tiles designed to look like travertine have “noce” as one of their colors. If you walk into a tile store, you’re bound to encounter at least one “noce” tile.

Quartino (Italian for quarter round) – A popular molding for use between finished flooring and the finished base molding.

Other colors you may come across include rosso (red), verde (green), giallo (yellow) and azzuro (blue).

Tiles Unlimited, dual winner of the 2017 Best of the Boro competition (Best Tile Store & Best Kitchen & Bath Store), stands ready to help you navigate all the foreign terms and to help you put together the project of your dreams. Now is a great time to purchase tile with our Presidents’ Week 30% Off Sale in progress and running through Saturday 2/25.

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