Famous Portuguese Tile: The Wonders of the Lisbon Tile Museum

You can barely get through Instagram without scrolling past a footsie on patterned tiles. Follow a number of design and travel grammers, and these footsies will happen to you. Boldly patterned tiles are trending. People are noticing them enough to photograph them. People are making even bigger commitments to these tiles. They’re putting bold patterns on their bathroom floors:

Trend Bold Tiles on Bathroom Floors

And on kitchen backsplashes:

Patterned Tile Kitchen Backsplashes

I’m in the camp of people who worry about resale value, to be honest. Lately I’ve been “beige-ing” my house, so there won’t be anything offensive to future open house visitors. But I still love a good strong bold pattern (just like I like my coffee). Moroccan tile. Turkish tile. Tile in Iran. So patterned, so colorful, so beautiful! Last year my flights to and from Marrakech were routed through Lisbon, Portugal. I had an overnight in Lisbon. (I recommend scheduling an overnight in a city while traveling — your flight could be cheaper and you get a taste of an additional place, if only for a day!) Lisbon is famous for its tiled facades. While searching for something to do in Lisbon, I discovered Portugal’s National Tile Museum (aka the Museu Nacional do Azulejo). Here are Portuguese mosaics you will see there:

Lisbon National Tile Museum

Portugal National Tile Museum

Pattern Play of Tile and Script in Lisbon Portugal

Tile is not as easy to make as you might think it is. You may think you take a slab of clay and just cut it in squares and just put some color on it, right? Oh no. Many years ago I took a tile-making class at the Ann Arbor Art Center, taught by Nawal Motawi of the famed Motawi Tileworks. (And, crap, I really miss living in Ann Arbor with easy access to things like that!) We learned the factors can make a tile go very wrong, very warped. And how to make things go right. You might have an idea in your mind of the color you want, but the tile can have a mind of its own when fired in the kiln. The glaze — the stuff that colors the tile — can do predictable things or weird things. Knowing the skill from start to finish of making tile made me appreciate Portugal’s National Tile Museum.

First, the setting of the museum. It makes your jaw drop in awe! It’s in an old crumbling convent attached to a church. The slight crumbliness meshes beautifully with the old tiles, as some tiles are chipped and marred just like the building:

Faucets in Portugal's National Tile Museum

Lisbon Tile Museum

Here are photos snapped as I strolled through the museum …

Lisbon National Tile Museum

You get glimpses of the tile mosaics across courtyards and through columns:

The National Tile Museum in Lisbon Portugal

Not all tiles are only geometric. Some showed interesting scenes. This is a tile mural called The Leopard Hunt, made in the 1660s:

The Leopard Hunt Tile Mural at Portugal National Tile Museum

The leopards look really worried, as they should. It’s just tile, but the feeling feels real:

The Leopard Hunt Tile Mural

Portuguese Tile Mural The Leopard Hunt

Ugh. It’s like they’re saying, go vegetarian, people! And light a fire for warmth, don’t steal my fur pelt!

This next mural was my favorite, also from the 1660s. “The Chicken’s Wedding.” Whaaat? I know. I don’t know!

The Chickens Wedding Tile Mural

Portuguese Tile Mural The Chickens Wedding

Okay, what is happening here?!? I had fun checking out every detail of this chicken wedding mural:

Fun at The Chicken Wedding

The Chicken Wedding Mural at National Tile Museum Lisbon

The chicken looks not too sure. Everyone else is having a good time. The only thing I know for certain about this story is, that mural was huge and it didn’t fit in one photo.

This gives you an idea of scale of some murals:

Lisbon Tile Museum

And here’s an idea of the realistic detail:

Tile Mural at the National Tile Museum Lisbon

I loved the designs on these modern day tiles by ceramics artist Cristina Bolborea. The description really resonated with me — they’re evocative of a journey of a traveler and his impressions of far off fairs and their products, with layers of carpets and fabrics, and Islamic influences. Perhaps elements that are the only survivors of a temple forgotten today:

Gallery at Lisbon National Tile Museum

Gallery at the Lisbon National Tile Museum

Cristina Bolborea Tile at Lisbon National Tile Museum

Cristina Bolborea Tile

I had just left Marrakech, so these tiles reminded me of the shapes, patterns, cabinets, and carpets I had just seen there.

Here are some contemporary tiles made in the 1980s, still working with blue:

Contemporary Tile at National Tile Museum Lisbon

Look right or look left, and you see this setting around the tile galleries. I loved this old/new contrast:

National Tile Museum Lisbon

How do I remember details more than a year after taking these photos?

a traveler’s photography tip:

When there are signs, first take a picture of the sign, then a picture of the art or tourist attraction. This way, you will always have all the information. It may be too small to read on your phone or camera, but you’ll be able to read it on a computer screen.

Photography Tip for Travelers

After enjoying the tiles, stop in the museum’s cafe for a jolt of Portuguese coffee. The best! I’m Googling today for more Portuguese coffee — we happened to buy Nicola coffee at HomeGoods of all places and we need more, more, more. So strong, so good. This coffee from a Lisbon cafe is what made me remember the Lisbon tiles, and that I hadn’t shared them here yet. Also enjoy museum cafe specialties like Codfish au Gratin with Pine Seeds and Raisins, maybe with a glass of Rioja, while viewing tiles that were once in a palace kitchen. So there, maybe putting these tiles in a kitchen is timeless despite our trends!

TripAdvisor has lots of traveler reviews of Lisbon’s National Tile Museum.

I walked there from the Baixa tourist area of Lisbon, but it was a long walk and I got off track and lost numerous times despite having a map that seemed clear. Usually I’m very good with directions; seriously this was the first time in life I got lost so much and I’m … uh, I’m not going to say how old I am but it’s a lot more years than you think because my profile photo is 10 years old. The older that photo gets, the more reluctant I am to change it! I was even able to navigate the Marrakech medina alone. But a seeming straight road in Lisbon really threw me. I was walking by myself and wondered a few times if I was making a big mistake that I’d be sorry for. And I’d call myself an “aware traveler” not a “worrying traveler.” It was a relief to finally see “azulejo” on a sign. You will be looking for this:

Lisbon National Tile Museum

On the way back, I stopped at the nearby train station (I think it’s the Santa Apolonia stop) and took the train back to the big square near the Baixa area. People will tell you that you can walk, but take a taxi or the train.



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DIY: Framed Fortuny Fabrics

Fortuny fabric is luxurious patterned art. And it is priced accordingly. But did you know, you can still have some of it for an affordable price? You can even have a collection of it to frame as wall art!

Bolt of Fortuny Fabric

Source: Fortuny Venezia on Instagram

You don’t have to be fortunate to have a fortune to spend on Fortuny. Just don’t buy a whole bolt like this.


Instead, search eBay for “Fortuny remnants” and you’ll find shops selling small sample pieces of Fortuny fabrics. A Fortuny fabric remnant sized 8.5 x 11 inches is about $20 if no one bids against you.

I have purchased Fortuny fabric remnants from “rrrca1” eBay store and Caravan of Textiles eBay store (what a great supplier for a Nomadic Decorator, huh!?). Both stores sell smaller pieces of expensive designer fabrics. This makes it affordable to use luxury fabrics for small projects. You can make pillows. You can cover journals and books. You can frame the fabrics, or even cover wide frames with the fabrics. You can make little handbags.

The hard part is choosing the fabrics. Which ones? There are so many patterns and colors! For my DIY framed collection, I narrowed the choices by looking for the “tribal” inspired patterns in neutral and metallic colors. The Fortuny designs I used are called Ashanti, Cuzco, Maori and Peruviano.

Four Framed Fortuny Fabrics

Here’s a sample of Fortuny patterns and colors you can find on eBay …

From the Caravan of Textiles store:

Fortuny Remnants from Caravan of Textiles

And more colors:

Fortuny Fabric Patterns Remnants from Caravan of Textiles eBay Store

The other eBay store that I’ve found consistently has Fortuny remnants is rrrca1:

Fortuny Fabric Remnants from eBay Store rrrca1

Fortuny Fabric Remnant Patterns from eBay Store rrrca1

So, I’d say to choose a few colors you like, and a pattern style you like — geometric? floral? swirly? — and watch for Fortuny fabrics that fit those. And if you are putting a collection of different fabrics together, obviously you want them all to look good together. Without some limits, it’s so hard to choose.

If you’re like these patterns and want to learn more about Fortuny, check out a good story about Mariano Fortuny and the company he founded, at Kristen Laird Design blog.


For inexpensive “art” I don’t pay for custom frames. Ready-made frames are just fine. The frames I used are from Michael’s. They are this frame in “rustic gold” color:

Framing Fortuny Fabrics

If you need many frames for a collection, the frames can actually cost more than the fabric! Here are some money-saving tips:

  • If you want to buy these frames online, sign up for Michael’s coupons.
  • If you buy frames in the store, there are often “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” or 50% Off sales on frames, and that’s how I got these four.
  • You can also use the Michael’s shopping app on your smartphone. You can find coupons in the app. Pull out your phone at the cashier, open the app and they’ll scan the coupon.

Fortuny fabric remnants are usually 8.5 x 11 inches, so look for frames with a slightly smaller opening in the mat. A frame for a photo sized 8 x 10 inches is perfect, and this is a common size in frames.

Framing Fortuny Fabric Remnants


It’s ridiculously easy to make a framed collection of Fortuny fabrics.

Fabric Collection Framing Steps

If you’re using a ready-made frame:

  1. Open the backing
  2. Remove the product marketing fillers
  3. Pop the fabric into the frame (add a small piece of tape if you feel a need to secure it, but I did not do this, the frame pieces fit tightly enough to hold the fabric in place)
  4. Close up the backing

You are done! Instant textile art collection! Isn’t that short tutorial kind of anticlimactic? But really, it is that easy. As I said above, the hardest part might be choosing the fabrics!

How to Frame a Fortuny Fabric Remnant Collection

Fortuny Fabric Wall Art Collection

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of compensation at no cost to you if you purchase after clicking the link. I post affiliate links when I have purchased from the company or used the product, and I can confidently share the company or product. For more info, see  Disclosures & Policies.


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A Trip to Sulawesi: Toraja Patterns

This uniquely patterned wood headboard found on Pinterest yesterday reminded me of an “online trip” I took to Sulawesi a few years ago, to the villages and homes of the Toraja people. It’s not just coffee that comes from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. There is pattern and design too. You should see. You must see! So come, let’s go to Sulawesi …

Patterned Wood Headboard via Christina Watkinson

First, see the houses these panels come from:

Toraja Houses

You can see the headboard up above has the remains of these colorful patterns:

Toraja Patterned House via Indonesia Traveler

Toraja House Patterns via Incito Tour Flickr

Here is a view of the arching architecture of these homes, surrounded by rice paddies:

Toraja Village in Sulawesi photo by Peter Connolly

The house style is called tongkonan, the Toraja tribe’s traditional house. The height and ornamentation communicate the owner’s social status.

Toraja Home

Here you can see how deeply carved the patterns can be. Sometimes the paint colors fade, but the carvings hold the pattern forever:

Carved Toraja House Shutter

What’s interesting to me is how other societies will take the decorative pieces of these homes and display them as a sign of wealth and the owner’s social status. That’s not a conscious move — “I’m gonna use a Toraja panel as a headboard to show you how well my investments have done! Hear my mighty wealthy roar!” — sounds pretty silly! But it takes being in a certain circle, usually involving a well-traveled interior designer, to even know these things exist. They wind up in settings like this and published in Elle Decor:

Toraja House Panel

You don’t find Toraja style knock-offs at Target. And it costs to source and ship these things around the world.

This is part of a huge 8-foot architectural panel on 1stdibs priced at $11,200:

Toraja Panel at 1stdibs

The dealer explains that the auspicious patterns carved into this panel include the Pa’tangke lumu or “moss branch” motif with five stylized buffalo heads. The ornamentation was meant to drive away evil influences. But the buffalo is also a symbol of wealth and prosperity. When funerals are held, families sacrifice buffalo and keep the horns. Wealthier families can sacrifice more buffalo. So houses that have more buffalo horns displayed on them are a sign of higher status and wealth.

This painting by French painter and sculptor Emmanual Michel captures a Toraja woman:

Femme Toraja by Emmanual Michel

The patterns they carve and draw have meanings. As with many cultures, they wish for fertility, good fortune and happiness and harmony for family.

Remnants of these panels can be turned into mirrors:

Toraja Panel Mirror

Mounted for tabletop display:

Toraja Panel Remnant at Andrianna Shamaris

Crafted into tables:

Toraja Panel as a Table

Framed as wall art:

Toraja Panel Framed at Andrianna Shamaris

I hope you enjoyed this trip to another world of patterns!

Sources: 1. Christina Watkinson, 2. Ronrada at TrekEarth, 3. Indonesia Traveler, 4. Incito Tour, Flickr, 5. Peter Connolly, Flickr, 6. Jakarta Post Travel, 7. Unknown, 8. Elle Decor, 9. 1stdibs, 10. Emmanual Michel, 11. One Kings Lane, 12. Andrianna Shamaris, 13. Jenny Bigio, 14. Andrianna Shamaris


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Today’s Home Decor Textile Trends in Scrapbook Paper

I’ve been working on a super-big super-secret project with scrapbook paper. (It’s a great way to add pattern and color to wall art, home decor, picture frames, etc. – see my scrapbook paper DIYs and Pinterest board for ideas!) While researching scrapbook paper patterns, I realized many of today’s textile trends can be found in these papers.

So with some Mod Podge and a few minutes of time, you could turn picture frames, trays, coasters, book covers, so many objects into trendy textile patterns!

Etsy is a great place to find digital scrapbook papers with coordinating colors and patterns …


This is a different color than you usually see for ikat. A pretty in pink ikat scrapbook paper pack from VNdigitalart Etsy shop:

Ikat Scrapbook Paper Pack from VNDigital Art Etsy Shop


This is the Tru-Su Blue Suzani scrapbook paper pack from TaajDigital’s Etsy shop:

Suzani Scrapbook Paper from TaajDigital Etsy Shop


A set of Moroccan scrapbook paper patterns in rich colors from MyPixelPrint Etsy Shop:

Moroccan Scrapbook Patterns from MyPixelPrint Etsy Shop


There’s even geometric tribal-inspired scrapbook paper, like these coordinating patterns available at Grepic Etsy shop:

Tribal Scrapbook Paper from Grepic Etsy Shop

Block Print

Yes there are even Indian block print scrapbook papers! Like these from Digigraphics Etsy shop:

Indian Block Print Scrapbook Paper Pack from Digigraphics Etsy Shop

This is just a tiny sample of patterns available. You can Google or search these terms on Etsy and you will find more colors and designs.

If you haven’t used digital scrapbook paper before, you get a digital file you can download. Then you print the papers either at home on an inkjet printer or at a print and copy center. Fed Ex Office and office supply stores like Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot have copy centers. You can submit your file online to print, or you can take files to the store on a flash drive.

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