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Did You Know That

The History of Mosaics 

Four thousand years ago or more people pushed terracotta cones into the background, creating the first decorative mosaics ever. Later, pebble pavements were popular, where stones of different colours were used to create rather abstract patterns. Ancient Greeks first changed this simple technique into art. Precise geometric patterns and scenes presenting people and animals in details appeared then. Such mosaics came with the Greeks to the Roman Empire, and with the Romans – to ancient Britain. South-east of the island, and especially London, are still full of magnificent examples of this ancient art, which occasionally emerge from under the ground. Yet, if you compare the mosaics from Roman Britain to Italian ones you must admit that the design of the British examples is simpler and their technique is not so polished. To create such sophisticated pictures with vivid details and colours that the makers were able to imitate painting, tesserae – specially manufactured elements, often really small, were used. However, the mosaics of ancient Greece and Roman Empire were mainly floors. Glass was not suitable for floor mosaics. The tesserae were mostly tiny cubes of marble, sometimes other stone. If artists wanted to achieve some unusual colour effects, they incorporated bits of pottery, terracotta etc. Rarely can we see wall mosaics of those days using pieces of glass to reflect light.
A new era for mosaics started with the growth of the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in  Byzantium, now Istanbul, Turkey. There artists specialized in something that we may call revolutionary. What was new to this art form, apart from Eastern influences in style, was the use of special glass tiles called smalti. Smalti were manufactured in northern Italy and made of thick sheets of coloured glass. Their surface is rough and there are little air bubbles in them. Some of them are backed with reflective silver or gold leaf, which is similar to some of our glass mosaic tiles, backed with specially coloured metallic foil. The Byzantines covered walls and ceilings with such mosaics. They left them ungrouted, because this way the light was reflected and refracted in the glass.
The Iberian Peninsula witnessed another aspect of this art – Islamic mosaic and tile art, which was brought there by the Moors. The Islamic motifs are mainly geometric and mathematical, like those seen at the Great Mosque at Cordoba and the Alhambra Palace. In the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages the mosaic popularity rather declined, though. Only abbeys and religious buildings could boast tiling patterns.
Fortunately, in the 19th century the revival of interest in mosaics began. Wealth that was cumulated in the Victorian era of the British Empire spawned domestic and public building projects. This, combined with new techniques for mass-produced tiles, made appetite for decorative floors rise again. The way tiles and mosaic were used reflected the Gothic Revival in architecture and design. Additionally, matching the ancient skills practised in Venice with the Victorian demand for glass mosaic breathed new life into the Venetian glass industry.
Finally, the Art Nouveau movement proved that this old art is still vivid and surprising. Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maria Jujol gave Barcelona the stunning ceramic mosaics of the Guell Park in the first two decades of the 20th century. Mosaics have become a challenging form of art again.
Now, in the early 21st century mosaic is in a healthy state, ready to enter your home. It is worth mentioning that mosaics these days often have a dual function. They are used for walls or as flooring, and also they can be a very accessible form of creativity for everyone. Why not try?

The Shell Grotto 

Covering walls with shell mosaics is really old. In fact, no-one knows how old, because The Shell Grotto’s age remains veiled, as are its makers and original purpose.
Nestled in Margate, Kent, attributed to some pagans, Phoenicians, or even Knights Templar, the grotto’s been a tourist attraction for nearly two centuries. In 1835, as it is believed, James Newlove discovered the underground passage while digging a duck pond. It appeared to be a mysterious tunnel, all covered in shell mosaics. The 4.6 million seashells cover 2000sqft with mosaics, forming strange shapes and symbols in a 70ft long winding passageway and a rectangular chamber. It’s an unresolved mystery when the grotto was decorated. The Victorian lamps used by its first visitors made it impossible to find out about  the age of the place using radiocarbon dating. What’s more, they blackened the surface of the shells, once stunningly colourful. Still, the beauty of this place leaves you awed. It’s a valuable and one of its kind work of art, regardless of its origin and age.
And what do these swirling mosaics mean to us? Can we bring a piece of such mystery to our homes? Certainly, a touch of pearly shells on our walls will change an ordinary place into whatever your imagination tells you: an ancient temple, a Victorian nostalgic dating spot, or …
The shell mosaic tiles offered by are different from simple shells like in the mysterious grotto, but their shiny surface of mother of pearl, fabulous shades and luxurious appearance will give you the sense of being someone special and will make you feel a sea breeze on your face.

By buying a mosaic for your home, you follow the footsteps of great ancient emperors. We’ve visited one place famous for innumerable dazzling examples of mosaic art – Ravenna.

Ravenna is an extraordinarily important spot on the map of the mosaic history.  Its 1,500-year-old churches are decorated with the collection of Byzantine mosaics richer than anywhere else. Originally accepted into the Roman Republic in 89 BC, the city later became famous for being where Julius Caesar gathered his troops before crossing the Rubicon. Once the capital of the Western Roman Empire before it collapsed, then the capital of the Kingdom of Ostrogoths, conquered by the Byzantine Empire in 540 – and each of those stormy periods left remarkable buildings adorned with outstanding floor, wall and ceiling mosaics. Today, there are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna, affirming the belief, that this city was like a sparkling torch in Europe’s Dark Ages. And of these outstanding examples of Byzantine glittering glory two have engraved in our hearts: Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
Basilica of San Vitale, an octagonal early Christian Byzantine building, virtually intact since it was consecrated in 547 under Justinian’s rule, is decorated with impressive marble and glass mosaics. The ‘tiles’, no chip bigger than a fingernail, are used to depict Christ, as well as Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. The marble floor in the church makes you walk barely touching the geometrical shapes, lest you spoil their timeless beauty. However, it’s the walls and ceiling that leave you stunned – flickering images are not just beautiful – they are an art history lesson. Created at the time of great changes, the mosaics represent styles from ancient Roman (finished still under the Gothic rule) to early medieval Byzantine.  They are also the largest and best preserved mosaics outside Constantinople. The images cover Old Testament scenes with Abraham, Isaac, Moses, as well as Abel and Cain. The symbols of Four Evangelists: angel, lion, ox and eagle hover above the visitors. Leaves, fruit, flowers, stars, birds and animals trim the Lamb of God. Whereas the portraits of Jesus Christ are various – in one he’s depicted as beardless Roman God, another is a typical medieval bearded image, the panels with Justinian and Theodora are typical examples of Byzantine iconography from 547 AD. The emperor, with a saint-like golden halo, is surrounded by his retinue. There are soldiers on his right and clergymen on his left. The empress Theodora, a Byzantine celebrity, is here formal, solemn, with a golden halo, wearing a crown and jewels. She’s followed by her court ladies and you have the impression you’re looking at a goddess.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a tiny Roman building, boasting the oldest, best preserved, and also one of the most artistically perfect mosaics in Ravenna. The building is attributed to the daughter of Emperor Theodosius I, Galla Placidia, who was taken hostage by the barbarians. She managed to return to Ravenna, flourishing then, but it’s dubious if the so-called mausoleum is really her place of eternal rest. Whatever its original purpose, the building is impressive. The daylight gets inside through alabaster window panels, leaving a mysterious glow on the rich, gold and colourful mosaics depicting Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Evangelists’ and Apocalyptic symbols, the apostles. The style of the mosaics is solely Roman – even Jesus looks like a Roman emperor. The giant golden cross against a blue sky full of stars marks the centre of the dome. The secret of another mosaic adds mystery to the place. It is thought to depict St. Lawrence standing next to flames, but it is argued that it might be a Spanish martyr, St. Vincent. Regardless of that, the interior is mystical and alluring.
The process in use to create such vivid images was quite simple – tiny coloured glass and gold leaves were broken until they fitted the design, then set in cement. It’s even simpler and far less time consuming today, as you can buy ready sheets with many tiles fixed to a mesh and try to revive the ancient fashion in your home.

Glass mosaics tiles production process 

The main raw material used in traditional mosaic glass production is quartz sand - silica, also known as Silicon dioxide (SiO2). Other components are: sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), calcium carbonate(CaCO3) and substances enhancing melting properties and colour, which are usually metal oxides. These components are mixed and melted in temperatures about 1400 – 1500°C. To manufacture exceptional EXCLUSIVE DESIGN by Formosa mosaics we use solely the best quality glass produced in the float process (Pilkington process). The molten glass is fed into a float bath, a bath of molten metal, usually tin (about 3–4 m wide, 50 m long, 6 cm deep). To prevent the tin surface from oxidizing with the atmospheric oxygen, the tin bath is placed under a protective gas atmosphere, mainly of nitrogen and hydrogen. This atmosphere must be carefully controlled since its composition is instrumental for the properties of the contact surface between the glass and the tin which, in turn, influence the thickness of the glass sheet. The glass floats like an endless ribbon on the tin, as it is lighter than tin. Gravity makes the molten glass floating on the tin almost ideally smooth. Additionally, fire polishing clears out uneven flaws that may appear on the glass surface. Special gas burners are installed over the sheet to do so. After the exit from the float chamber, special rollers take up the glass and feed it into the annealing lehr. Annealing, a gradual reduction of the glass temperature, eliminates inner tensions in the material. After cooling to room temperature on an open roller track, it is cut, packed, and stored either for shipment or for further processing into products such as safety glass, reflective glass, self-cleaning glass, mirrors or double glazed or multi-glazed units. Glass produced this way is flat, with almost ideally smooth surface, and without any distortions or optical defects, featuring high transparency of 94%, which makes it colourless in its profile, regardless of the angle
Further part of the production process covers cutting the glass sheets into small pieces, treated manually after that. Craftsmen carefully process each single tile’s edges in order to keep the highest quality finishing and all the edges smooth. The next step is forming unique EXCLUSIVE DESIGN by Formosa mosaic patterns. This stage also requires knowledgeable, skilled and experienced master to achieve the final effect. The glass tiles are arranged face down and fixed to a net. However, EXCLUSIVE DESIGN by Formosa mosaics are additionally strengthened with a special mesh, preventing the tiles from cracking. The mesh also guarantees that single tiles are firmly fixed and reduces chances of losing them while installing. The glass mosaic sheets prepared like described above are next packed and sent to your homes.
As you can see, an apparently ordinary wall mosaic is a product which is not easy to produce. It requires real precision and selecting the best materials so that you can enjoy its beauty on your walls.

Did You Know That - BAMBOO

  • Bamboo’s rate of growth is astonishing, it may be a foot a day!
  • If you’ve ever wanted to dwell in a grass hut – this is your chance - bamboo is actually a type of giant woody grass.
  • We know over 1400 species of bamboo, but perhaps there are many more.
  • Some bamboo root clumps can live for hundreds of years, producing new crops on and on.
  • There are timber bamboos the tensile strength of which is better than iron or steel.
  • One of the highest rates of photosynthesis features many bamboo species.
  • Bamboo was the first plant life to emerge after the atomic bombings of Japan.
  • A mature 100’x100’ patch of certain bamboo can produce construction materials that are sufficient to frame a house – every year.
  • High quality paper can also be made from bamboo.
  • Bamboo enriches soil with beneficial microorganisms, retains it and lives on even after harvesting. It is also a rich and nutritious food source for humans and animals.
  • Bamboos treated appropriately can be grown and harvested with no unfavourable impact to the soil or environment in general.
  • Every year new industrial applications concerning bamboo are being developed.

You May Also Like To Know:

  • 60 years is how long it takes to replace a sixty-foot tree. For a sixty-foot bamboo cut for market it’s only 59 days.
  • Up to 15 kilometres is how much a single bamboo clump can produce in its lifetime. It’s the actual length of a usable pole (up to 30 cm in diameter).
  • Wood of the poor', 'friend of the people' and 'brother' that’s what bamboo is called in India, China and Vietnam respectively, a wonder plant that grows widely in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.
  • Bamboo is really important for providing fast vegetative cover to deforested areas.

There are probably hundreds of traditional uses - from cradle to coffin - for bamboo!

 Bamboo In Legends

In many Asian cultures it is believed that humans come from a bamboo stem.
In the Philippines the first man, Malakás ("Strong"), and the first woman, Maganda ("Beautiful"), are said to have emerged from one half of a split bamboo stem after the battle between Sky and Ocean.
In Malaysia, there’s a story about a man who dreams of a beautiful woman while sleeping under a bamboo plant. When he wakes up and breaks the bamboo stem, he finds the woman inside.
In the Japanese "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" (Taketori Monogatari) a princess from the Moon materializes from a shining bamboo piece.
The Vietnamese legendary hero, Saint Giong, used to fight with a bamboo cane. He wished to liberate his land from the invaders and so, using magical powers, had grown up immediately since the age of three.
There is also an ancient Vietnamese legend (The Hundred-knot Bamboo Tree), which tells of a poor, young farmer - in love with his landlord's daughter. The proud landlord agreed to let her marry the farmer on condition that he would bring him a "bamboo tree of 100 nodes". With Buddha’s help, the farmer combined the bamboo from a hundred separate nodes and won his beloved’s hand, but her father was punished for his pride and ill will.

Did you know that - stairs

Stairs, stairs, stairs. To show off on a stage, covered with feathers, to humbly climb in a final effort during your pilgrimage, to convey the ideas of ups and downs, even infinity, or just to get to your office and home – stairs are part of our life. Have you ever stopped to think about them? How many forms they have, how various materials are used, how many feet have treaded on them! Are they safe enough? Could our angle bars make do? There are billions of steps worldwide, and perhaps you’d like to know that:

  • The longest stairway according to Guinness Book of Records is the service stairway for the Niesenbahn funicular railway near Spiez, Switzerland. It has 11,674 steps, and its height is 1,669 m (5,476 ft.). The steps run alongside the Niesenbahn funicular, which travels from the side of the Kander river in Mülenen to the 2362m summit of Mount Niesen. Normally, the staircase is only used by service personnel, but once a year it’s opened to 200 people for the Niesenlauf stair run. While the ride takes only 28 minutes, running through lush Alpine woods, through cloud, rain or even snow - though it’s in June – is a real challenge. The record for the event is 1h2m for men and 1h9m for women.
  • If you want to climb the East Peak of Mount Tai in China, be prepared to face 7,200 steps (including inner temple Steps), with 6,293 Official Mountain Walkway Steps.
  • The Flørli stairs, in Lysefjorden, Norway are regarded to be the longest wooden stairway in the world. The stairway has 4,444 wooden steps climbing from sea level to 740 metres (2,428 feet). Originally a maintenance stairway for the water pipeline to the local hydro plant - now closed down, these days the stairs are open to the public.
  • The tallest metal staircase on Earth is believed to be the CN Tower's staircase. One gets to the main deck level after climbing 1,776 steps and the upper Sky Pod after 2,579 steps.
  • The Penrose stairs are a famous impossible object. They were conceived by Lionel and Roger Penrose. This image uses a perspective distortion so that the stairs appear to be never-ending, a symbol of infinity, a physical impossibility. M. C. Escher adopted the image in his iconic lithograph Ascending and Descending.
  • Tulip Staircase at the Queen's House in Greenwich, England, the first geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in Britain - is really worthwhile. Despite its name - 'Tulip Stairs' - the stylized flowers in the iron balustrade are rather fleurs-de-lis, as this was the emblem of the Bourbon family (Queen Henrietta Maria was its member). These stairs have also a mystery lying behind them - Rev R. W. Hardy's famous 'ghost' photograph was taken there on 19 June 1966. Believe it or not, but having developed it, he saw what appeared to be two or three shrouded figures on the staircase…
  • To see the world's longest Mosaic Stair, The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, you should go to  San Francisco (USA). Thismosaic staircase (163 steps, 82' high), was created by Irish ceramicist Aileen Barr and San Francisco mosaic artist Colette Crutcher. It took over two and a half years until in August 2005 more than 2000 handmade tiles and 75,000 fragments of tile, mirror and stained glass went into the finished piece.
  • Located on the island of St. Helena, Jacob’s Ladder is a popular attraction of Jamestown. It is known to be the world’s longest straight staircase, which has 699 steps. It was built in 1829, when the East India Company resumed full control of Saint Helena, and used for transporting goods from the farming areas downtown. Today it’s used by local kids as a slide. Although it’s a famous attraction of Jamestown, lit at night, not many tourists can climb its 699 steps. The steps are rather high but first of all it’s because in some places the staircase lacks railings, making some people completely dizzy.
  • Last, but not least – the interior helical staircase of London City Hall is an impressive example of modern stairs. City Hall, the headquarters of the Greater London Authority (GLA) which comprises the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, is located in Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames near Tower Bridge. Designed by Norman Foster and opened in July 2002, with many steps, which are the theme of numerous pictures.

Did you know that - cork

Cork is one of the materials we use to make our product -  MASTER COLLECTION floors. It’s mainly known as a source of wine stoppers as its properties make it suitable as a material for bottle stoppers. However, sheets of cork, being the by-product of more lucrative stopper production, are being more and more often used to make bulletin boards as well as floor and wall tiles. Cork is also used in the production of shuttlecocks, fishing floats and buoys, as well as handles for fishing rods, and as acoustic and thermal insulation in house walls, floors, ceilings and facades. Corkboard is gaining popularity as non-allergenic, easy-to-handle and safe.
Cork is actually a bark of a tree  - a cork oak - that grows in the Mediterranean. It’s assets are impermeability, buoyancy, elasticity, and fire resistance, and that’s why it is used in a variety of products. The cork industry is generally believed to be environmentally friendly. Cork is widely recycled and the production is sustainable. Its forests prevent desertification. Cork is regarded as the most environmentally friendly wine stopper in comparison to other alternatives.
There are about 2,200,000 hectares of cork forest worldwide (32.4% in Portugal, and 22.2% in Spain). The cork oak trees live for about 200 years. When the trees reach the age of about 25 years and about 24in (60 cm) in circumference, the cork is first extracted from the trunks and the harvests after that normally take place every nine years, though it can take longer for the cork to reach a proper size. Only from early May to late August can cork be extracted without causing permanent damage. The first harvest usually produces poor quality, so-called "male" cork. The high quality product obtained from later harvests is known as "gentle" cork, and can be used to make stoppers for wine and champagne bottles.
The workers who specialize in removing the cork – extractors - must be really careful in order not to damage the underlying layer of the tree or it will die. Operating a very sharp axe, they make two types of cuts on the tree: one horizontal cut around the plant at a height of about 2-3 times the circumference of the tree, and a few vertical cuts. A firm but precise touch is essential so as to release a large amount of cork without damaging the product or tree. In most cases, the portions of the cork called planks must be carried off by hand, as it’s not easy for vehicles to get access to cork forests. Next, the cork is stacked, traditionally left to dry, finally, it can be taken away.
Apart from the above purposes, cork is used to produce: woodwind instruments, conducting baton handles, shoes, bricks for the outer walls, baseballs and cricket balls, spacecraft heat shields, and many more. In November 2007, the Portuguese national postal service issued the world's first postage stamp made of cork. Won’t you invite a bit of cork - in the form of bamboo and cork floor - to your home?