Federation Tiles- A How To Guide

With their character-rich features and laid-back charm, Federation homes (built 1890-1915) are one of Australia’s most popular architectural styles. They were less formal than their Victorian predecessors, but came packed with beautiful architectural and decorative elements that many homeowners still prize today.

Federation homes come in many different styles, but common features include red brick facades, decorative tilework, generous verandahs, ornate timberwork, leadlight windows and roofs in terracotta, slate or corrugated iron.

Whether you’re renovating a Federation home to stay true to its heritage character or want to inject some contemporary flair into the space, choosing the right colours, finishes and textures is essential.

Tile colours and patterns for a Federation home

Decorative tiles are a key element in Federation-home design, and were used to add impact to pathways, verandahs, kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms.

Tile colours were restrained and inspired by nature. Think earthy tones of brown, leaf green, rust, putty, ochre and shades of grey.

Tile patterns were less ornate than during the Victorian period, but still fairly complex, combining different tile shapes and sizes for a striking look. During this period, the classic octagon and dot tile pattern came to the fore. Tile layouts often featured three or four tonal shades of the one colour, creating a subtle sense of depth.

    Earthy Colours
    Replace vivid colours with Australiana earthy colours and subtle tonal harmony.
  • Federation Tessellated Tiles
    Modestly complex patterns
    Slightly less complex than Victorian, with the Octagon & Dot surging in popularity in this period.
  • Olde English Federation Encaustic Tiles
    Single-Coloured Encaustics
    The use of single coloured encaustics (e.g. black on white) endured well into the first decade, but not multi-coloured encaustics.

Decorative tiles, often featuring painterly floral and botanical motifs inspired by the Australian landscape, were used in small doses to add character to fireplaces, bathrooms, kitchens and stair treads.

Where to use tiles in a Federation home?

Tiles can be used to add personality and charm to just about any part of a Federation home, both inside and out. Popular spots include front pathways, verandahs, living room floors, fireplace surrounds, kitchen floors and splash backs, bathroom floors and walls, and laundries.

A Federation exterior

A tessellated-tile front path that draws visitors from the gate to the front door is a classic feature of a Federation home. This is often paired with a beautiful tessellated tile verandah in harmonising colours.

heritage tiles tuck pointed home

To honour the original character of the house – and complement a red or brown brick exterior – choose tiles in tried-and-true heritage colours, such as burgundy, russet, rich forest green and cream. Consider adding richly patterned encaustics to your layout with motifs that echo the shapes in timber or latticework.

Traditional federation pattern front porch
Tried and true heritage colours: burgandy, russett and cream were popular in tessellated patterns
Traditional federation pattern front porch close up
Use intricate encaustics: A tessellated pattern rich in encaustics like the York were commonly used on Federation verandah and path areas

For a more contemporary take on heritage styling, opt for a simple tile layout, tone down the ornamentation and select a pared-back palette of no more than three or four warm neutrals, such as charcoal, taupe and brown. This will make a nod to your home’s history while giving it a fresh, modern feel.

Modern federation facade
Not just reds! The light colour scheme in this Killara pattern works beautifully with the creme/white of this house

There are a few things to consider when choosing tile colours for your exterior. To create a look that blends in seamlessly, you’ll need to factor in the colour of your facade, landscaping, any decorative features such as the colours in leadlight windows or fretwork, as well as the tones used in neighboring properties.

Quintessetial federation pathway
Create a look that blends seamlessly: the colours of the octagon and dot pattern compliment the brick facade, fretwork and  stain glass windows for a quintessential Federation look

When choosing tiles for an exterior that is exposed to heavy footfall and weather extremes, it’s crucial to choose quality tiles that are not only slip-proof and water-resistant, but highly durable.

A Federation living room

From decorative trims and mouldings to stunning fireplaces, there are often many period features to celebrate in a Federation living room. Use tiles to highlight your favourite elements, while adding your own sense of personality and style to the space.

Make a beautiful fireplace the star of the show with a bold, tiled surround and hearth. For a heritage feel, choose decorative tiles with floral and botanical patterns in warm, natural colours. To add a modern twist, hang a contemporary artwork above it, keep the surrounding walls and trims white or neutral, and pick up the tile tones in your sofa, rug or window furnishings. Or, have your fireplace surround tiled in cheery brights such as orange, jade or aqua for an on-trend feel.

Federation fireplace contemporary colours
A bold tiled fireplace: An encaustics rich tessellated pattern for the fireplace surrounds and decorative tiles on the hearth add contemporary flair to this Federation fireplace

If you’re lucky enough to have leadlight windows in your living room, consider picking up one or two of the colours in a tiled floor – single-colour encaustics in a light, tonal shade would work well. Adding a simple, tiled border is a fun way to mimic the look of a floor rug.

Keep the rest of the scheme simple and uncluttered (think upholstery in block colours and plenty of breathing space around furniture) in order to draw the eye towards your striking, decorative features.

A Federation bathroom or powder room

Whether you’re looking to add heritage character or a contemporary feel to your bathroom, tiles are hard to beat. Durable, water-resistant and easy-to-clean – not only are they a practical choice, but with so many styles, patterns and layouts available, they allow you to create a look that’s all your own.

Neutral federation friendly floor
Compliment period style features: the Paddington pattern in neutral colours marries beautifully with the soft coloured bathroom furnishings
Neutral coloured tessellated tile pattern
Opt for low maintenance tiles: the non porous nature of porcelain tiles results in a floor that is easy to care for and keep clean

To complement period fixtures, such as a clawfoot bath and a vintage-style vanity, opt for a tessellated-tile floor in rich, natural colours such as brown and burgundy with accents of black and cream. For walls, consider classic subway tiles with a feature border in glazed, embossed tiles.

If you’ve chosen dark colours for your floor, it’s a good idea to balance them out with pale colours for your wall tiles, ceiling and timberwork. This will allow your decorative features to shine, while maximising natural light in your bathroom.

federation tessellated floor rich reds blacks
Balance out dark floors: The vanilla subway tiles balance out the dominating reds and blacks in this traditional tessellated floor
vanilla subway tiles federation bathroom
Consider feature borders: capping off a subway wall with raised embossed tiles and decorative screenprints make for a Federation era friendly look

For a contemporary spin, combine period architectural features with a streamlined, modern bathtub and vanity in plain white and minimalist tapware. Add drama with a geometric-patterned encaustic-tile floor or tessellated tiles in fashionable combinations such as navy or olive and white. Up the glam factor with touches of brass and brushed gold in lighting, countertop accessories and the mirror surround.

Lille encuastic tiles modern federation bathroom
Contemporary glam: The Lille encaustic floor is a stylish addition in this modern Federation bathroom filled with minimalist tapware and fittings

As with any wet room in the home, it’s important to choose premium-quality tiles that are hardy, water- and slip-resistant.

Shop tiles featured in the article

If you’ve spotted a tile design or pattern that takes your fancy, check out the quick links below to each of our collection pages. Still have questions? Make contact today to discuss the vision for your Federation project.

Floor Tiles

View all tessellated tiles

View all encaustic tiles

Wall Tiles

View all subway tiles

View all heritage wall tiles


How to choose tiles for a federation home