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How does a firm owned by the same family since 1674 remain among the best in the world at what it does? Royal Tichelaar Makkum, whose tiles and pottery enjoy the patronage of the Dutch royal family, does it by staying true to its past. Tiles are still made by hand, as they were during the Golden Age, when the Dutch were a major commercial power and acknowledged leaders in the art of tilemaking. Each hand-rolled clay tile is air-dried, fired, coated with a tin dip made according to a medieval formula, then painted by hand. When fired again, the tin dip and paint fuse, creating a glaze of durable and remarkable beauty.

Case in point: the stunning and unusual tiles known simply as "Chinese." Available with either a black or a white background,they owe their drama not only to methods proven superior over three centuries but to a way of thinking that is typically Dutch: spotting a good idea and improving on it. The Tichelaar family of Makkum, in Friesland province, have always been superb at the art of adaptation. In the Golden Age, they gave an inspired twist to designs found on Italian majolica, Chinese porcelain, and early prints; the Tichelaars of the present cleverly adapted the designs of a set of 1920s Chinese tiles while correcting for their inferior quality.

Of course, if a customer yearns for the quintessential "Dutch" tile, the company has hundreds of landscapes, seascapes, and florals in classic blue and white or polychrome. Custom tiles (a pet, residence, yacht) can be commissioned as well; since they're made by hand, a little variation is no trouble at all.

Available in the United States exclusively through Country Floors, 800-311-9995; www.countryfloors.com. Prices for the Chinese series range from $146 for an individual tile to $650 for a six-tile panel.

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