Choosing tile for your home once meant picking from among a handful of pastel ceramic squares. Would it be dusty pink or dusty blue?
Today, we’re surrounded — some might say overwhelmed — by choices.
Porcelain tile is now made to realistically look like everything from aged wood and rough fieldstones to sleek Italian marble. Tiles made of glass, cork, mirror and even leather are taking the place of traditional ceramics.
High style can be had for an increasingly reasonable cost, with mass-market retailers offering trendy glass tile for as little as a few dollars per square foot.
Amid all these possibilities, the biggest challenge is to choose something you’ll continue loving for a decade or more.
“There’s so much decorative tile out there now,” says Matthew Quinn, principal of Design Galleria Kitchen and Bath Studio in Atlanta. But “some of it,” he says, “you can just tell in three or four years this is not something you’re going to want to see every day.”
Unlike paint and wallpaper, tile isn’t something easily and inexpensively changed every few years.
Here, Quinn and interior designers Brian Patrick Flynn and Mallory Mathison share ideas on embracing tile’s new possibilities while still creating a timeless effect.
Floor to ceiling
All three designers are fans of using tile all the way up to the ceiling, rather than the more old-fashioned approach of doing partial tile walls with a snub-nosed edge.
“It makes the entire room more cohesive, and it can also give the illusion that a space is larger than it actually is,” Flynn said.
Flynn has done kitchen walls in floor-to-ceiling tile, and Mathison recommends tiling a single wall from top to bottom in an entryway for a striking effect. A full wall of tortoise-shell mosaic tile, she said, feels “almost like your whole wall is covered in jewelry.”
Flynn loves using tiles made of “unexpected materials, such as leather, cork and wood. Leather tiles can be used on walls and ceilings, but in lower-traffic areas. Cork is a dream because it helps soundproof a space, plus it offers a really warm, organic texture instead of the sleek ceramic surfaces we’re used to seeing.”
“Wooden tiles are rather pricey,” Flynn said, but Quinn points out that manufacturers such as Porcelanosa now offer porcelain tiles that look strikingly like real wood. They are durable, resistant to moisture and need no maintenance.
Mirrored tiles are another option, and Mathison promises they don’t have to evoke the 1970s. She uses large mirrored tiles mounted only with mastic, not grout, with no visible lines between them. Many glass and mirror stores will cut them in custom sizes for you, she said.
Size, color depth
Traditionally, a homeowner chose a particular tile and used it throughout a space. Quinn said clients love the effect when he alternates large and small tiles in various patterns.
Another option, he said, is using different thicknesses of the same tiles, so that some rows of tile jut out further than others, creating “really cool, undulating patterns.”
You can also get creative with grout: Simple white or beige tiles can be installed with thin, barely visible lines of grout, or thick lines of grout in bold or dark colors that contrast with the tile.
Mathison often uses “as close to a zero grout line as possible,” which can make smaller baths or kitchens seem larger.