3 Things to Know About Tiles

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Tiles have long been happy in the background, dutifully covering surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms without causing too much excitement. But lately, they’ve started pushing their way out of the background and into the spotlight – showing up all over the home in bold ways.

“For as long as I’ve been designing interiors, tiles have been used in backsplashes in kitchens and on floors and shower walls in the bathroom,” says Marie Blackburn, principal designer at MLBdesigngroup, Seattle. “But they aren’t stuck in those two rooms anymore. They’re showing up in living rooms, around fireplaces and in outdoor areas to give the spaces an interior vibe.”

The New Look

The biggest change isn’t just where the tiles are found, it’s what they look like.

“There are two hot trends in tile right now,” Blackburn says. “The first is to have lots of texture – whether they’re carved, raked, etched or patterned in some other kind of way.”

The other trend is that, while tiles used to be small, these days they’re getting larger and larger. By decorating with large-format tiles, 18 inches by 36 inches, for example, grout lines are minimized, making for a cleaner, more streamlined look.

And while natural stone products (limestone, marble and granite) are still the most-used type of tile, other materials are gaining in popularity. “There are tiles made from leather, wood, cork and more,” says Bev Adams, founder and president of Interior Intuitions, Denver. “Because eco-friendly materials are always desired, there’s also a surge in demand for reclaimed materials.”

Adams recommends using more than one type of tile in a room to add interest to the space. “Mixing materials is really hot right now,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to combine glass with metal and ceramic. It’ll look great.”

Design Decisions

The overall design of a tiled surface requires more than simply choosing tiles. For example, how is the edge going to look? “If you’re using natural stone tiles, you can just soften the tile edges a little bit and it will look beautiful,” Blackburn says. “But you can’t do that with other materials, like porcelain and ceramic. For those tiles, you have to buy special edge pieces.” 

Don’t forget the grout that will bring it all together. “Some grouts are less likely to stain or are easier to work with,” Blackburn says. “When you pick out tile, talk to the salesperson about what type of grout is going to work best. The people who work in tile showrooms know a lot about specific kinds of tile and will be able to advise you on the best option.”

Staying on Budget

Not only can tiles have hugely different looks, they also can vary widely in price and how much maintenance they require. “The general rule of thumb is that the more exotic the material, the pricier it’s going to be – up to $70 a square foot,” Blackburn says. “So a rare limestone full of fossils is going to cost more than a simple ceramic square,” which can cost as little as $1 per square foot.

She says that one way to incorporate pricier tiles on a budget is to use them as an accent in a small area or design layout, instead of tiling an entire wall. 

And then there’s maintaining the tile. “If it’s a natural stone tile of any kind, you’re going to need the tile to be sealed at installation and at regular intervals afterwards,” Blackburn warns. “How often depends on the frequency of use and type of stone. This is another topic you should bring up to the salesperson before you make your decision.”

Tags: tile, stone