Choosing tile for your home once meant picking from among a handful of pastel ceramic squares. Would it be dusty pink or dusty blue? If you were feeling bold, maybe mint green or pale yellow?
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. In all shapes and sizes, they are being used not just in kitchens and baths, but also in entryways, mudrooms and more.
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 affordably 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,” says Flynn. “One of the easiest ways to shrink a room visually is by chopping it up; many times, for me, tile used in just one area quickly chops up a space.”
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.
“You think of tile more in utilitarian applications,” she says, “but it can be a beautiful accent.” A full wall of tortoise-shell mosaic tile, she says, feels “almost like your whole wall is covered in jewelry.”
Clients sometimes assume full walls of tile will make a project expensive, says Quinn. But the cost depends entirely on your choice of tile: “You can find a fabulous white crackled subway tile for less than $3 a square foot,” he says. “For about $1,000, you can cover every wall of a bathroom, floor to ceiling, and it’s extremely durable.”
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 says, 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.