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 says.
Traditionally, a homeowner chose a particular tile and used it throughout a space. Quinn says clients love the effect when he alternates large and small tiles in various patterns.
Simple changes like using “two different size subway tiles — 2-by-4 and 3-by-6 — alternating stripes of one and then the other,” can make a bathroom more stylish and interesting, without becoming outdated quickly.
Another option, he says, is using different thicknesses of the same tiles, so that some rows of tile jut out further than others, creating “really cool, undulating patterns.”
In his own kitchen, Flynn recently used 2-foot-by-6-inch rectangular tiles in a muted mix of grays and browns. But “instead of installing them in a staggered manner, I had them installed stacked directly on top of one another for a linear look,” he says. The effect is very Mid-Century Modern, “similar to the exterior of a Palm Springs home.”
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. But some clients want “a strong, graphic statement that really defines the edges of the tile.” In those cases, she’ll use a charcoal gray or blue-green grout against white tile for a bold look that still feels clean and classic.
Glass tile has become popular. Because it’s translucent, Mathison sometimes uses it in smaller bathrooms: “Your eye kind of looks through it, so it doesn’t create a boundary,” she says. “It’s an almost limitless look” that can make a small shower area feel larger.
But glass tile can be expensive, Flynn says, and it’s gotten trendy. One fresh option is “using extra-large, extra-wide, back-painted glass panels on walls,” rather than small glass tiles, “to bring contemporary architectural interest into a space.”
“Although I do actually love it, glass tile has become so popular and embraced by builders and developers that I fear it will be associated with ‘early millennium,’ similar to how flocked wallpaper is thought of as 1970s or mauve being indicative of the 1980s,” he says.
DON’T DO IT YOURSELF
It’s possible to remove old tile and install new on your own. But all three designers recommend hiring professionals.
Even the highest quality tile will look unattractive if it’s been installed incorrectly. And demolition and tile cutting can be dangerous.
“When clients ask me where to spend and where to save in bathrooms and kitchens,” Flynn says, “I always say, ‘We can save on materials, we can save on fixtures, but the one place we always must splurge is on hiring the right tile installation professional.”