For many of us, the ideal flooring is typically wood. After decades of carpet being in vogue, it's pretty rare nowadays to see wall-to-wall carpet in new homes. Instead, most people want durable, easy-to-clean, simple-to-maintain flooring and surfaces.
As you’re considering your options, chances are, tile might also appear on your shortlist. After all, it’s also low-maintenance, beautiful, natural, and appropriate in certain rooms. But how do you choose tiles for your home? What about wall tile? What about grout?
Here’s my breakdown of when (and how) to choose tiles for your home—with a few sneak peeks of tile progress in my own new build along the way.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
Why Tile Can Be a Good Choice
Tile offers a lot of variety in decor. When glazed, tile is non-porous, making it an excellent choice for areas that see a lot of moisture—kitchens, baths, entryways, laundry rooms, and more.
To be honest, I probably wouldn't put tile in a living room or a bedroom (in most cases). But in a mudroom, three-season room, or a foyer? Tile's definitely a great consideration. Once you start exploring tile options, you might decide that tile is more versatile than you once thought.
Design + Image: Studio McGee
Most tiles are made from some combination of clay with minerals and glaze to add color. Tiles originated thousands of years ago. Samples of ancient tiles have been found in Egypt, Rome, Iran, and other parts of the world, where they were used for interior and exterior wall and floor coverings as well as for artistic expression.
In other words, tiles are a timeless classic in terms of building materials. Unfortunately, today's ceramic tile got a bit of a bad wrap in the mid-century when everyone's grandmother decorated her bathroom and kitchen in colorful tile (think pink and aqua in the 60s, pea-green and gold in the 70s, lipstick red and glossy black in the 80s and beyond). One look at a home's bathroom, and you could very likely tell the age, or at the very least, pinpoint when the bathroom and kitchen were last remodeled.
Today, though, tile has returned to its timeless and classic origins. Subway tiles are quite popular, as are penny tiles—especially in the bathroom and on backsplashes. These are enduring, ageless looks, usually in understated colors—white, black, charcoal, neutrals, and muted hues that don't date the space. Don't be afraid of colorful tiles—the right color can completely transform a space. Zellige tiles are a great option for incorporating the perfect amount of organic texture and color.
Terracotta and Saltillo tiles are popular options, too. When used for Spanish-style flooring, these offer a natural, organic feel to a space. However, it's important to note that these types of clay tiles often feature an unglazed matte finish, which can remain porous and be harder to maintain.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
Ceramic tiles are an attractive choice for certain areas in your home. It's tough—fireproof, non-conductive, and cooling. The tile is easy to clean and doesn't typically absorb odors. In addition, it stands up to temperature fluctuations and is a great choice for radiant-heated flooring.
So, what should you consider before you choose tile for a space?
5 Tips for Selecting Tile for Your Home
If you're wondering how to select a tile for your home, remember that it's easy for choice paralysis to kick in. There are so many options out there. Use the following considerations to help you make a tile selection you'll be happy with for many years.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
1. Select a Tile Type
Before you select tile for your bathroom, mudroom, or other space, it's important to know a little about tile types.
Ceramic tiles are the most ubiquitous option out there. These tiles are easy to find in a wide variety. It's important to note that quality is crucial when choosing ceramic tile, though—especially for flooring or high-traffic applications, as ceramic tile can more easily chip.
Porcelain tiles are another common option, but they are slightly stronger than their ceramic counterparts. Porcelain is a nice choice for countertops as they resist staining and scratches. Porcelain tiles also make a great choice for flooring because they often don't chip as easily as ceramic, either.
Other tiles on the market include limestone, marble, vitrified tiles, and even cement tiles. Many of these materials will require sealing and careful cleaning as they tend to be more porous and prone to stains (although they're all stunning in the right setting).
2. Consider the Space, Size, and Lighting
It may seem like an obvious consideration, but before you fall head over heels for a particular type of tile or look, ponder the space where it will go in your home. Consider durability first and foremost for high-traffic areas, flooring, entryways, and even your main bathroom. Check for a waterproof glaze or finish with slip resistance.
Other factors that play a role in your tile choice can be the room size and even the lighting. For example, a darker room may look bigger and brighter with a glossier finished tile. On the other hand, matte tile can slightly darken a space since it doesn't reflect the light.
Penny tiles will feel right at home in a small room, but large tile panels might overwhelm a small space. Similarly, tiles with bright colors and patterns will have a lot of personality—something that can work with the right environment or work against it. If you’re building a new home, it’s nice to have some of the surrounding elements in mind before you choose tile.
3. Choose Tile that Complements Your Style
I can’t overstate the variety of tiles out there. Your tile options are compounded by the array of finishes, colors, grout choices, and tile laying patterns. When it comes to tiles, your options are practically limitless.
Avoid the temptation to fall for trends. While tile is undoubtedly replaceable, take a lesson from those candy-pink bathrooms of the 1950s and 60s (many of which are still around today). Even if you think you'll replace your tile in a few years, it's easy to get tired of a trendy look.
Instead, opt for a timeless version of a look you like. If you adore Mediterranean style, for example, choose an understated tile option, such as terracotta with a matte or satin finish, and then build on and layer the look with other items in your decor.
So should you go with basic white tile? Before you worry that white, grey, or natural-colored tile is boring, it's essential to recognize that neutrals can be both flexible and exciting. Remember that you can always add color, texture, and visual interest in the form of accessories, textiles, and decorative items and then change them out on a whim. Tile, on the other hand, is a little more permanent. A neutral or natural color like white, terracotta, or charcoal will give you more options in the long run.
4. Pick a Pattern
One way to add a lot of visual interest is to get playful with your patterns. You can combine tile shapes and sizes, look at different geometric patterns, and experiment with the layout to get a really intriguing look. Herringbone, mosaic, and subway layouts can all play nicely with classic colors and tile shapes. You can even add patterns with contrasting colors like checkerboard or harlequin.
Don’t limit yourself to playing with just shape and pattern, either. You can also mix finishes—matte with satin, lapatto, or gloss finish tiles (just avoid gloss tiles on the floor, as they can get slippery). Try combining a larger tile with a smaller one in a different finish for an eye-catching look, or consider combining the same tile in two different finishes.
Remember that less is typically more when you mix patterns, colors, or even finishes. Try to keep it to 2-3 options within a space. Also, consider the rest of the room and other patterns, textures, and colors you plan to incorporate.
5. Grout Makes a Big Impact
Grout is a big component of your overall tile look. You can go for contrasting grout that highlights the shapes and styles of the tile or a matching grout color that will blend in and create a seamless look. Personally, I tend to specify grout colors that blend with the tiles for cohesiveness.
No matter your choice, it's typically best practice to have the installer seal your grout. By sealing it, the grout will be waterproof, resist staining, and last longer. If you've ever seen tile with some funky grout, it likely wasn't sealed properly.
The thickness of the grout is also important—in other words, how closely is your tile set together? The wider your tiles are spaced, the more noticeable the grout will be. Wider grout will highlight the shape and pattern of the tile (think of it like a contrasting frame or outline).
No matter what you choose for your tile or where you decide to install it, it’s a nice choice for most homes. Tile can be an excellent material for your bathroom. It’s also a good choice for entryways and areas that see moisture (and foot traffic). Follow the steps above to get a tile look you’ll love for years to come.
So what are your thoughts on tile? Love it or pass? Let me know in the comments below!