Tile — you’ve seen it around, you’ve lived with it, and you’ve probably swooned over it in the latest glossy issue of House Beautiful. (You know we were swooning right there with you.) Tile is one of those design elements that is simple and versatile yet packs a design punch when used well.
In fact, when I recently noticed that several of our in-progress projects have incredible, vibrant tile installations planned, I realized that we’ve never shared our approach to tile here with you! (Wallpaper, yes… Lighting, yes… Mixed Metals, yes…) Clearly an oversight, and one I’m happy to rectify today…
A brief history of tile’s ancient origins
If you have ever traveled to Europe, the Middle East, or parts of Asia, I bet you have seen tile mosaics shining in ancient palaces and basilicas, peeking unexpectedly out of corridors, or decorating ancient courtyards. This is one of the reasons I love traveling — there is so much history to see that plays an active role in how we live our lives today.
So where did tile get its start?
According to historians, decorative ceramic tile was first used in Egypt, for both interiors and exteriors, in 4,000 B.C.(source). However, there is some speculation that the concept and use of tile goes back thousands of years before that. Incredible when you think that we still use ceramic tile today, isn’t it?
From the ancient Greek mosaics to the birth of porcelain in China, tile continued to grow in popularity across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas. Around the 18th and 19th centuries, it became a standard feature in homes, thanks largely to its aesthetic appeal and hygienic qualities — both of which still hold true today! Which brings us to…
What are the benefits of tile?
Today, tile is beloved by our design team and our clients for a whole host of great reasons…
Ease: Tile is easy to clean, especially in a kitchen or bathroom, and is 100% water-friendly.
Durability: Tile doesn’t dent like hardwoods, and unless it’s cheap tile, it won’t crack unless something REALLY heavy drops on it. This gives tile great longevity in a space.
Slip-Proof: Some tiles have texture that naturally prevents slippage in wet places. In general, it’s also true that the smaller the tile, the more grout required between the tiles, and the less slippery the tile will be when used as flooring. (Tip: Look at the COF, or coefficient of friction, to judge its “slip factor.” The higher the COF, the less slippage.)
Safety: With tile, you can also encase completely wet spaces, such as a bathroom, by tiling all 6 sides of the room. (Great for steam showers.) Of course, this makes it easy to wipe down and keep clean, but it also prevents unwelcome and potentially harmful mold and bacteria from growing on surfaces.
Aesthetic: The wide variety of tile styles, configurations, and potential for creativity makes tile a no-brainer for achieving wow-worthy spaces. I think this is better shown than stated, so stay tuned below for some inspiration for stunning tile applications.
Where are good places to add tile in your home?
In New England and most northern regions, good places to use tile include kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, mudrooms, entryways, covered porches and sunrooms. Tile is also common in basements because these spaces are more likely to collect moisture or suffer from flooding.
That said, tile is also known for being a cooler material, and it can see different use cases depending on the climate. In colder climes, tile can make spaces feel chilly, which is why many homeowners will install radiant heat underneath the floor to keep their toes, and the whole home, warm and cozy. By contrast, in hot and humid regions like Florida or the Caribbean, almost every room in the home is tiled (with no radiant heat) to keep the whole home feeling cooler at the hottest times of the year.
Depending where you live, you can decide which makes the most sense for you.
Where shouldn’t you add tile?
In general, I wouldn’t suggest using tile flooring when it is adjacent to a different flooring type in an open floor plan, because it breaks up the space too much. For example, if you have an open kitchen and living room, you won’t want to tile the kitchen and have hardwoods throughout elsewhere. It will look blocky, not cohesive.
When using tile on floors it should always be in a defined space. Like this one…
12” x 12” marble and mother of pearl tiles look stunning in this Jersey Palm bathroom and feel like a seamless transition from the hardwood flooring beyond.
But… rules are made to be broken, and this can be well executed in an application like the one below, a recent tile installation at The Poplar Point Project. This works because it’s a small, confined space, and the scalloped nature of the tile doesn’t have a straight edge line. A creative approach that is going to look incredible when it’s done!
A true work-in-progress, behind-the-scenes peek. What looks like hardwood flooring is actually tile as well!
When is a good time to use tile?
I don’t have to convince you – you’re on the tile bandwagon already, but you probably want to know when and where to apply it. Here is a quick list of pre-qualifying questions you can ask yourself before making the commitment:
- Will it be near water or in a wet space?
- Will it be near heat, such as a stove, fireplace, etc.
- Does the space need both durability and visual impact?
- Is it a messy/muddy space? Or one that pets will use, too?
- Is it a defined (not open concept) space?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have your answer. (You can also download our Interior Design Project Planner here to document your best ideas and start mapping out your project!)
How can you add tile to your interior design?
The moment you have been waiting for — tile applications to show you the possibilities and inspire your creativity. You could use tile…
…as a beautifully elegant range backsplash
Left: This diamond patterned tile in natural stone elevates the elegance of the Ocean Meadow Kitchen and draws the eye upward. It’s also the perfect neutral backdrop to help these muted coastal blues feel vibrant.
Right: For the walls in the Greenwich Project’s kitchen, we used a high-gloss subway tile with natural color variation to create an upscale yet textured feel. The over-range mosaic adds some movement and interest and is a personal favorite of our client’s!
…as a backsplash that brings in a jolt of visual interest
Left: The Lemon Tree Project was inspired by this lemon print Roman shade fabric from Schumacher. To help carry the color theme throughout the kitchen, we used a scalloped tile to create this vibrant backsplash in sky blue, navy, and white.
Right: Here, we used tile to add a touch of luxury to the Jersey Palm Butler’s Pantry. Gold-colored tile with a slight shimmer helps accentuate the other gold accents in the room — on the lighting, the cabinets knobs, the faucet. Against a black and white backdrop, it looks effortlessly indulgent yet completely practical.
…to create texture and interest in a shower
Left: Showers are small spaces where tile has no limits. In the Greenwich Project’s Master Bathroom, we added variegated penny tiles to the floor to create a “river rock” feel, while textured tiles on the wall add an organic yet elegant touch. Relaxation, luxury, and a touch of nature collide.
Right: This shower from the Jersey Palm Project takes tile in a totally different direction. We used large-scale subway tiles to create bold yet soothing stripes, with a pop of antique brass in the hardware… you know, just to warm things up.
…as a delightfully surprising shower niche
Left: Shower niches aren’t just functional — they can be statement pieces! This shower niche in our client’s daughter’s bathroom is a study in subtlety. (If we do say so ourselves.) The iridescent, flower-shaped tile feels fun and feminine next to the white subway tile, but it is just delicate enough that adults can’t help but love it, too!
Right: This guest shower from the Ocean Meadow Project employs less subtlety and more contrast. Even though this shower favors shades of gray and white, this fun hexagonal pattern feels like a vibrant surprise each time someone reaches for the loofa.
…as sophisticated yet playful bathroom flooring
Left: This bathroom tile is a twist on a classic basketweave pattern (zoom in!), using cool silvery hues and natural stone to create an upscale yet understated feel that lets the charcoal elements in the room take center stage.
Center: The tile flooring in this powder room is doing everything right. Herringbone pattern. Natural marble mosaic — look at those veins! Gold inlay for a touch of playfulness and shine. What’s not to love?
Right: Speaking of playful, this guest bathroom takes tile a step further — by sending a fun message that puts every visitor in a relaxing, vacation mood. If you’re feeling bold enough to write a message in a bottle, I mean floor, just be sure to use spell check first… 😉
Pro Tip: In a bathroom, you could also tile the bottom half of the wall, then use wallpaper or paint above. It’s functional below, “party” up top. This approach can make a nice visual and is also especially helpful when potty training little boys!
…as a daring floor design in an entryway, mudroom, or sunroom
Left: We used gray and white porcelain in a custom pattern to create a grand yet intriguing entryway into the Jersey Palm home. Since this home has a pool just to the left of this hallway, it made sense to use sturdy waterproof tile over hardwood.
Center: We used tile in the mudroom of the same home and for the very same reason. As dirty shoes, wet feet, and wet jackets (in the winter season) get trekked into the house, this mid-scale checkerboard tile is ready to put up a fabulous fight.
Right: Sunrooms are a great place to put tile because they keep the space cool. Drastically different from the first two examples, this tile in the Ocean Meadow Sunroom is a work of art. Tiny, blue mosaic tiles create a scalloped pattern that mimics the look and relaxing feel of waves. Bonus: The small-scale also helps prevent slippage.
Well, I think that was quite a bit of inspiration for one day. Which tile layouts, colors, and textures were your favorite? Can you start picturing your own space?