Tile Selection #1: Pursuit Of The Perfect Tile


Water mixed with clay and dried by the sun.

Was the first tile a happy accident?


Tiles have been used in construction since the time of the original Roman baths and in ancient Greece before that. Today we use tiles indoors and out for floors, walls, showers, backsplashes, fireplace surrounds, walkways, pools and spas. Though practical, tiles are also like fine jewelry in their ability to define and elevate your design scheme and the ambience you want to create.

So much beauty, too many choices: Shopping for tiles comes under the category of “an embarrassment of riches”. The blizzard of beautiful colors, patterns and textures to be experienced while hunting for your perfect tile is delightful. If you are prepared in advance, that is. If you don’t arm yourself  with a loosely tailored pre-edited outline of what to look for before you go, expect some overwhelm in the Wonder World of tile.

How to prep for your shopping adventure: 

  • Start a collection of photos of you might see at random and tear sheets from magazines that represent the styles, colors, textures, etc. that inspire you.
  • Study these carefully to get a good sense of what you like or even more importantly, what you don’t like. Edit now to avoid design confusion later.
  • Educate yourself. Not all tiles are clay….what other materials are being used to great effect?

The best selections will not only satisfy your preferences, but coordinate with the rest of your home. It’s disorienting to feel as though you have stepped into either a foreign country or the twilight zone upon entering a different room.

Approximate how many square feet of tile you will need before you set out. It will help you keep it real in terms of dollars and sense.

Let’s face it. Few people can overlook budget constraints in these times.

Always consider maintenance. For high traffic areas, wouldn’t you benefit most with floor tiles that are easy to clean? While solids are classic, very light colors like white and almond or very dark shades such as navy, black or chocolate brown will show any dirt or marks more easily. Just as troublesome are high-sheen tiles as they will show pet and people footprints in dulled relief.

Suitability: Scale is a major consideration when weighing your options. You would think at first glance that tile size depends on the size of the area to be tiled. Logically speaking, larger tiles would make sense in larger areas and accordingly, smaller tiles are for smaller spaces.

But this is where it gets tricky…

Big spaces don’t suffer the inferiority complex small spaces do. There’s no concern about appearing “bigger”. Sizable tiled areas can benefit by using large tiles with highly contrasting grout colors to create an obvious pattern. In substantial scale, the pattern becomes a design element that will add another layer of interest to your esthetic vision.

As for those smaller areas, one thing to bear in mind is that the smaller the tile, the more of a graphic pattern it will produce. Tiny tile arranged in a dense, boldly colored pattern with highly contrasting grout gives me a headache just writing about it. Imagine living with it. This fact alone, makes a strong argument to use the largest size tiles for the walls and floors even though the space itself may be closet sized.

Don’t blow your design scheme with white grout…unless there is a good reason for it. White grout is not a default solution in the same way, (for some unsubstantiated reason), most assume all ceilings should be white. Every grout maker offers a fairly large palette of colors to coordinate with your carefully selected tile. Choice judiciously. A very general thumb rule is to match the grout to the tile color, unless you really do want to create a strong graphic pattern.

Every change in color and material stops your eye to register the change.

The key words to use as “aid to small space guidelines” are neutrality and seamlessness. A limited color palette is a big help too. Small is beautiful, if the tile color blends with the wall color and the ceiling matches the walls. The differences of materials and surfaces will be diminished and you won’t be aware of where the walls end or the ceiling begins. As such, the space will appear expanded.

Classic is good: Your tile selection could well be a lifetime commitment. It’s not an easy or inexpensive task to rip out the tiles if you make a mistake. Neutral colors in solids or lightly patterned designs will not look dated over time, as trendier looks will.

Textured tiles mimicking fabrics such as linen, and weaves like damask and basket in subtle colors is a great way to go. You won’t go wrong with “imitation” stone tiles either. They look real but are usually made of porcelain. Just don’t go for a too rough “pre-dawn-of-time-cave” look with your selection. You will quickly tire of the novelty and it will be a hard sell to the next owner, as the case may be.

Photo – Alchemy Materials

Questions? Cindy@DecodingDecor.com