Straight Set vs. Offset Tile: The Home Fashion Facts

Posted by Laura Firszt | Nov 05, 2014
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Photo: Handtrade Corporation/flickrTile is one of the biggest decor fashion trends of the decade. Savvy home decorators are using this lovely, versatile material in kitchens, bathrooms, and all around the house. Besides the wide array of attractive colors and patterns available, the way your tile is installed will add interest and express your personality. Learn about the terminology of tile installation and the fabulous effects you can achieve with different methods of setting tile.

Straight Set Tile

 Photo: Dwayne Bent/flickrStraight set tile (or "straight lay") does not refer to a specific type of tile, but rather to a process of tile installation. Either square or rectangular tiles are set square to the wall in parallel rows. This is the simplest way to install tile, and is great for DIYers. If you opt to hire professional tile installers, the tile installation price will be about $500 (labor only) for a 100 square foot floor, or approximately $400 to cover the same amount of wall space.

Photo: Metro Centric/flickrVertical straight set is an alternative tile installation which is great for rooms with low ceilings and other cramped areas. Setting rectangular tiles such as subway tile vertically gives the illusion that the space is longer, just like dressing in vertical stripes will make a person appear taller.

Another variation on the straight set tile theme is checkerboard -- that is, using two colors of square tile alternately to form a dramatic retro-style checkerboard pattern, which works as the focal point of your room.

Offset Tile

Photo: Julian Burgess/flickrOffset tile is also known as brick pattern or running bond. Traditionally used by masons as an easy and strong pattern for building walls, offset works with both rectangular and square tiles. Each line of tile is offset by the width of half a tile. This unexpected layout draws the eye and adds interest to a single-colored tile installation. For even more excitement, offset patterns may include rows of varying widths and tiles in two or more colors or contrasting finishes.  

Photo: Handtrade Corporation/flickrIf you would like to use this offbeat look with today's larger tiles, please take note that in place of the customary half-tile offset, expert tile contractors are now recommending a variation -- third stagger. Each joint is offset by one-third (rather than a half) from the preceding row. This avoids matching the lowest point of a tile to the highest point of the tile above it, creating an unsightly effect termed "lippage."

Random stagger is yet another way to offset. It is particularly popular when using tiles manufactured to resemble wood, as it simulates the uneven lengths of the planks in a hardwood floor.

Trends

The current tendency in tile fashion is toward straight set installation. This offers the clean linear look that embodies today's esthetic. It also acts as the perfect showcase for gorgeous porcelain or ceramic tile. Offset installation gives a more traditional spin, but it's important to avoid an overly "busy" appearance.

Photo: Bec Plumbe/flickrTrending now: Polar opposites share the style spotlight at the moment. The chicest tile is either very small or very large. Tiny mosaic tiles of one square inch or less, preferably in a single bright color, can be very attractive in a small space such as a guest powder room or a kitchen backsplash installation. Installation is simplified by special backings or "frontings" which conveniently allow a number of tiles to be placed at one time.

Photo: Colorbuilding/flickrSupersized tiles measuring as much as 24" x 48" require a minimum of grout lines when installed either straight set or offset -- and offer a sleek transitional look for spacious living or dining rooms.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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