Straight Set vs. Offset Tile: The Home Fashion Facts

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 fabulous effects you can achieve with straight set or offset tile.

Straight Set Tile

 Photo: Dwayne Bent/flickrStraight set tile (or "straight lay") refers not to a specific type of tile, but rather to a process of tile installation. Square or rectangular tiles are set horizontally, 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 a professional tile installer, installation cost will be about $500+ (labor only) for a 100 square foot ceramic tile 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.

Checkerboard is another variation on the straight set tile theme -- 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 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'd like to use this offbeat look with today's larger tiles, 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.

Tile Fashion Trends

The current tendency in tile fashion is toward straight set installation. This offers the clean linear look that embodies today's aesthetic. 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.

Trending now: Polar opposites share the style spotlight at the moment. The chicest tile is either very small or very large.

Photo: Bec Plumbe/flickrTiny mosaic tiles of one square inch or less can be very attractive for the walls of a petite shower or for a backsplash. 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

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