The Basics of Designing with Tile

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Feb 11, 2010 | Linda Merrill

Pretty much every house has a tile floor, counter, backsplash or shower surround. Tile comes in many materials including stone, clay, metal and glass. Because they are manufactured, decorative tiles come in a near-infinite variety of colors, styles and patterns: Nearly anything is possible. Another feature that adds to the appeal of tile is that it comes in every price point, from budget ceramic to high-end custom-designed and handmade works of art.

Ceramic & Porcelain

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are probably the most common type of tile used in the home. Both are made from clay, painted, glazed and fired at a high temperature. Simple glazed tiles have a homogenous look, so it's the shape of the tile and the patterns you can create with them that make designing with ceramic tile so interesting.

From classic, white hexagonal floor tiles to simple rectangular subway tiles on a bathroom wall or kitchen backsplash, plain ceramic and porcelain tiles offer interesting design opportunities where shape and pattern can be highlighted. For a more ethnic look, Portuguese, Delft or Turkish tiles, with their vibrant and colorful patterns, have long been used everywhere in the home -- from fireplace surrounds to stair risers, in addition to walls, counters and floors.

Stone

Stone tiles include marble, granite, slate, limestone and travertine. As a natural material, no two stones will be alike, so it's important to understand that the finished product will have variations in color, pattern and texture -- that is part of the inherent beauty of stone. Stone tiles can be finished in many different ways. They can be polished (shiny), honed (matte), tumbled (rough surface), sandblasted (textured) or sawn (textured).

Natural materials have an organic, old-world appeal and as a design element, the beauty of natural stone is hard to beat. From the subtle veining of Carrara marble to the wild patterning of certain granites, stone offers an ever-changing look that works well on countertops, floor and showers. Stone tiles are lighter than slabs, which is why they work well in smaller areas and spaces where weight is an issue.

Metal

Metal tiles often come in stainless steel, copper, aluminum and bronze. As a manufactured product, metal tiles come in a variety of styles including etched, pressed or embossed.

While it's rare to see an entire wall done in metal tile, it can be used for a distinctive and very modern backsplash in a kitchen. More often, however, metal tiles are mixed in with stone or glass tiles for an interesting decorative effect.

Glass

Glass tiles are the true artisanal product of the tile world. As a man-made product, glass tiles come in any color and style you can imagine, and they can be used on many surfaces -- even floors, with the right installation. Glass tiles work particularly well on backsplashes and in bathrooms on walls and shower surrounds for a crisp, clean look.

Tile in all its forms is a wonderful, decorative element in any interior space. Whether you're looking for a crisp and clean finish or a multi-hued and organic look, there is a tile for every style and need throughout the home.

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