Designing With Tile

How to add style to the functional areas of your home with decorative tile



Kitchen tile at a Windham residence by Artistic Tile of Nashua

Dan Splaine of Test Of Time Photo

Of all the decorating options available to homeowners, tile adds pizzazz to areas that are mainly functional. Whether it’s in an entryway, bathroom or kitchen, tile is a stylish way to add value to your home. “Tile offers fashion and function, which is a fun combination,” says Brett Cooper, owner of Portico Fine Tile & Design in Greenland. “But if you’re going to take the time and money to do it, make sure you’re adding an extra ‘something’ to your room.”

Have no idea where to start? Here are a few tips, basic introductions to the types of tile and what rooms they are best suited to, a bit of design inspiration, words of caution when it comes to installation and more.

Don’t know anything about tile? Learn about the different types, the best tile for DIY installation, costs and more:

Plan Your Room

Although it’s often one of the last choices homeowners make after choosing flooring, cabinetry, appliances and fixtures, tile is versatile and comes in a dizzying array of colors and types. It can be used as flooring in entryways, bathrooms, powder rooms and kitchens; as decorative accents in kitchen and bathroom backsplashes, walls and wall trim; and in walls and counter tops.

Before making a decision, however, says Diane Soucy, designer at Artistic Tile in Nashua, evaluate your lifestyle. Location and wear and tear are important considerations. “Think about what area the tile is going in and the foot traffic,” she says. “How will the space be used? How will you maintain it? What’s your budget? Is the area wet or dry?”

There’s a type of tile for almost any project: ceramic, porcelain, natural stone, glass, even metals (including stainless steel, aluminum and copper for low maintenance and industrial styling). The most popular types are ceramic, porcelain and natural stone.

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

Porcelain and ceramic tile are basically the same types of tile with a few key differences. Ceramic tile is made from clay or a combination of clay, sand and water and then kiln-fired.

Also made of clay, porcelain tile is baked at higher temperatures for a longer time, making it harder than ceramic tile.

Even fireplaces can benefit from decorative tile. This is a limestone mosaic from the same Windham residence shown on the opening photo. Design by Artistic Tile of Nashua.
photo by Dan Splaine of Test Of Time Photo

Both tile types can be used to cover walls, ceilings, counter tops, showers and backsplashes, but porcelain tile is a better choice for wet areas like bathroom floors or walls “because it’s durable and won’t absorb water,” says Cooper. “It’s also more damage-resistant.”

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are rated level 1 through 5 by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) for hardness and durability; a PEI rating of one to two for walls and counter tops, three to five for flooring. Ceramic tile is a less expensive choice than porcelain.

Natural Stone Tile

Natural stone tiles are hard and extremely durable, making them good choices for outside use and flooring. More expensive than ceramic and porcelain tile, natural stone offers subtle differences in appearance, water absorption and durability.

Kitchen tile at the Windham residence by Artistic Tile of Nashua
Dan Splaine of Test Of Time Photo

Common types include marble, limestone, travertine, granite and slate. Each natural stone tile is unique and has its own natural beauty. “You can’t beat stone’s longevity,” says Cooper. “If it’s installed well and maintained, it’ll outlast you.”

Installation

Proper installation is important, regardless of tile type. Ceramic is the easiest tile for do-it-yourselfers to install because it’s soft, easy to work with and only requires a tile cutter; glass mosaics (smaller tiles typically available in sheets) are also easier to install if proper installation techniques are followed. For flooring, a proper sub floor is necessary to avoid cracked tiles. Incorrectly installed or sealed projects like showers or bathtubs can be a nightmare. “Water always wins,” says Cooper. “Your tile is only as good as the installer.”

Choosing Grout

Grout is another area to choose carefully. With so many colors and options available, white is not the only choice.

Soucy recommends selecting a grout that’s mold- and mildew-resistant.“There are now sealants that last 15 years,” she says. “If you have to spend more to get a  grout with mold and mildew protection in it, it’s worth it.”

Bathroom tile design at the Windham residence by Artistic Tile of Nashua
Dan Splaine of Test Of Time Photo

Pricing

Tile is priced per square foot and prices vary widely by type. New technology — including screen-printed porcelain tile that mimics the look of natural stone, textured tile that looks like hardwood, as well as larger stone tiles that decrease the amount of grout used — is providing consumers with more options.

Designs can also be tweaked to mix and match depending on cost. A decorative tile panel in a shower or kitchen area can be a low-cost, high-interest alternative to tiling an entire wall. “Start with what you love,” recommends Cooper. “Just because a tile is less expensive doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a well-thought out design.” 

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