Our Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Perfect Tile

Interiors & Decor


As loyal longtime readers can attest to, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for beautiful, thoughtfully installed tile. Relatively simple additions like a bar backsplash with subway tiling or bathroom flooring made up of penny tiling make a major impact on a room’s overall aesthetic, as well as its functionality. Choosing tile solely based on appearance can have some unfortunate consequences in the long run, and oh do I know this from experience.

As we sadly say RIP to the cement tile in our kitchen, I thought it would be the perfect time to get educated on what to consider, what to expect, and where to install the different tiles that are available to you. For example, it might look super stylish to install a tile stone wall in a bathroom, but the high level of moisture can lead to mold. Cement tile has a texture and depth unmatched by any other tile, but you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you want it to continue to look “new” after it inevitably patinas. 

The point is, installing tile is a decision based on both aesthetics and functionality and can sometimes put what we love at odds with what is right for the space. My suggestion after installing the WRONG tile (that I still love) in the WRONG space is to approach this decision logically and factor in the “where” and “what for” of tile installation before you start looking at color schemes and textures. It’s the best advice anyone’s ever going to give you: don’t rush into any decision.

Once you’ve figured out the logistics (tile purpose and placement), the rest of the criteria will fall into place a lot easier. As Jim McDonald said to me just last night, “There are a million choices of paint you can go with, but only a limited number of tiles. And an even smaller selection that is in stock and ready to ship.”

To get you started, I’ve listed what I believe are the most important aspects to consider when shopping for tile. I hope this helps all of you tile fanatics out there! 

Aspects to consider when shopping for tile

Durability: It’s essential to pick a material that can withstand wear and tear and last for years on end. Not all materials are durable. If the stone is natural, it will stain and patina. Marble will chip. All basic truths that should be accounted for when thinking about what works in your space. 

Location: The room where you are going to install the tile can help narrow down the options. The bathroom and kitchen require a waterproof material like ceramic or glass for the walls. However, you can also select certain stone tiles that work well in high moisture areas. Floors need more durable materials since they’ll have to withstand walking pressure; I recommend going for ceramic or even porcelain.

Size: Large floor tiles can make the room appear larger since there are less visible grout lines to break the pattern. On the other hand, small tiles can work well as a backsplash, or on the floor of a small space. I like smaller tiles in historic homes because they seem to feel more natural in rooms that have character and a bit of patina. 

Style: Textured or matte tiles are the less slippery options in comparison to other smooth or shiny finishes—an important thing to keep in mind, especially if you’re installing floor tiles in bathroom, kitchens, or other areas where there’s a high chance of moisture. Something I’ve recently learn is texture can also have some aesthetic value, as well. For example, a “rough cut” tile that mimics patterns and textures adds style to any room! Add a contrasting grout and you’ve got a visually stunning look that doesn’t compete with other furnishings. 

Tile Grouts: A color close to that of the tile will make the grout almost unnoticeable, so the tile installation looks compact while a contrasting color can make individual tiles pop. It all depends on what effect you want to create, and the tile model you choose. Consider grout as a design element, not a last minute decision! A stunning pattern can be created with the right grout choice. 


Natural Stone

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Natural stone usually has to be sealed and is one of the hardest materials to clean because they hold more pores that can collect dirt and grime. 

Some natural stones like marble are softer and more absorbent than most tiles, but it’s still tough enough for a variety of applications.  Marble is best for: backsplashes, floors, pastry surfaces, tub surrounds, and vanity tops. Use a poultice (available at flooring stores) to absorb stains. Sealing is an option, but some sealants may darken white pieces, so test a discreet area first. 

If you are looking for a rustic or industrial look, consider slate flooring, particularly darker tones that are not prone to staining. The finish tends to look natural with only a slight polish. I love the look of slate when paired with light and natural wood finishes!! 


Glass

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Glass tile can be SO stunning when applied to the perfect location. I like to think of glass tile as adding a little jewelry or visual pop to your space. They’re a great way to get creative with your design and let your personal style show through. According to This Old House, “Glass mosaic tile is more than just a pretty face. In terms of performance, livability, and hygiene, it offers an impervious surface that inhibits mold, mildew, and bacteria. And more good news: As demand and improvements in manufacturing have made the style options soar, they’ve also brought prices down.”

Drawback? Glass is prone to water spots.


Ceramic & Porcelain

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Ceramic and porcelain are very easy to clean. Given the way we live in our house, we like to keep things low-maintenance. There are a lot of benefits to selecting this material from a design standpoint because they mimic all sorts of traditional flooring materials like marble, granite, wood, and steel. So you get something that feels like the real thing without the upkeep. I also love that they are durable, resistant to liquids, stain-resistant, and fireproof. If you want your tile to look new after years of hard living, this is the first place you start looking. Don’t even bother with the other materials!


Cement

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Now. For the infamous cement tile. I designed our kitchen before the boom of cement tile took the internet by storm, much to the dismay of tile installers and contractors everywhere. Slowly, I think many of us realized how impractical our choices were when it came to WHERE this flooring is best used. In fact, the removal of my cement tile inspired this research (and this post!). Given that our kitchen has been shared almost a million times on Pinterest, I feel it is my duty to share what I’ve learned.

The problem with encaustic tile is twofold: it’s expensive to buy and install, and it gets stained within the first hour of use. The New York Times wrote a great article about the problem with this trend (I’M SO SORRY), which is this: “Ceramic tile usually has a layer of glaze on top and is impervious after being fired at a high temperature in a kiln. Cement tile is cured at room temperature, not fired, and the colored layer on top, usually about an eighth of an inch thick, is porous.”

I thought, if it’s good enough for the centuries-old buildings in Europe, it’s good enough for me! But that didn’t take into consideration the fact my husband is a neat freak and the patina drove him NUTS. And as much joy as our tile brought me daily (and it really did), it matters more to me that Joe feel just as happy about the design decisions in our home as I do. It was a COSTLY mistake. A very hard pill to swallow. And removing tile isn’t in everyone’s budget.

So, PLEASE! Ask yourself these questions if you are considering encaustic tile:

One: Will a patina bother me? If the answer is yes, this tile is not for you. The natural graying or “dinginess” that comes with age is what this tile is SUPPOSED to do, much like marble does. If you are a neat freak, time to visit the porcelain tiles!

Two: Are you installing this in a high traffic area of the house? Will there be lots of spills to clean up? And if so, are you OK with having to clean your floors more often? If the answer is yes, then keep considering them!

Three: Do you have the budget? It is costly to buy and install these beautiful pieces. If you love the look of cement tile (there isn’t anything that compares!), then cement tile will be your dream. Just really think about whether or not it fits into your lifestyle.


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BY Kate Arends - April 17, 2019

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8 Comments  +

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  1. Our Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Perfect Tile – Business Blog

    April 17th, 2019 at 11:12 pm

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  2. Kristin

    April 18th, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Kate – I’m loving your podcast, and the ones with Joe especially have totally resonated, as the mom of a 1 year old girl and 4 year old boy. We have a 1919 Tudor revival and I can’t wait to see what you do with your renovation. We’re planning an eventual entryway/kitchen/master bedroom renovation, so I can’t wait to see what you decide to do!

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  5. Katarina - Sukhirugs.com

    April 26th, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Great tips, thanks for sharing! The right tiles can make any space more appealing and give it personality and character. My favorite tiles were always ceramic and porcelain because of their ability to instantly make the mood more cheerful, but I love that you’ve given the pros and cons for all the other options as well.

  6. Emma

    May 20th, 2019 at 4:37 am

    Hi Kate,

    Loved reading this post! I’m in the process of planning a bathroom renovation in my house so I found it super helpful.

    I’m obsessed with the glass subway tiles – love how fresh and chic they are!

    Looking forward to reading more of your content,

    Emma

  7. Melanie O

    July 3rd, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for this awesome guide! Love all the different options you showed!

  8. counters

    July 15th, 2019 at 6:53 am

    It will also be protected against foot traffic, liquid spills, and increase of weeds.
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    projects you plan to build. If you’ve got found a reputed company or an experienced one which has a variety of projects on his or her
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