A Little Goes a Long Way: Using Decorative Tiles

Decorative Tiles

Photo: Freshome

Many people say their ultimate fantasy as a child was the idea of being allowed to run amuck in the toy store. Once you hit adulthood, however, your fantasies alter quite a bit, which is how I came to fall in love… with the tile store.

Ann Sacks Herringbone-patterned Ceramic Subway Tiles

Ann Sacks Herringbone-patterned Ceramic Subway Tiles

We’ve done a fair amount of redecorating, including three bathrooms. The existing bathroom decor consisted of some of the most boring solid-color tile imaginable. We definitely wanted something more interesting, although we were constrained by a rough color scheme, because we were not replacing the fixtures.

Related: Trending Now—Ceramic Tiles

We are fortunate to have a variety of national home improvement chains and small independent tile stores in our area, all presenting a dizzying array of choices in terms of materials, finishes, colors, sizes, and styles.

The most basic is solid-color ceramic tile, which is offered in square or rectangular pieces and sold by the box in prices per square foot. Typical sizes range from small, 1” mosaic tiles to 4”, 6”, 8”, and 8” x 10” pieces. Solid colors are the most cost-effective ceramics, and different colors can be combined in patterns—checkerboards, stripes, diamonds, and so on.

Using Decorative Tile - Buxy

Shaw Floors' "Buxy" limestone-like ceramic wall tile

A step up from basic solid color tile is subtle, patterned tile, featuring understated designs that mimic natural stone or marble; decorators refer to this look as a “non-solid solid.” These designs often come with complementary decorative tiles featuring more intricate patterns.

Ascending up the decorative—and price—scale, you can opt for glass tiles, which feature a lovely, translucent appearance and pleasing color variations. Though glass tiles generally come in smaller sizes (such as 1” or 3”) pre-patterned assemblages are attached to a backing or substrate and sold in larger sizes (such as 10” and 12”). Another somewhat pricey but attractive option is pebble tile, or natural stone pebbles attached to mesh backing. These generally come in larger sizes, such as 12” or 16”, and the interlocking edges create a seamless joints.

Using Decorative Tile - Capri

Dal Tile's "Capri" glass mosaic wall tiles.

Since we wanted pizzazz but were working within a budget, we chose patterned ceramic tile with a marble design. To spice things up, we selected several decorative tiles with center motifs and spaced them randomly about the walls. As a finishing touch, we inserted a row of listello, or border tiles. Listellos typically are 1” to 3” wide and can range from 6” to 12” long. Both the decorative tiles and the listellos are sold by the piece, so you can use as many as your budget will allow.

We also have two walls where we only tiled halfway up the wall, and here we placed a row of bullnose, or cap tiles, along the top; these tiles are slightly rounded on one side to create a finished edge. There are also chair rail tiles, quarter-round tiles, or half-round tiles that can complete the look.

As a final indulgence, we splurged on a mosaic “picture tile,” where multiple tiles are pieced together to form a picture, in our case of leaping dolphins. The end result: we transformed our bathroom from “blah” to “beautiful.”

For more on bathroom remodeling, consider:

Subway Tiles: The New Classics
Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options
9 Designer Tips to Maximize Small Bathroom Design