Miles of Tiles

New state-of-the-art manufacturing and printing techniques have resulted in much more intriguing and versatile tiles.

Gone are the days when tile was relegated to floors, bathrooms, and the occasional fireplace. New state-of-the-art manufacturing and printing techniques have resulted in a much more intriguing product.

“Tile is not just about ceramic, glass, and stone,” says DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for Ann Sacks, in Portland, Ore. “Leather, concrete, wood, metal, and quartz are all interesting materials. Mixed media also can be done in a variety of combinations that create unique looks.”

These reimagined tiles can enhance the architecture of a room and even replace art as a focal point. And it’s grown far beyond its conventional boundaries. “A splash is not just a splash anymore,” says interior designer Lita Dirks, CEO of Lita Dirks & Co., in Greenwood Village, Colo. “Sometimes the tile grows into an entire wall, or the backdrop of the rangehood, or the wall surrounding the kitchen window.”

Super-sized tile

Bigger is better. “Aesthetically, the size format has doubled,” says Barbie Kennedy, principal of Barbie Kennedy Designs, in Palm City, Fla. “Porcelain tiles as big as 5 feet by 7 feet can be used for shower installations with minimal grout lines, and for seamless countertop applications.”

In addition to the standard 3-by-6-inch format, the ever-popular subway tile is now available in 3-by-12-, 4-by-8-, 8-by-16-, and even 9-by-18-inch sizes. Longer, taller tiles are sometimes arranged vertically for impact.

“It used to be common to do a kitchen backsplash with 4-by-4-inch tile,” says John Petrie of Mother Hubbard’s Custom Cabinetry, in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Petrie, who is immediate past president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, says that the 4 by 4 is rare today: “[It might be] 18 inches, or 12 by 24 inches, or 24 by 36 inches.”

Varied shapes, colors, and locations

Tiles in various, sometimes exotic, shapes—Moroccan or arabesque, penny round, large hexagon, chevron—are popping up more frequently, and vintage looks such as the classic black and white hexagons have become more modernized with larger formats.

Metallics are also creeping back into the tile marketplace. “There was a time when metallics seemed sort of ’90s,” says Alena Capra, owner of Alena Capra Designs, in Dania Beach, Fla. “But [now] I see them in a lot of mosaics and glass. Gold tones are popular as well as chrome, pewter, and platinum.”

Tile is showing up in new locations as well. No longer relegated to wet environments, it’s now seen in vestibules, molding insets, art niches, and on TV walls, “taking tile products beyond the bath and putting them in non-wet environments,” Kennedy says.

Porcelain is ascendant

Buoyed by the introduction of such products as wood-look planks and thinner tiles, porcelain is reaching critical mass. “It’s going to keep getting better because wood flooring never goes out of style,” Capra says. “As much as we love real wood, it’s great to have these low-maintenance porcelain alternatives.” And thin porcelain tile can be installed over an existing floor or used as cladding.

Wood-look porcelain is so realistic that even professional designers can’t tell the difference. Available in planks up to 12 by 48 inches, wood-look porcelain often replaces real wood floors because of its durability, making it an ideal choice for kitchens and other high-traffic areas. It has also become popular for secondary bathroom floors. And in warm, humid climates, a wood-plank porcelain floor is much more practical than the real thing.

Manufacturers can now reproduce images of natural stone on the face of porcelain with minimal repetition, creating the look of nature without the upkeep. “It looks like limestone or marble or slate,” Petrie says, “but you have all the benefits of porcelain—it’s nonporous, extremely durable, and requires less maintenance than natural stone.”  PR

Wood-look porcelain on the floor and in horizontal bands on the wall creates drama in this bath. Large porcelain tiles were used on the wall and tub surround.

The niche in this kitchen backsplash has a mosaic-tile design that makes it pop out of the surrounding white subway tile. The shelf in the niche is made of the same granite as the countertops.

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