Creative Uses for Tile on Walls

Add interest to your kitchen or bath walls by creating a one-of-a-kind tile backsplash that mixes tile shapes, sizes, textures, and colors.

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Most Popular


When looking for tile to use on a kitchen or bathroom wall, choose tiles that are waterproof and stain-resistant. Ceramic tiles are a popular choice because they are durable and affordable. These tiles are made from refined clay, mixed with additives and water, and then hardened in a kiln. Ceramic tiles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and finishes. This tile is glazed, treated with a protective and decorative coating that adds color and an extra layer of water-resistance.

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All Aboard


Subway tiles are 3 X 6-inch rectangular tiles (often ceramic) that are usually arranged in a brick pattern. This type of tile was commonly used in New York subway stations, hence the name. Subway tiles were popular in early 20th-century homes, which means that using them today lends a beautiful vintage appearance to kitchens and baths.

Tip: Individual tiles are sold in dimensional names that describe their installed size, not the actual size. A 3 X 6-inch tile will actually be 1/8-inch shorter in each direction. A standard grout joint adds the last 1/8 inch. Always check the actual size of the tiles before buying.

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Uniform Arrangement


Tile is popular because of its versatility. Here, subway tiles add more interest to the kitchen because of their red glaze, interesting texture, and lack of visible grout lines. These tiles are stacked in a uniform arrangement to draw attention to the tile rather than the way they were installed.

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Mix and Match


Because field tiles (e.g. 4 X 4 inches) are so affordable, homeowners often choose to save money by choosing multiple colors and arranging the tile in a unique way. In this example, contrasting black tiles break up the expanse of white tiles. By grouping the black tiles in fours, they give the appearance of large squares.

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Zig and Zag


Rectangular tiles are often installed in a staggered pattern (shown in glass). Add additional interest to such an arrangement by varying the tile colors.

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An Eye Full


Listellos, or border tiles, are typically installed as accent pieces to break up an expanse of tile, draw the eye to a focal point, or to transition from one material to the next. Listellos are more expensive than ceramic or other plain tiles; therefore, they are used sparingly.

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Stand Out


Decorative tile broadly describes any tile with a pattern, whether that means molding the clay, hand-painting the design, or affixing a decal to the tile before it's fired in the kiln. These decorative tiles break up a wall of plain field tiles. Using just a few decorative tiles draws attention to the pattern and creates a one-of-a-kind design.

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Money Saver


Using only a few decorative tiles in a wall installation saves money since most of the surface is covered by relatively inexpensive field tiles.

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Pure Beauty


Natural stone tiles include granite, marble, flagstone, and slate. Granite is the most durable and water-resistant of the natural stones. Stone tiles cut in a uniform size and thickness can be installed just like ceramic tile.

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Rock Steady


Natural stone tiles come in polished (glasslike), honed (dull), or tumbled (rough) finishes. Tiles with irregular shapes, such as the ones shown here, add a natural, earthy presence to the design. Don't worry about the rough edges; the grout will fill in any gaps.

Tip: Mix grout with a liquid latex additive rather than water for added liquid resistance. Seal the grout one or two weeks after installation to increase protection.

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Modern Marvel


Metal tiles (which look especially good in kitchens with stainless-steel appliances) are usually made of stainless steel, copper, brass, or zinc. These tiles are often manufactured to be the same thickness and have the same ease of installation as ceramic tiles. Metal tiles work well above ranges because metal is durable and easy to clean.

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Mass Appeal


Mosaic tiles come in a variety of shapes, including squares (ranging from one to two inches), hexagons, and octagons. Mosaics often come in 12 X 12-inch sheets that make them easier to install. Because mosaics are small and easy to handle, they can be used on flat, rounded, or curved surfaces.

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Mix and Match


Mixing tiles is a great way to add interest to a project . Here, mosaic and listello tiles add an interesting border within an expanse of plain subway tile.

Tip: If you're using more than one kind of tile, plan for breakage. Always purchase an extra 10 percent. Plus, the extra tiles will save you from having to track down matching pieces for repair jobs down the road.

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Block Formation


Another way to mix tiles is to treat sheets of mosaic tiles as traditional ceramic tile squares. These homeowners mixed mosaic-tile squares with colorful squares and arranged them in a stacked pattern. This technique creates an interesting design, but is easy to install.

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Color Contrast


Using a contrasting grout draws attention to the tile. In this example, a light-color grout lets the round green tiles pop. Use a darker grout with light-color subway tiles to create the look of age.

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Catch a Wave


Tile is an ideal choice for bathrooms because of its water-resistant nature. It can be used on floors, walls, countertops, in shower stalls, and around bathtubs. Glass tiles are perfect for this type of installation because they are impervious to stains and moisture. Glass tiles are often made from recycled materials, which also makes them good for the environment.

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Home on the Range


A range-back mural is an arrangement of decorative tiles above the range that creates a focal point in the kitchen. Many manufactures sell predesigned murals that are installed the same as traditional tiles. For a do-it-yourself challenge, homeowners can create a mural by arranging plain tiles into a unique pattern.

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Attention Craver


The alcove between the range hood and the range top is the perfect location for a mural. Surfaces in this area must be heat- and grease-resistant and low-maintenance. This makes tile the perfect choice. This decorative mural is surrounded by 1 X 1-inch mosaic tiles. The mural breaks up the mosaic that runs through the kitchen.

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