Vibrant colors and mesmerizing patterns are hallmarks for today's decorative tiles, and homeowners everywhere are snapping them up to express their style. And no wonder! They're a creative way to dramatically transform backsplashes, shower and bath surrounds, floors, stair risers, tabletops, and more from ordinary surfaces into the highlight of a room.
If you're considering bringing these feats of clay (or cement) into your house, you'll be excited to discover nearly limitless designs, sizes, and shapes so you can create a look that's one-of-a-kind.
Some tiles feature stand-alone designs, while others fit together to form a stunning overall pattern like wallpaper. Before you use decorative tiles, take note of the light patterns in the room. Pay special attention to areas where the light falls off into darker spaces. Strategically placed decorative accents can make these spots seem brighter.
Visit a tile specialty showroom and study designer sample boards or vignettes to help you formulate the combination of color, texture, and style that is just right for your setting.
Pick the grout carefully. Light colors tend to disappear; dark grouts make the design stand out. To cut costs, accent the accent—surround one or two decorative tiles with field tiles in a contrasting color.
Your budget and design goals will help guide your choice and use of decorative tile designs. For example, you may decide to cover a large area with decorative tiles, such as this boldly graphic black-and-white kitchen backsplash that extends to adjacent walls. Thin grout lines allow the pattern of these handcrafted cement Cuban tiles to appear uninterrupted.
Decorative tiles aren't limited to kitchen backsplashes. The hand-painted Moroccan lantern-inspired tiles in this kitchen continue from the backsplash to the island snack bar, providing a durable yet dynamic surface that can withstand shoe scuffs and scratches. Products designed to be backsplash tiles are usually made to withstand a fair amount of dings and scratches.
Decorative tile remains an excellent choice for flooring, offering both beauty and durability. Use it to create easy-to-clean surfaces that stay cool underfoot. If you live in a climate with brisk falls and cold winters, find tile styles that offer the perfect material for radiant heating systems so you can step out of the shower onto a pleasantly warm tile floor.
Use decorative tile to play up the style of your home. In this vintage kitchen, located in a 1926 Spanish Revival, the homeowners used colorful Moroccan-inspired tiles to create a colorful transition from green lower cabinets and white upper cabinetry.
This beautiful display also has border tiles at the bottom and top of the backsplash. Listellos are border tiles made to embellish both floors and walls. Floor pieces usually come as a mosaic with a mesh backed, which makes for easy installation. Listellos designed for walls are perfect for chair rails, mural frames, and cornice moldings. Use them to separate a tiled wall into decorative sections. Some are high-fired ceramics. Others are molded limestone, a product that is several times softer than ceramic tile.
Beat the Band
It's not the quantity of decorative tile, but how you use it. In this master bathroom, a wide band of black, white, and gray mosaic tiles hugs the concrete countertop to introduce eye-catching pattern. To save on labor costs and simplify installation, look for mosaic tiles already assembled in a pattern and secured to mesh sheets.
Rise to the Occasion
An entryway staircase becomes all the more memorable with the addition of decorative riser tiles. With old-world style, each riser features a different pattern of hand-painted tile, creating an ascending quilt of color and style to greet all who enter the front door.
Hand-painted tiles display the work of craftspeople who paint the bisque before it's fired. The paint doesn't scratch easily, but most hand-painted tiles won't stand up to the rigors required of floors or countertops. Use them to spice up a tiled wall—they're great for random accents.
A mix of fine-cut traditional Calcutta and coffee-color marble tiles creates an intricate accent wall in this stunning walk-in shower. A full glass enclosure keeps the handcrafted surface on display to serve as a bathroom focal point.
Lighten your washday workload by bringing pattern into your laundry room. The highlight of this hardworking space is the walls, dressed floor to ceiling in elegant decorative tiles. Vintage Parisian metros provide inspiration for the red, blue, and cream color pattern on these hand-painted terra-cotta tiles.
A design like this can be made by yourself with a stencil. Do-it-yourself designs, featured by many ceramic specialty outlets and design boutiques, have been bisque fired so they're already shaped and sized. All you have to do is freehand apply glazes and colors or use precut stencils. You may have to order tiles to fit your pattern. Once you've applied your design to the tile, it will be fired at the shop.
Set a Mood
Decorative tile turned this useful dining room alcove into a fabulous feature wall. Floor-to-ceiling hand-painted tiles in bright turquoise pair with a mix of rustic wood and crisp white furnishings to give this space a relaxed, modern vibe with international flair.
Not all decorative tile has to be new off the shelf. This fireplace surround displays a band of antique Delft tiles—classic accent tiles that bring timeless charm to this family room focal point. Watch for boxes of vintage decorative tiles in antiques stores, flea markets, estate sales, and even garage sales. You only need a few to distinguish a fireplace, and broken or mismatched tiles only enhance the look.
Some vintage tiles you find will be relief tiles. Relief tiles can add striking accents to a tile design with their recessed or raised patterns. Be sure to keep maintenance in mind when using these tiles—their textures make them more difficult to clean. They are generally better suited for embellishing a wall design than ornamenting a floor pattern.
Create the look of a fireplace hearth with decorative tile. This professional-style range tucks into a niche with decorative tile and a rustic lintel. Surrounding the hand-painted designer tiles with white subway tiles helps stretch the budget and allows the decorative tiles to serve as the focal point.
Some decorative tile is all about shimmer, and this iridescent jewel glass tile adds dramatic dimension to a kitchen backsplash. The blue, green, and gold mosaic tiles come together as a swirl of leaves amid a flourish of reflective white tile.
Glass tiles date back thousands of years, but new manufacturing methods have thrust this age-old product into modern design. Glass tiles are nonporous, which makes them easy to clean. However, glossy units scratch easily so they're not recommended for floors or countertops. Use them as accents, setting them in rows or bands on backsplashes, walls, or stair risers. A wide selection of colors and patterns includes heat-molded varieties with three-dimensional textures.
You're only limited by your imagination when it comes to creating a pattern with decorative tiles. This creative backsplash mosaic uses a mix of earthy colors in circles, rectangles, and squares to shape a design reminiscent of an abstract painting. Keen installation skills are required with this type of design (note how some tiles intersect), so plan to budget higher labor costs.
Don't be afraid to mix and match decorative tiles that you love to create a unique design. This classic blue-and-white kitchen backsplash combines two patterned tiles with white field tiles, all framed in deep blue liners (narrow strips of tile), to achieve an accent piece behind the cooktop.
Design your own decorative tile pattern on graph paper or work with a tile dealer or designer to create your unique display. You can even lay tiles out on the floor or a work surface to experiment with configurations. In this kitchen, charming and affordable beaded board flanks the decorative tile for a high-impact, modest-budget decorating strategy.
A tile mural can have an even higher impact. Murals are tile or stone pictures in which each tile displays a section of the scene. Although they're often used to embellish wall designs, they also make stunning floor accents. Murals can be made up of 50 or more tiles, so be sure you have enough time to set an elaborate pattern. If you can't find a commercial design that fits your decor, consider contracting with an artisan who can create a custom design from a sketch or photograph.