Use decorative tiles to call attention to an architectural feature of a room (a range hood or alcove, for example), create a focal point on a floor or wall (a mural on a backsplash), or visually separate one area from another (glass tiles at the top of a wall design or listellos mounted as a chair rail).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Antique tiles -- found at flea markets, architectural salvage stores, antique stores, and auctions -- bring an aged charm to your tile installation. Since you're not likely to find enough for an entire wall or floor, use them as accent tiles. Buy the old styles first and then choose modern field tiles that will provide a complementary background. Be prepared to cut some tiles or employ wider grout lines to fit your design.
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.