Given the ancient origins of tile, we sometimes forget that technology and tile go hand-in-hand. Technological advances in inkjet printing and waterjet lasers, for example, have opened up new worlds of ceramic tile choices within the already dizzying array of options.
Tile is not typically something we replace often, so if you haven’t taken a look lately, prepare to have your mind blown. White subway tile evokes the early 1900s in New York City and will likely always be a timeless, yet retro, classic for kitchens and baths. It has been a particularly hot trend within the last few years, and there is not much indication that it is cooling off. For those who like the look but want a fresh twist, consider installing your subway tile in a pattern other than the traditional “brick” style.
But there is so much more to consider. One of the ways that improvements in inkjet printing has bolstered the tile industry is through its ability to convincingly replicate other materials like wood, metal and even concrete. With the meteoric rise in desire for the farmhouse aesthetic and salvaged materials, plank-style ceramic tile in a wide range of wood tones — some with a weathered, distressed and generally reclaimed appearance — are wildly popular. They can be dressed up by being laid in, say, a chevron or herringbone pattern, or made more rustic by being installed in the traditional way, especially if planks of varying widths, laid randomly, are used. Tiles with the look of a whitewashed wood floor can skew more rustic or posh depending on the context.
If stone is more to your liking, but you find the cost a deal-breaker — not to mention the upkeep of a material like marble too time-intensive — tiles now beautifully and more affordably replicate the look of marble, slate, travertine, limestone and more.
Other choices made widely available by inkjet technology are those that capture the look and feel of fabrics and wallpaper. Subtle, luxurious choices include a linen- or silk-like surface. More bold selections include damask, paisley and florals, both traditional and contemporary. Globally inspired influences, especially Moroccan, are infusing American homes with rich color and pattern. Black and white patterns with a stenciled look are particularly striking. If you like the idea but are not ready to go particularly bold, choose a pattern with closely related colors for a more nuanced tone-on-tone appearance.
While we are on the subject of color, it is no secret to anyone who follows design that cool tones, like grays, are highly sought-after. Whites and grays are replacing the “Tuscan” golds and browns that were popular a few years back. But, for those who want a hint of warmth, the new “greige” — a family of grayish beiges similar to taupe — offers a balance between the two.
Waterjet lasers have added a wealth of dimension — pun intended — to tile options. More subtle designs lend an embossed appearance to the tile’s surface. But that is just the beginning. Tile has become downright sculptural. If you go too far, you can quickly end up with a commercial appearance not unlike the entrance wall of a company’s headquarters. But with the right application, you can add appealing drama through light and cast shadow only possible with three-dimensional tile. From wavy ridges to raised geometry, there is much from which to choose.
Finally, if none of these options is right for your home, you might consider the widening vocabulary of shaped tiles. Hexagons and “penny rounds” are very popular, with fish scale tiles making a splashy entrance of late. For something a little more exotic, seek out one of the scores of “arabesque” options. Diamonds and plenty of organic shapes, like leaves, are yours for the asking. Choosing only one color or related tones keeps the appearance calmer; color and contrasting tones inject a bit more energy.
As for grout, the closer in color it is to the tile, the more the eye is drawn to the tile’s surface. The more the grout contrasts, the more the eye notices the installation pattern. And while grout glitter is available, it is not necessarily recommended. Though a little metallic shimmer to catch the morning light may be just the right finishing touch for your décor, I would have to think twice about it.
If you need help thinking once, twice or more about your tile project, please reach out to me at Chris@vbhomesliving.com.
Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.