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Before you go to a Tile Store

as published in the Napa Valley Register


Have you been to a jewelry store, I mean an art gallery, I mean a tile store lately? I get these destinations mixed up. These days, I find tile that is so sparkly, colorful and faceted that I could wear it as an accessory. I also find tile that is so exquisitely hand-painted or sculpted with inlaid stone that it could be displayed as fine art. Given all these spectacular options, how do homeowners know what to choose? If you’re such a homeowner, I’ve put together an exercise that will help. It’s meant to rule out those options that won’t work and to zoom in on just those that will.

Ask yourself these questions: In what type of room will the tile go? For example, a luxury master bathroom, a teenager’s bathroom, an entry, a kitchen, on stair risers, or on a backyard patio? Where will it be installed? That is, on floors or walls, on countertops, or around a fireplace? Who will use the room? Adults, kids, guests, pets, or a combination? What style best suits the architectural style and furnishings of your interiors? Modern, traditional, industrial, farmhouse, formal, rustic, coastal, Mediterranean, Asian, cottage, and the list goes on. How much maintenance are you willing to undertake and how important is the aesthetic?

Notice that I didn’t ask whether you will be living in your home long term or short? I have an inner battle with myself because good design is good no matter the style – it just has to be good. While it’s important to keep the resale value in mind, you never know what will attract buyers. It just may be that extra wow factor that you created with your choice of tile and how you applied it.

I also didn’t ask about a budget. It’s important to go through the exercise first so that you are more focused on what you want, what you need, and how important the outcome is to you. Unless your budget is defined by a set number with no wiggle room, it really becomes a matter of value and investment. It doesn’t make sense to break the bank on a mud room. But it may make sense to stretch a little in order to achieve a stunning result in a master bath.

Let’s take a few examples. If you’re tiling a laundry room, porcelain or slate would be a good option. The color might be one that blends in with the adjacent floor, ties into the general color scheme of your house, or is a color you love but don’t dare use elsewhere. Porcelain is virtually scratch and stain-proof and is non-absorbent. While slate has none of these qualities, it is extremely forgiving and masks any stains from minerals your water might contain. Both are price-friendly.

On the other hand, if the tile is going into a powder room that will be used by guests, you may want to choose something more aesthetically striking such as stone, glass, painted or inlaid tile, or a combination. If your goal is to transform this space into a little gem of a showcase, you might opt for pricier materials especially since the square footage is relatively small.

Let’s say you have a linear fireplace. The type that is set into, and flush with, a wall. Sometimes the rest of the wall is sheet-rocked and painted and sometimes it is covered with tile that runs partially up the wall or all the way to the ceiling. I prefer the latter because it makes a stronger statement. Unless the wall is architecturally complete with built-in cabinets or shelves that create a composed vignette, tiling it only part-way usually means the homeowner will hang a piece of art or a mirror above the fireplace and perhaps also add a mantel. Adding these accessories still falls short stylistically compared to tiling the whole wall with a tile that speaks for itself. (Admittedly, I have a difficult time convincing clients of this.)

After devoting some time to this exercise, you’re ready to visit a tile store. Just when you think you know what you’re looking for and can bypass all other temptation, you’re faced with more questions. What size and shape should the tile be? The one you like comes in five different formats. Is a large rectangle better than a small one? What about the hexagonal and square options?

The answer is a matter of scale. Very generally speaking, the larger the surface the larger the format. But that’s not

always true. Once you’ve figured this out, you need to decide the direction and pattern in which the tile will be laid. Vertically, horizontally, staggered, stacked? Or would a pattern such as a herringbone, chevron or basket weave be better?

What about grout? The wrong size or color can sabotage your project. If your tile has a crackled glaze, you’ll want to seal each tile before you adhere it to the thinset (mortar) and before you grout. Otherwise, once these materials seep into the cracks, it will be difficult to get it out. Another note about grout is if your tile has irregular edges the grout lines will also be irregular and wider than what you’re expecting. You can mitigate this by using a grout color close to the color of your tile – as long as it still suits the overall design.


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