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The Visual Impact of Tile

Updated: Feb 11

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


Picture a fireplace covered in large pieces of rough slate tile. Now picture it in sleek, iridescent glass tile. Picture an all-white kitchen with white cabinets, countertops and walls. Add a backsplash of 3” x 6” glossy, green ceramic tile. Now change that green ceramic to tiny black and grey tumbled, stone mosaics. Did you notice how each of these scenarios presented a different style and ambiance?


Tile can have a defining impact in a space whether that space is a fireplace, kitchen, bathroom, fountain, swimming pool, walkway, or entire walls and floors. It can also add significance to less common applications such as front door sidelights, entry steps, and decorative roof details.

Tile offers one of the most decorative opportunities in the realm of home building and improvement. In recent years, its industry that has grown by leaps and bounds with an array of innovative choices. Whether new construction, remodeling or a cosmetic upgrade, these choices are an investment that should be made carefully and with forethought.


Tile comes in several shapes, sizes and colors and is made from different materials such as ceramic, porcelain, glass, stone, quartz, metal, and even bamboo – all of which capture different textures. The most popular shape these days is rectangular (aka “subway”) and the most common sizes, in inches, are 2 x 4, 2 x 8, 3 x 6, 4 x 8, 6 x 12, and 12 x 24. Mosaics are also popular and although they may be as small as a half inch square, they are glued to square foot sheets of mesh for easy installation.


The application of each size, shape and texture is determined, in part, by the desired style one wishes to achieve. For example, a modern style is best accomplished with larger, linear and smooth tile. But it’s not as simple as that. There is an often overlooked factor that can sabotage a design - scale. Unlike shape and color, scale is not as easily recognized, acknowledged or given its due consideration. The size of tile should be chosen in relation to the other elements in the space.

Scale also plays into the extent a surface should be tiled. That is, should tile in a shower extend to the ceiling? (Yes, if the ceiling is eight feet high or less. Otherwise, maybe or maybe not.) Should tile on a kitchen backsplash extend to the upper cabinets? (Most definitely). Should it also surround kitchen hoods and windows and extend up to its ceiling? (Sometimes, and when done right, can reflect true design intention – which is a good thing).


The price of tile varies with the type of material used. There are so many other factors involved in the price that it would be meaningless for me to quote a range. But if you are a comparison shopper, be sure that your apples are really apples. That is, tile found in a tile showroom may cost more than the “same” tile in a big box store or online. The difference is probably thickness (therefore, durability), dye lot inconsistency or flawed seconds.


To add even more variety and specialty to the tile mix, there are independent artisans who design and fabricate their own tile. Justyn Livingston, founder of Metolius Ridge Tile, is such an artisan. Livingston, a fine art painter and printmaker, has a rich background both in the States and abroad. She was the head textile designer at Esprit de Corps in San Francisco and later worked as a freelance product designer with a client list that included Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma. Simply put, Livingston has a passion for creating beautifully hand-made pieces of art that captures color, pattern, depth, and texture. In 1995, she applied her passion to tile-making and established Metolius Ridge Tile in Bend, Oregon and has been producing one-of-a-kind, made-to-order pieces ever since.

Each glaze is mixed and applied by hand and each tile is cut (and edges grounded) to custom sizes according to the highest standards of craftsmanship. Livingston’s designs are inspired by her world travels and reflect a synthesis of images from enduring art traditions and a fresh, modern aesthetic. Her signature style transforms fireplaces, staircases, chimneys, windows, fountains as well as a myriad of more commonly tiled spaces into stunning focal points.


The Metolius Ridge Tile studio practices environmental sustainability, runs its energy-saving, thick-walled kilns with green power and does its utmost to minimize waste. And, to no one’s surprise, the company car runs on bio diesel fuel. More information about this unique company may be found at www.metoliusridgeartisantile.com or by contacting me.

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