Direction and Pattern in Today’s Tiles

by WOHe

Countertops, flooring and wall treatments are three major
elements that we address as designers of kitchens and baths. In
many cases, our clients are choosing to use tile in one or more of
these areas. In the past decade, there has been an explosion in the
tile industry, whether natural stone, ceramic tiles or other
manufactured tiles. With the variations in types, colors, finishes
and textures in tiles, natural or manufactured, the infinite range
of possibilities is a designer’s dream.

With the help and expertise of Joel Barrett, designer at Tiles,
a Refined Selection, Inc., in Westport, CT (also in Manhattan and
Boston), Steffen Coleman, a design consultant from our office, had
the opportunity to discuss the latest trends and design concepts in
tiles. The following article reflects concepts from that discussion
and the recent experiences of our design team.

Vast Material
In the natural stone family, the vast array of available hues and
vein patterns in marbles, limestone, granites, slates and even
gemstones has dramatically increased with the importation of stone
from Africa, India and other parts of Asia new to our design
sensibilities. The unique composition of micas, quartz, fossils,
etc. in each stone makes them works of art standing alone. The
color palette within natural stone is amazing. Additionally, the
choices in surface textures has multiplied from polished to super
polished (in some materials), to honed, to tumbled, to flamed, to
natural cleft or split face, to water jet etching adding another
element to the mix.

Tile manufacturers deserve kudos for the great expansion in the
tile arena, from sizes, textures and glazes to the development of
new materials. For instance, the technological advances in the
creation of porcelain tiles and porcelain slabs has made them a
cost-effective and durable alternative to stone, expanding
designers’ “tool kit.”

The field of ceramic tiles has expanded by leaps and bounds as
well, from reproduction and hand-painted tiles, to relief or
embossed tiles in great patterns and glazes, and an increased range
of sizes, shapes and trims or border pieces. American artisan tiles
(particularly in the Arts & Crafts genre) have been enhancing
tile showrooms in growing numbers. The Web has increased clients’
and designers’ awareness of these artisans. Glass and metallic
tiles, the latest in “what’s hot” in tile, round out the vast

Combining Materials
For both design and budget considerations, we are finding the most
exciting trend in tiles to be the combination of materials. It is
in this realm that there are extensive opportunities to make a
strong design statement, pull various design elements together
and/or make the most out of the tile budget.

Whether on a kitchen or bathroom floor or wall application,
using a less expensive field tile such as the manufactured
limestone look-alike tiles, with a more expensive mosaic sized gem
stone, glass, iridescent glass or metallic insert ‘can not
only make a smashing statement, but keep a project within a
reasonable budget.

Furthermore, the small insert can be used to introduce color
into a neutral field or a spark to a pattern without being
overwhelming. It can also be used to repeat an element such as
stainless steel, so that a particular appliance is not a static
focal point, but is diffused by the introduction of small metallic
tiles in the backsplash and/or the flooring.

Combining dissimilar materials, either in the same or
contrasting color palette, is an ideal way to create a focal point
area such as a frieze or medallion. A combination of materials can
also be used to make a transition from one area into another.
Transitioning from wood flooring in a great room to tile in a
kitchen can be delineated by a combination of the field tile and a
second contrasting tile, either by color, texture or material at
the point of transition. Alternately, transitional or directional
flooring can be accomplished with the use of an entirely different
tile in pattern or material, as long as the color, texture or
pattern acts as a unifying element. The sense of transition can be
further “defined” or strengthened when combined with an
architectural detail, such as a mosaic pattern under an archway
leading into a field tile.

Design Factors
The classic design elements that we have all used for years
inspired by this growing array of materials ‘can be applied
today with exciting results. We know our clients are
“hyper-informed” via print media, television and the Web. They are
more demanding and interested in something that sets their home
apart. The use of tile is a great tool to help them achieve that
goal. Outlined below are some design considerations.

Combining the same or similar materials in like colors to create
a monochromatic color statement can have dramatic power when used
in a pattern of varied sizes and angles, or by simply combining
matte and gloss finishes or contrasting textures. Relief tiles and
trim, border or liner pieces in a frieze or a linear pattern can be
subtle and elegant enough to influence the style of a space. The
same material in different finishes (such as polished and tumbled),
set on the same or different planes such as a polished granite
counter and the same granite flamed on the backsplash, add subtle
interest to an area through texture. Water-jet etched decorative
tiles on a border or linear banding on a vertical surface or
counter edge can be an excellent way to add interest.

When using a single tile in one color throughout a backsplash or
on a floor, direction, delineation of an architectural theme or
exciting pattern can be created with varying shapes, sizes and/or
changing pattern direction. Using rectangular tiles, graduating in
size, is an excellent way to add interest in a clean design on a
backsplash or bathroom wall application. For instance, a layering
technique on a 54″-high bathroom wall application can start with a
field of 8″x12″ rectangles, capped with a triple layer of 4″x6″
tiles finished with a double layer of 1″x2″ tiles and a chair rail

Another monochromatic layering concept for a floor application
is to create an outer border of 4″x4″ squares, an interior border
of small pebble shaped netted tiles, and an interior field of 8″x8″
(or larger) tiles set on a diagonal.

With clients’ dreams, designer’ creativity and today’s myriad
tile options, the opportunities and possibilities are endless.

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