About a month ago, the Design Agony series was resurrected and a lot of you (rightfully) rejoiced in the comments. This got me thinking back to my time here at EHD and remembering that there were A LOT of you guys asking about updating your bathrooms and kitchens—a good amount of those questions being tile-centric. How to pick tiles for a room, should you be picking the same kind of tiles for your whole house, how do you make sure that they all go together, how do you bring in new tiles and make sure they work with your existing tiles, etc.
Well, agonizers, today’s your lucky day because that’s what today’s session is all about—how to select tiles for a whole-home renovation without being basic. If you need a crash course on Tile 101, you can head to this post; otherwise, let’s talk design.
Here’s what I’m thinking—I’ll share our must-know tips with you, talk about some “rules” (guidelines, really—as Emily likes to say, it’s good to know the rules so you know how to break them if needed), and then show you examples of how those “rules” were applied in a past project. Learning is always a little more effective with the help of some visual aids, right? Let’s use EHD’s two most recent projects—the mountain house and Portland—as case studies. There are about five bathrooms in both houses (okay, four in Portland), and most of them are basically one giant tile love affair altogether.
That’s what happens when you have the tendency to fall in love easily (…with tiles) and end up visiting the Pratt + Larson tile studio up in Portland, Oregon. We’re talking BEAUTIFUL handmade ceramic tiles that you can get in and color (they can color-match practically anything), shape (field or relief), size, or surface finish. A designer’s dream that’s for sure (and maybe yours, too). So many options, not enough rooms, must use as many tiles as possible in one room…which we did. In both houses.
The amazingly kind folks at Pratt + Larson opened up their doors to Emily last year to experience their operation first-hand. She raved about the tile, sure, but mostly the people. They’ve been in operation since 1982, and have been committed to the craft and artisanship of customized, American-made tile for all 37 years they’ve been doing business.
Here’s Emily with Anthony and Belle (far right), who were long-time employees that ended up buying it two years ago from the original owners Michael Pratt and Reta Larson, as well as VP of Marketing, Susanne Cavicchi, who was a saint in helping to coordinate all the tile requests for these projects. Truly delights to work with and a wonderful company you should absolutely consider for your upcoming tile needs. You can read more about what they offer here (but remember your tile is custom made to order so you can get any tile—flat field or decorative—in any color so the options are endless).
Now, for how we used Pratt + Larson’s gorgeous tile…let’s get learnin’.
Here’s a little mood board of what went into each full bathroom in both houses.
As you can see, we like variety over here and playing around with all kinds of shapes and sizes. That’s what will give your design interest and character…no boring spaces here! So how do you do this successfully? Glad you asked…
TIP #1: Stick to a color palette.
This is one of the things that Emily always emphasizes. Pick a color palette that you’re happy with and STICK. TO. IT. In general, your color palette should be within 2-3 colors, though 3-4 is also acceptable; anything more and the whole thing could start looking like the discard pile at your local tile mart. There are whole classes designed about color theory and picking color combinations in design school (monochromatic, analogous, triadic, complementary, etc.), but the simplest one and Emily’s go-to for a works-every-time scheme is the classic complementary color scheme—colors on the opposing side of the color wheel.
And remember, colors evoke emotion and feeling, too, so think about how you want your space to feel when picking your color palette.
Above are the mountain house bathrooms (minus the powder) with an overall color scheme that’s on the monochromatic side paired with natural wood and some pops of nature-inspired hues here and there (mostly greens and some blue…it’s the EHD way after all.)
And let’s not forget the Portland project’s more traditional color scheme—the classic blue, gray and white.
HOT TIP: If you’re working with a patterned tile that has multiple colors, pick a color from the tile’s design and use a different tile (or material) in the same shade. This will give your tile selections cohesiveness. You don’t even necessarily have to apply this concept in just one room—you can pick up a color from one of your tiles in one room and carry it through in another room via a different tile material/shape/size altogether. This will help in tying together your house’s overall look and scheme (without being super matchy matchy or builder grade). For rooms that are adjacent to each other and you can see one room from the next, this is also a great way for materials and color schemes to work together/not clash, but feel unique and like their own special room.
But here’s where I’ll also contradict my own advice—I say the above, but also remember that you don’t always have to pick up the exact color from one room to a different room…lest the whole house becomes too same-same. Instead, you can also play around with color values when making your selections to help tie rooms together.
TIP #2: Vary your scale and pattern.
Once you’ve picked your color palette, you can start playing even more. Tiles come in all kinds of regular and fun shapes and designs vary from solids to geometrics and intricate patterns. The key to successfully mixing these (without becoming too busy) is changing up your tile’s sizes and patterns—think large and small; combine busier patterns with classic shapes and solid colors; maybe even use the same tile, but lay them out differently (and make one or two less prominent by picking the right shade of grout…but more on that later).
As with colors, I’d advise you to exercise some restraint when combining shapes and patterns—two to three different ones is a good rule of thumb. You might be able to get away with four, but keep in mind that the room you’re designing probably isn’t made entirely out of tiles. Be aware of any other materials in the room that might create a pattern that could make your design cross over into “busy” territory.
The bathroom above is a great example of mixing up scales and patterns. On the backsplash behind the vanity is this fun picket-shaped ceramic tile by Pratt + Larson with a light gray grout (we’ll talk about how grout will impact your design super soon, I promise); this is a larger scale tile that’s combined with a herringbone mosaic marble tile on the floor. Both are very distinctive patterns individually, but because the herringbone flooring uses tiles that are smaller and narrower in width, your eye is almost tricked into thinking that there’s barely any pattern at all. Had the tiles been larger (and the grout not as light as it is), it would’ve competed too much with the larger picket-shaped ceramic tile.
You’ll notice that the beautiful two-toned blue-gray textured subway tile (yes, also from Pratt + Larson) in the shower area is also a different size and pattern from the other two tiles. Because it is laid out in a classic subway pattern (and in a quiet colorway), it doesn’t compete with the more striking patterns of the other two. It gives off more “texture” than “pattern.”
Here’s another example of a space with tiles of varying scale, shape and pattern.
The mosaic flooring is a show-stopper, but it works in this space even with all the other tiles and stone choices because they’re either smaller or have a subtler shape and pattern. It’s adding those quiet textures that make the space more interesting, without taking away from your bigger moment(s). Oh and one more thing that’ll bring us to my next tip: you’ll notice that the shower surround barely has any grout lines—that’s intentional in making that quiet, but impactful statement.
TIP #3: Be mindful of your grout choices.
Now I mentioned grout a little bit above, and I don’t know if this goes for everyone or if it’s just in the nature of designers to stress about every little thing, but your grout choice should not be an afterthought. It’s a thing that Team EHD definitely likes to keep in mind because the right grout color and thickness has a way of emphasizing or de-emphasizing a tile’s shape and/or pattern.
In the above bathroom, the shower surround is a kite-shaped ceramic tile by Pratt + Larson (for reference, they call it a “facet”) while the flooring has hex mosaic marble tiles. Since the grout is white and the tiles are spaced very closely together, you barely notice the pattern and it becomes a quiet statement that’s a nice surprise once you notice it. The flooring, on the other hand, has a gray grout that makes the pattern a little bit more pronounced.
And it’s not just color. It’s also about thickness. In the mountain house bathrooms above, the grout lines are barely visible because the tiles have been installed as close to each other as possible. Had the grout not been white and had they been standard, you’d notice more of the double-stacked, staggered pattern in the upstairs guest bath and the chevron shape of the shower surround in the downstairs guest bath. Because of conscious grout decisions, these tile choices add depth and character to these monochromatic bathrooms without competing with the bold flooring and wall cladding, respectively.
TIP #4: Mix up finishes, but don’t compromise function over form.
Great design is about giving a treat to as many of your senses as possible. You want to mix up enough design elements to keep your eyes bouncing around, but also pair different textures to give yourself a great tactile experience (ever been in a room and you just had to touch the wall/counter/pillow?).
Tile finishes depend on the glaze used on them, and your finish options could range from the standard glossy, satin and matte finishes to special finishes like watercolor, crackle and metallic. The Pratt + Larson blue 2×8 bevel tile in the Portland project’s downstairs guest bath pictured above is finished with their parchment matte, which has very little sheen but also a subtle texture that keeps it from going too modern.
My advice to keep things interesting (especially if you’re using the same tile throughout, but varying the scale and/or layout pattern) is to mix up your tile finishes. Combine at least two different finishes, but be smart about it—think of where your material is going and how you and your family will interact with it, then choose appropriately. (DESIGNER HOT TIP: the basic principles of interior design says consider function first always, then comfort and safety, followed by cost, and LASTLY, aesthetic.) In general, matte (or honed) tiles are a go-to for flooring, especially in wet areas, because of their non-skid, non-slip properties. And in kitchens or areas where you foresee lots of dirt and staining, save yourself the nightmare and go for the glazed option instead of an unglazed matte…unless you’re prepared to do a little more upkeep.
As always, take cues from your other non-tile materials and figure out which materials with what finishes are your non-negotiables. If you’d rather pick polished wood or create texture with your textiles and pick one finish for all your tiles, then by. all. means. It’s all about balance (both between your tile selections and the rest of your home’s materials). Because really at the end of the day, the heart will want what it wants, amirite? But I will say though that maybe, just maybe, glossy or polished finishes on all four walls plus your floor might be a little too much—think of all that light that will be bouncing around! I don’t think I’d want to see a reflection of myself in the morning on all four walls if ya know what I mean.
Wipe-ability and durability don’t always mean you have to go for the glossiest option, especially when there are so many varying degrees of glazing options in the market now. And remember: if you’re buying from a reputable tile manufacturer such as Pratt + Larson, they will know enough about their products to be able to give you tips about which glaze(s) will work best for your needs, as well as how to properly seal and care for your tiles. Speaking of which, here’s a handy little link for one! You’re welcome.
There you have it, folks. And because graphics are super fun, I made one for y’all.
Now you can pick that arabesque tile that you’ve had your eye on, but previously thought might not work with your current subway tile. Thanks for sticking with me through this entire thing. And thank you to Pratt + Larson for collaborating with us on both of these monster projects. Again, for more of the nitty-gritty of tile, head here to learn all about the different types of tiles, how and where to use them, and VERY handy charts to save and reference. Happy designing everyone!
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp