I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, but less sex columnist and more design writer. After a lot of reflection, provoked by a reader’s comment, I came to ask myself last week, “is a lot of tile really want we want? Are we over-tiling because we can and perhaps it’s not always the right choice?” Until recently I was on team “tile” everywhere, all the way – like in Jessica’s farmhouse kitchen above. Like a fashion stylist might love hats, I LOVE tile as a design element, a lot. I wrote more about the desire in this post but the idea is how you can take a simple tile and create high impact by putting it on all walls. It reflects the light, gives the rooms so much texture, and you barely need any art or accessories to dress it up. This was my intention a couple months ago in the kitchen and our main bath… until I read this comment from a reader, Lane, on the tile post…
From commenter Lane (edited slightly for context): I’m European, having grown up with it, I don’t like tile on all walls. I love the simple design without excess trims, but not tile all over. I think it’s based on limitations of the past. Homes were humid, people were scared of mold, there was steam, bacteria, no ventilation, often no window in a bathroom either. I love to leave some walls without any tile. It makes a bathroom look and feel warm, pleasant, approachable, room-like, spa-like. Kitchens also feel warmer like a place to gather rather than prep meat. These (drywall) are actually good parts of American design. Kitchens with tile everywhere remind me so much of butcher shops and fish markets. That’s a completely different feeling that I want in my kitchen. Finally, tile is much colder material than drywall, plaster or wallpaper, both in terms of actual temperature and its reflection. So that’s my case against it, having lived both in Europe and in the States. I do believe many of my European friends wouldn’t agree with me. But many of them actually change their mind when they come here. I’ll be curious to see what you do. I’m sure there are exceptions to what I think about tile all over. In any case, I just wanted to point out these things in case it might be helpful. Perhaps, you’ll find a way to mitigate this if you decide in favor of this.
Lane’s comment was so interesting to me and truly made me stop to think. Thank you, Lane. I love an opposing perspective based on real-life experiences. So when I perceive a ton of tile on all walls as beautiful (like above), I now see that it can also be read as sterile, “easy to clean,” and cold. Now, I think without a lot of natural light it’s nice to have a texture on your walls so the room doesn’t feel “dead” and to give it movement, but that texture could be wood or painted paneling, plaster, limewash, special molding, etc. It doesn’t have to be tile or even just drywall. And it made me wonder if in our main bathroom and kitchen we should do more plaster, less tile, which saves on material AND labor and maybe it will make it feel warmer and give us more of the vibe we want? I’m not talking backsplash or near wet surfaces, just on the walls away from where water can actually damage.
A TEST CASE – OUR MOUNTAIN BATH
So I gave myself a test: I love the vibe of our bathroom at the mountain house and while we are infusing more color in the farm, and it will have more of a traditional bent (grids on windows, more classic lighting, custom wood vanity), I want the same feeling – quiet, spa-like, warm and not overly designed. So as I was contemplating Lane’s comment I asked myself if I would want tile on more of the walls in this bathroom (not just behind sink and toilet), and the answer was not an immediate HELL YES. It was more of a “sure, that could be pretty if it’s quiet and with non-contrasting grout”. Here’s a rendering of our farm bath to give you an idea of the space (it’s not designed yet):
I think if everything else is really pretty (custom vanity that I’m PSYCHED about pretty stone countertop, huge windows, and blue-tiled floor). But then I wonder if it’s just not necessary to put on all walls. Anne’s vote is a huge “YES, MORE TILE” and Brian also thinks it will be extra beautiful (the tile we have chosen in here is SO PRETTY, high gloss and handmade from Pratt and Larsen with so much reflection and movement and a twist :)) But he admitted that it probably won’t be necessary to put it on multiple walls, either. I know it would be stunning, but would plaster actually be more the vibe we want? Aside from budget reasons, I ask myself, is less tile a better idea?
But plaster ain’t cheap. What we did at the mountain house on the walls is this almost fake plaster finish where after they mudded the drywall, they did a pretty messy hand trowel on the walls that left a lot of “plaster-like” schmears. Then we painted on top of it. This isn’t apparently common but as I’ve written about it before is much cheaper than a flat finish OR plaster, and kinda gave the same look and is very forgiving. You are supposed to do semi-gloss in the bathroom, but since we’ll have a closed shower door we aren’t going to – if we were to do drywall we’d do this hand plastered fake technique and paint a flat paint on top. That’s all to say that maybe we don’t even have to use plaster at all!
Here’s a close up of what it looks like (it’s super hard to shoot, sorry):
In-person we really like it (admittedly in these photos I’m not that impressed with it and it looks fake, but you barely notice it in person and it just looks warm and hand-done but not too much at all). Would I like proper plaster more? Yes, but the cost difference is huge especially if you are doing a big space. We’ll definitely price it out, too and it might be worth doing in some rooms but not all of them.
THE FARM KITCHEN = WITH OR WITHOUT TILE?
So let’s analyze the mountain house kitchen, which has SUCH a good vibe and we LOVE its simplicity and warmth (admittedly I understyled these shots, but trust me that the light and wood are enough and you don’t really need “stuff” in here).
Would that wall be prettier with a simple stacked white tile? Maybe, right?? It was something we thought about but honestly I don’t miss it on a daily basis at all and I like how understated it is. Now to be fair the wood grain adds a lot of texture and movement so that’s why I pulled it back with a simple white quartz and no tile – letting the wood and windows really shine. But a matte white tile, stacked vertically up to the vaulted ceiling would be beautiful, actually – just on that back wall. No regrets, just fun to analyze and explore with you all.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE FARM KITCHEN?
In the farm kitchen, we have designed a ton of windows and skylights (as you know) to bring in light to the kitchen and living room. Right now in the renderings, we have tile in between the windows and up around the door, but the more Brian and I think about it the more I’m wondering if not only do we no need it but would the kitchen be warmer and more the vibe we are going for with less tile. Or is the tile around the windows going to be just so pretty? Especially with pretty light switches popping off it?
And here, below, is what it would look like if it were just a short backsplash up to the window and flanking the hood (again, not designed yet, guys).
One of the best/worst things about me is how open I am to new ideas, and frankly how much fun it is to explore different perspectives and figure out which one fits the best with what you are going for. There are some things that are not negotiable, but then others where seeing an opposing view might actually yield a result closer to the goal. Living and working in this home I want a certain feeling and it’s not an “OMG WOW SO MANY STATEMENTS”. It’s more of a “roasted Sunday chicken, comfortable furniture, and casual warmth” and then you slowly feel the vibe and see the details and quality of the materials. ARCIFORM is pretty darn exceptional at the details that make an older home feel appropriately designed. And Anne (founder and lead designer) is quite the tile pusher 🙂 It’s a pretty darn fun debate if you ask me and I don’t really think there is a way to lose or be “wrong” if you choose the right tile for the vibe you want – it can always be more understated even if it’s a high quantity.