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River House Tile – Choosing, Compromising, And Loving Our Ann Sacks Tile (And My Personal Favorite)

What feels like years ago (because it was), Max and I set out to choose tile for the 4 1/2 bathrooms and the kitchen at my brother’s River House new build from Ann Sacks. Tile is hands down my favorite design element to pick out – and yet it’s likely the most permanent of them all (so passions and feelings can be high). You can re-stain wood flooring, repaint rooms and cabinetry, switch out faucets and lighting, but tile and countertops? You NEVER want to change out your tile.. if possible. So getting it right the first time is crucial and yet playing it too safe can be just as dangerous. Luckily, all of us know that we love neutrals mixed with blues and greens, quiet textures that catch the light, in a combo of contemporary + traditioal in a casual, cozy way. Now that it’s really coming together, the decisions we made 2 years ago are looking pretty incredible in every almost-finished bathroom.

Why Ann Sacks?

I pitched this home to Ann Sacks because, well, I love their product and always have – they have a huge variety of colors, shapes, and styles, many made right here in Portland. I didn’t want this house to be too similar to our farmhouse or mountain house, so highlighting different companies with different strengths felt good and right. It’s just incredibly high quality and special tile, with a billion options.

We took an inspiration trip to the showroom, played for hours, and then brought everything back to the house to actually get a sense of it in the space. Max and I did not always agree (also, surprise to me, turns out I have way more of an ego than previously predicted LOL) but our shared hope is that we have a more interesting custom home because of it. Compromises were made, our styles were stretched and we chose some things that I frankly would never have without him (in a good and slightly nervewracking way:)).

While Ann Sacks has everything, we knew that Ken/Katie didn’t want anything too trendy or too decorative. They (like me) play it safe with hard finishes and then want to go all out in accessorizing. This might bore some of you, but that’s fine – big colorful trends are fun to see/watch on the internet, but less fun to switch out in 10 years. So we relied on the colors that we all love (blue, green, white, gray, black) and created combinations that would look good for decades.

Did We Always Agree On Our Favorites??

HAHAHA…. NO. Sometimes I wish I were a bit more binary – like “this tile good, this tile bad”. If I were decisions would be so much easier. I think/know this drove Max nuts. But when everything is good in its own way and Ken/Katie were really drawn to something, I can see using it somewhere. Whereas Max is more firm on what he likes. Clear, concise, and not going to change his mind. I found it so enlightening and fascinating, saying “HUH. interesting,” all the time. Not in a judgemental way, but more envious, wishing I had really firm opinions that could help speed up the process. I wondered, is this potentially a woman thing? Wanting to be super accepting of every idea/thing? Am I too open to other’s ideas and too easily influenced? Listen, I’m also V opinionated, FYI, and often I can immediately choose the only “yes” in the room. But when there is so much goodness, I find making firm decisions harder. I know what I love, but maybe the issue is that I love the good of everything…

Another “life thing” that became really solidified during this process is how as interior designers we clearly have our “go-to’s,” our “moves” the things that we, individually, KNOW will look good because we’ve used a version of them before. For instance, I tend towards more simple, handmade linear tiles (rectangular shaped) and Max gravitates towards those plus squares, larger hexes, and mosaic tiles. It’s a reminder that there are no real rules and that every creative has a lifetime of experiences that inform all decisions. So it stretched us and was a good exercise in trusting the process, this time not necessarily just my own, and as we can see them turn out I’m LOVING them so much.

Each bathroom tells its own story, while the through-line is a cozy, clean, contemporary custom home with some very sweet/traditional elements floating through it (penny tile!). The combination of tiles and finishes is going to make this house better. My hope is that by working together we would: A. Not design the same house as the mountain house, B. Not design a typical “EHD house,” and C. Create a more textured, nuanced piece of art (in this case, my brother’s home). Max’s work is always so good and interesting, so I really tried to not shove my design formula onto him for this project and see where it went, even if we didn’t always agree and both made compromises. Our back-and-forth was pretty entertaining though.

One of our hands-down favorite tiles is the one I’m holding above, a ribbed high gloss brick-shaped tile that is so stunning in person now that it’s installed. In fact, I’d say that my favorite tiles in this house are simple in color and shape, but super textural which plays with the light so well.

Another thing that we love so much about Ann Sacks is how solid and heavy their tile is. There is a real heft to it which you’d think you wouldn’t notice because it’s applied to walls and floors, but like flooring or any other material – I swear you can really feel the difference. As a reminder, Max did my friend’s house on the Oregon coast with 100% Ann Sacks tile and it is quite possibly one of my favorite houses ever, with the prettiest bathroom EVER:

It’s just stunning and the quality of the tile and the detail work Max did made such an incredible difference. Every time I get to stay in this house I marvel at this bathroom. He brought experience to the table that I didn’t have and so many of the spaces highly benefitted because of him (I can’t wait to show you the simple but stunning dining room fireplace tile execution).

We made a few trips to Ann Sacks – First, two years ago, and then recently we went back to take all these photos with Kaitlin, recreating the process because we didn’t shoot it professionally the first time. I drug along my brother who is showing off a new style vibe that I’m digging here.

The “choosing tile” process is such an important and fun one. There is endless inspiration and ways to configure, and so many people have opinions on “right and wrong”. If you are hoping for some help, don’t worry I’ve got you with this house.

A Sneak Peek Into The Tile We Chose

This isn’t going to be one of those houses that mixes 4 tiles in a room, with borders and tons of color – that’s just not this house. We played it classic and beautiful and chose each tile specific to the design plan of each room. I’m VERY VERY excited to show all of them to you soon. A huge thanks to Ann Sacks for being generally wonderful at making tile. xx

*Photos by Kaitlin Green

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1 month ago

I had to laugh when you talked about your personality and how you see the good in all of the tiles. I think it is less the fact that you are a woman and more a fact that you are an enneagram 7. I am a 7 too (and also a woman, so maybe it is a woman thing after all) and I LOVE having a ton of options because it’s so fun! But the downside is, that it’s often hard to choose because of all of those options that we crave! Sevens love variety! And I think that fact also makes it hard to fully commit to one option and when we do, there is second-guessing and a fear that we got it wrong. I think we also tend to get tired of things faster (if I could switch out my furniture every other year, I would, instead I have to settle for a pillow here and there) than other enneagrams and crave change much sooner than others.

1 month ago

I think it is less a male/female issue and more of a temperament reality plus a nature (as in experience/surroundings type scenario). I bet Max is a choleric and you might be more a sanguine/phlegmatic or the reverse order- I don’t know either of you, so I am guessing. I would imagine that Max, in his work positions is more, “this is it” maybe after others have gathered options? You seem to have a strong team with lots of opinions and you definitely live the process. Many of us react differently when making decisions based on who we are with, the project/activity, level of direct experience with that project (multiple tile projects), love/confidence in the area of strength, etc. Playing with those factors, more factors, and our temperaments can be interesting when working on a shared project or solo b/c we can act very differently. But as for how women think (over think/stew over what we said, did, he said, did) usually at night, is a difference in most men and most women. In general, men can box things up better than woman, thus taking us longer to make some decisions. So yeah, male/female might play a part, but I… Read more »

1 month ago

My trick, to combat the ‘seeing the good in everything’ problem that I 100% share, is to pretend that you own ten houses. So if you’re loving something that throws a wrench in the works, you say ‘ohhhh, this is perfect for my chateau in Provence!’ And it hilariously really does help you let go of EVERY option and let you focus in on the right options for this specific room. I even sometimes make a whole Pinterest board for the pretend house, if it won’t let go of me! There will never be the One True Best Tile, the Tile to Rule Them All. You would probably be equally happy with a bunch of options. So put the rest in your imaginary bungalow in Venice Beach, or your Tudor mansion, or your Bauhaus masterpiece in Spain that you deeeefinitely also own in real life! It’s a great mental exercise, and fun as heck. Hope it helps someone!

1 month ago
Reply to  Meredith

Love this, Meredith!

1 month ago
Reply to  Meredith

Love this trick and also agree that there’s NEVER a perfect tile/couch/wallpaper, etc. I used to REALLY struggle with indecision, but then I read something about how the problem with waffling between two (or more!) options is that you get attached to BOTH, and it’s excruciating to cut one of them. Now I try to make decisions early and remind myself over and over “there’s no perfect choice here.”

1 month ago
Reply to  Meredith

I do something like this, too. I think this is for my someday beach house or mountain house. I have a Pinterest board for the dream beach house, but I like the idea of having multiple boards. I’ve also thought, “this would be perfect for so-in-so’s house,” and have Pinterest boards for two of my siblings homes.

1 month ago
Reply to  Meredith

This is genius!

1 month ago

I don’t think being indecisive is a “woman” thing. I think it’s a personality type. I’m a woman and very decisive. I know men who are very indecisive. I’m not a fan of people thinking all women are indecisive, similar to people who think women are bad drivers (my husband is a terrible driver!).

1 month ago
Reply to  JinFL

Same here! I am a creative person (and mental health therapist who happens to be very good at math… just sayin’) and I am also VERY decisive. My husband (an engineer) is not decisive at ALL in his personal life. No matter how hard I try to encourage him to make even small decisions. (I also happen to be the better and safer driver of the 2 of us haha!)… so agree with you that these are more personality factors and not gender related…🙂

1 month ago
Reply to  JinFL

I don’t think women are inherently indecisive, but I do think culturally women can be less comfortable “forcing” their opinions on others, especially on men. We are raised to think that doing so is rude. So even when we immediately know in our head what we want to do, and even when it is our job to make the decisions, we are more likely to pause and try to see everybody else’s perspective first or make sure everyone is happy with our decision. Wanting to be likeable and not seem “bossy” can look like indecisiveness. I think thats society not biology, assertiveness is praised in men and criticised in women. Emily in particular tends to pad every strong or opinionated statement she makes in her blog posts with layers of apology and explanation and I can imagine her inner monologue might look the same. Thats something as women we need to consciously work against because its so deeply ingrained in us.

1 month ago

I try to design first so I know what I need before I shop, otherwise it is overwhelming to see all the pretty things.

1 month ago

Analysis Paralysis can be caused by anxiety, lack of self-confidence and/or lack of restraints. Recognizing that can be the first step to solving it. Budget can be a great restraint when designing a room or home. If your budget for a room design is $10,000 it automatically rules out the $7,000 couch or $9,000 bed.

1 month ago

So funny…I just got done with my two bathroom renovations and my floor, and shower tiles are in your selections. I used the Hive, the Savoy Ribbed and the mabrle may or may not be mine…Valo. Let me say I could not be happier with them. I can’t wait to see how you used them.

1 month ago

Love your perspective. I, too, am VERY decisive….except when it comes to tile. There is so much out there that I love but making the commitment is big.

1 month ago

…remind me again about Max? I see from one of the photos that he is a designer, but catch me up on this project please… SO your brother is Ken?

1 month ago
Reply to  kim

Search “Introducing My Brother’s New Build Dream Home – Designing My First Contemporary Riverfront Home (+ Meet The Design Team” to find the first post about it.

1 month ago

Curious if you ever set up rules for yourself to follow going into the selection process, or if your process is mostly mixing and matching more intuitively. I’ve found setting up clear rules around scale or material pairing makes decisions like this much simpler.

1 month ago

Some people make decisions by talking things through and bouncing ideas off other (extraversion) and some think through to themselves (introversion). To the introverts, the extroverted individuals change their mind a lot, go back and forth and to the extracted, the introverts don’t seem to have really given much consideration to the options. Not to be confused with social styles by the way.
Out of interest (and sorry if I missed this from other posts) but why do you have two designers? What is the benefit?

1 month ago

The colors and shapes feel very nature and river inspired. Riverine? and awesome that this custom house will have some variety overall 👏 and I love that bathroom Matt did! I didn’t know he designed that space. I just love how immersive the tub area feels with the higher tile line!!!!!! You could just relax you’re whole body being in there.

1 month ago

Love their tile, but have never been able to afford using it except in very small amounts.

1 month ago

From the title I was hoping/expecting more actual info about the decision process in selecting tile. How did you decide if a room should have large/small tile. How much tile – just the shower area or along the walls/floor, too? Why/how did you determine that? Did you think the rooms should relate to each other even if they weren’t nearby one another? (Repeat same tile or color in another bath?) Did you already have fixtures and furniture selected for the rooms (vanity, faucet, paint, etc.) that impacted your choices? Tell us more about the back and forth with Max – what were some of those discussions and why did you ultimately choose what you did? This post felt promising but doesn’t really tell us much or help us learn in the ways your blog has in the past. Would love to see some of that incorporated in future posts if possible.

1 month ago
Reply to  Jena

YES! I need to make tile decisions for 2 bathrooms in the next few weeks so the tile “best practices” would be helpful – size, variety, shape, coverage amount, etc – tell me everything!

1 month ago
Reply to  Alli
1 month ago
Reply to  Faya