Design Lesson

Dos and don'ts of picking tile for the kitchen and bathroom

Dos and don'ts of picking tile

Dos and don'ts of picking tile for the kitchen and bathroom Author: Style At Home

Design Lesson

Dos and don'ts of picking tile for the kitchen and bathroom

Don't stress out picking your next tiling project. We've compiled a list of important dos and don'ts when you decide to shop tile.


Picking out tile for the kitchen and bathroom is often the most daunting of renovating tasks that face DIY decorators. There is such a permanence to tile, and it must meet the dual jobs of being beautiful but highly practical. After all, not too much thought goes into the aesthetics of, for instance, the insulation of a stripped-to-the-studs room. And we don’t fret too much over light fixtures that can be relatively swiftly swapped out if they don’t meet our needs, much as we loved them in the showroom. So we turned to the expertise of Toronto and Nova Scotia interior designer Carol Reed for some dos and don’ts to help you ensure you make the right choice. Here are her tile selection guidelines.



Photography by Robin Stubbert

DO go classic, neutral and natural
Just say no to of-the-moment tile trends in the bathroom and kitchen. “I can't stress this enough, avoid trendy shapes and colours and getting overly ‘decorative’ with tile applications,” Carol says. She advises that you resist the temptation to do decorative borders, inlays or accent tiles, particularly in multiple colours. “Tile is not something that is simple or inexpensive to change so stick with neutral, natural colours and keep the pattern classic.”

DO ask questions and get help
An interior designer is trained to pick the right tile for the right place, be it your bathroom or kitchen, and will consider traffic, durability, safety and aesthetics, as well. If you decide to pick out your own tile, be sure to spend the time doing your due diligence in researching these considerations. And don’t forget you need to pick a grout colour and grout width as well, which contribute to the finished look and maintenance, too. “I think my clients past experience with tile mistakes, or tile mistakes they've inherited, are definitely one of the main reasons they decide to hire a designer,” Carol says.

DON’T get too decorative or complicated
“In most situations your tiled surface isn't (or doesn't need to be) the feature statement of the room, usually the tile just needs to play a supporting role,” says Carol. “Unless you're splurging on a luxe stone tile as a key design element, your tile will not be and doesn't have to be the main feature,” she says. Your tile needs to be extremely hardworking but has another purpose: it serves to make the other elements in the space look their best.

DO think about the dimensions of the tiled area and pick suitable tile
Make everyone’s life easier and select a tile size and tile layout pattern that suits the dimensions of the area you are tiling, Carol says. The goal is to avoid having a lot of cut tiles or slivers of tile around the edges or in corners, she adds.

DO select tile before construction begins
“Ultimately, if you can select your tile before construction begins, the contractor can base the finished wall dimensions precisely on the nominal size of the tiles and pattern being used,” she says.

DON’T use various tiles to create a design
If your tile will be a feature design or architectural element in the space, then go for a natural stone or artisanal tile in a simple layout so the character of the tile is the star. “Instead of trying to use various tiles to create a design, opt for a single tile used in different sizes and sheens. You can create some incredibly interesting patterns and effects this way. “ A bonus is that the classic materials and standard sizes are also the most budget friendly.

DON’T be snobby about tile provenance
“Don't rule out the big-box building centres for a good selection of stylish tiles. Many of the tiles you'll see there are the same ones you'll see in higher end boutique tile showrooms,” says Carol.

DON’T overlook natural stone tile
“There are two types of tile I love no matter what the style of home or type of space. I love a large size natural stone in a basic shape or in a classic mosaic pattern applied wall-to-wall, particularly a white-and-grey marble like Carrera because it’s widely available and therefore reasonably priced and pairs well with everything,” she says. Plus, it’s just so easy. When using a natural stone, the beauty of the stone is the feature element and no complicated tile detailing is necessary, she says.

DO consider subway tile
Subway tile is a classic that many interior designers swear by, especially in white. Aside from a white marble, there's nothing Carol (and a sizeable cohort of interior designers) loves more than a white rectangular ceramic tile, commonly referred to as subway tile. “I think they are the white oxford shirt of interiors: tailored but informal, [they] never look out of style, chic but never trendy and you can pair them with anything, dress it up or dress it down,” she says.

DON’T assume all subway tile is the same
You’re not necessarily stuck with a glazed white small rectangle when it comes to subway tile, and depending on the size and installation pattern you chose you can create a modern or traditional look with these tiles, she says. “I use larger matte versions in a stacked pattern for a modern space, or a two-by-nine in a brick pattern for a vintage look, or a bevelled tile in a traditional space,” she says.  You can find subway tiles in polished or matte, with plain edges or bevelled, machine-made or hand-formed and in every colour, she adds. “Installed in a brick pattern, stacked or herringbone: The possibilities are endless and timeless all in one.  I disagree with anyone who says they're boring, I think they're only as boring as what you put with it,” she says.

DON’T rule out “wood” or “concrete”
Surprise! You can have wood and concrete in the kitchen and bath. It’s called porcelain tile, and it’s super-realistic. “I've been so impressed with the advancement in porcelain tile. The lookalike marble, concrete and wood tiles available are so authentic looking they will fool you even to the touch,” Carol says. “I'm really excited about these options and how they open up entirely new aesthetic possibilities in rooms that otherwise weren't practical for marble or wood,” she says.  Aside from these new manufacturing capabilities, Carol eschews tile trends. “I think trendy tile applications date a space more quickly than any other material.”



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Design Lesson

Dos and don'ts of picking tile for the kitchen and bathroom