Direction and Pattern in Today's Tiles

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 spectrum.

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 piece.

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.