September 3, 2019

Ask the Expert

Types of tiles, what are the most appropriate for your home décor?

When it comes to decorating the home and choosing wall and floor finishes using different types of tiles is a very popular option. The great advantages of tiles is that they can be an economic choice (in comparison with other materials), are easy to lay, easy to maintain and if one gets damaged then, in theory, easy to replace. The myriad of different types of tiles present a creative canvas to homeowners for stamping their personality on a space. Endless creativity is paired with practical advantages for the different materials used to produce different types of tile. Moreover, tiles are hard wearing and can be used outdoors just as much as indoors.

However, there are multiple materials and endless design options to consider. Any visit to a tiling showroom is liable to leave the visitor more confused and less decisive than when they entered. With this article we intend to look at the different areas of the home and consider the most appropriate types of tiles for that situation. First we’ll look at the different material options.

The right type of tile for the right situation 

Whatever the situation or the specific requirements of a room in the home there is a suitable material for flooring and wall finishes. Advances in material technology have introduced new options into the market that combine traditional looks and 21st Century performance. Here below we list some timeless and more avant-garde options to keep in mind:

Ceramic tiles

Perhaps the most commonly used tiles in the home. Ceramic is durable and relatively easy to maintain, tiles can be glazed or unglazed which impacts on their suitability. Glazed tiles undergo an additional firing process to produce the glaze. They are more are more decorative and so often used for wall cladding and feature walls. Unglazed tiles are more robust, thicker and more resistant and so better for flooring especially in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry areas.

Porcelain tiles

With advances in technology, porcelain can convincingly recreate different natural and man-made finishes with an ultra-thin thickness. Marble, stone and metallic surfaces combined with the advantages of a hard-wearing and light weight material. Porcelain’s resistance to temperature variations also makes it suitable for outdoor use. However a special adhesive layer is normally required when laying on floors.

Glass tiles

Mostly suitable as a decorative finish or an accent tile. Particularly effective as a kitchen splash back or in the bathroom where their qualities of reflecting the light and being impervious to water are important. With advances in glass technology modern glass tiles can be used for flooring in areas such as showers, bathrooms and spa areas. Glass tiles can be transparent (where the back coating becomes visible) or opaque as in the case of the renowned Byzantine glass mosaic tile that date from the Byzantine Empire era.

Marble tiles

The ideal choice for making a design statement, evoking classic luxury and longevity. Equally suitable for flooring or wall cladding. The colour depends on the source of the marble with different finishes producing widely varying effects, polished, honed, flamed, brushed etc. Special attention is required for maintenance, marble is liable to stain and not all cleaning products are suitable.

Terrazzo tiles

The terrazzo tile is a variation on the marble tile. Manufactured as a composite material with a mixture of marble chips and other suitable hard wearing materials which are then polished. Although once very popular in public buildings they are also used in domestic situations mostly for flooring.

Mosaic tiling

Mosaics are suitable for both flooring and a wall finish. Mosaic tiles can be made from ceramic, stone, glass or metal. Mosaic can be highly decorative and used as a feature. Mosaic tiling is most commonly used in smaller areas, such as bathrooms, shower cubicles, or as a decorative splashback in kitchens. Modern ceramics normally come with a mesh backing so installation is easier, however the right choice of substrate (depending on the surface where the mosaic is applied) and grouting is crucial.

Natural stone tiles

When it comes to natural stone tiles, the options include limestone, granite, travertine, slate etc. Depending on the individual properties of the stone some types are more suitable for wall cladding or as a flooring material. Stone is liable to staining, water penetration and wear so sealing and appropriate maintenance is crucial. Different types of stone have specific requirements; limestone is particular vulnerable to staining for instance. However the benefits of the natural look and organic texture of stone can be worth the extra maintenance.

Metal tiles

Normally more suited as an accent tile or a feature tile used in a mosaic style approach. Gold, bronze, copper, stainless steel or other hues can be combined with a brushed matt or polished finish. The reflective qualities make metal tiles ideal for use as a chimney surround or as a feature in a shower area or splash back. Metal tiles are liable to scratching especially in kitchen areas where there is intensive use.

Cement tiles

Ceramic tiles are hard wearing and highly decorative. The hydraulic cement tile is made using a layer of pigment to provide the pattern that is several millimetres in thickness. This is hydraulically pressed into a mould, hence the name. Cement tiles are normally hand made and so lend a craft aesthetic to a space. They were first popularised and mass produced in the 19th Century but nowadays are making a come-back. However they do require regular sealing and maintenance. They are suitable for flooring or wall cladding. Another great advantage is that over time they can be restored with a diamond tip polisher to bring back their original lustre.

Flooring, the numerous advantages of ceramic floor tiles

Ceramic is an ideal choice for situations where a hard wearing surface is required. Different types of floor tiles can be used in kitchens and hallways, for areas that are subjected to a lot of traffic. The low porosity and hard wearing nature of ceramic makes it specifically appropriate for kitchens where humid conditions are the norm. Equally more decorative floor tiles can be used in hallways where most homeowners want to create a sensation of welcome with a design that sets the tone for the home’s overall interior design. Different geometric pattern floor tiles can provide a canvas for creative décor with the guarantee of a highly resistant material. For the best results a tile with a texture, to avoid slip is advisable. The ‘mud room’, back hall or where ever boots are removed and coats are stored gets more wear and tear than any other flooring and so accordingly should have a type of floor that can be easily cleaned.

Choosing the right ceramic tile for its impact resistance

Ceramic or fired clay is one of the most durable materials known to man. For that reason ceramic tiles are appropriate for a diversity of uses in construction. Depending on what is required specific types of tiles are more suitable than others for differing uses. Regarding the various categories of floor tile for example its resistance or how hard wearing the tile is underfoot is crucial. There is an index that measures this characteristic; the Mohs test quantifies scratch resistance, from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest). For flooring with a lot of foot traffic a high Mohs rating is advisable.

Ceramic wall tiles, a range of decorative options and practical advantages

From an aesthetic point of view the choice of material can greatly impact on the overall effect. Terracotta wall tiles can produce a rustic feel providing a warmer ambience. While advances in digital printing means that porcelain tiles can nowadays recreate any type of marble, stone or even timber pattern imaginable. Ceramic tiles can be glazed or unglazed, three dimensional or two dimensional, they can also be laid in patterns to achieve intricate geometric surfaces.

The use of ceramic tiles on walls as a cladding material is also highly practical and suitable for areas of greater wear and tear. That is why traditionally in some Mediterranean cultures they were often used as a dado in order to protect the walls from scratches and impact damage. Maintenance is easy and the initial investment can last a lifetime.

Bathroom wall and floor tiles

There are two practical considerations beyond aesthetics when choosing ceramic tiles for the bathroom. One is related to floor tiles and their resistance to slip, also important to take into consideration for wet areas generally. Tiles with a rougher texture surface provide greater grip underfoot and should be used in the shower for health and safety reasons. Another important quality is being resistant to bacteria because humid areas generally are prone to mould. The use of an antibacterial ceramic material and grouting are advisable in these areas.

The shower cubicle is sometimes treated as a distinct area within the bathroom space. Shower tile ideas should take into account that the shower is normally the most humid area of the entire home. The cubicle is usually separated by sliding glass doors and some continuity with the bathroom tiles could be considered. The cubicle area should be clad using ceramic tiles from floor to ceiling, or at least above the shower head. Slip resistance is imperative for the shower tray.

Walls and flooring ideas for kitchens using ceramic

The kitchen wall tile should be hard wearing and hygienic. Here a glazed ceramic tile will be appropriate for food preparation areas, sometimes also used to clad or form a work surface. The glaze ensures lesser porosity, and hence less moisture penetration. Porcelain is also less porous than other materials and an ideal kitchen worktop surface.

The metro tile (or subway tile) is a timeless and still popular example. Associated with the professional hygiene levels of traditional butcher’s shop, the tile is easily wiped down and aesthetically pleasing.

Different zones of the kitchen require different treatments, the splash back over the kitchen sink for example and the area between the hob and the extract are highly intensive work areas. Other surrounding surfaces on the other hand can have a more decorative less hard wearing kitchen wall tile. Combining a feature or an accent type kitchen wall tile can provide another opportunity for creativity with ceramic. Practical considerations for kitchen flooring ideas should allow for a material that is easy to clean, resistant to moisture and hard wearing. In other words ceramic tiles which can be combined with wood flooring, according to the requirements of specific zones. Or  indeed any other decorative flooring material that is not likely to get wet or have heavy traffic.

Laying different types of tiles, D.I.Y versus the professional

Whether you are a keen D.I.Y. enthusiast or decide to leave it to the professionals when taking on a tiling job getting the right bathroom measurements for is the first step. Then you need to calculate the materials required, allowing for the scud coat, grouting and the right quantity of tiles including an allowance for breakages. Nowadays with clever spacers and mosaics arranged on mesh the amateur D.I.Y. is capable of achieving a professional finish. It’s important to note that wall and floor tiles require very different substrate so always ask for professional advice before embarking on a tiling project.

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