Designing with Decorative Tiles

Posted by William Buyok on

Our go-to girl for design, Lisa M. Smith, shows How to get the most from decorative tile. Decorative tile or patterned tile are sometimes called deco tiles. Because deco tiles have a distinct design motif on each tile they are different them from plain, solid color, or field tile. Lisa is a real live designer and acrylic artist. Her motto is do it once, do it right. Interior design is a vocation not a hobby, finish a room and move on. Her fun and informative interior design blog is Decor Girl and she tweets design wisdom at @TheDecorGirl.

Note: This post is one in an occasional series showcasing designers and hearing their unique perspective when they talk tile!


Tile is one of those wonderful products which is both a building material and offers artistic appeal allowing for numerous designs and applications. Simply put it is functional and fabulous to look at. This is why tile deserves special consideration in a home construction or remodeling project.

It is a no brainer to put tile in a bathroom when indoor plumbing started tile was a given, practically no bathroom was without it. Walls, ceilings, floors tile covered every surface because it performed but I won't go off on a tangent. Tile also functions well as a fireplace surround and kitchen backsplash. These are some of the most popular areas for decorative tile regardless of a home's architectural style.

What happens when one goes to the tile store and after hours ogling the eye candy, falls in love only to learn the price seems too expensive? The beloved tile seems an extravagance and is forgotten (tears do get shed). This need not be the case. Here is how we turned this situation around in a recent bathroom remodel.

Tile plan

Using tile is often a case of value engineering: how to get the most bang for the buck. Before writing off any tile as too expensive, it is important to determine how much of it a project needs. A recent client was ready to forgo the glass mosaic they were in love with because of the price, $40 a square foot sounded like too much.

Glass ancent tile

Of course who wouldn't love a whole wall of this but in a three sided shower we were looking at roughly 90 sqft x $40 = $3,600. We were already pushing the $50,000 budget, time to re-think. One idea was to run bands around the wall of the shower.

Nah, too ho hum though only $400 of the mosaic.

This tile begs to make an impact not be a tiny inclusion. Doing one entire wall in the glass mosaic and the other in the limestone would end up looking like we cheaped out and a bit boring. So& shower + water&waterfall& Perfect, allow the tile to appear as if it is a waterfall pooling onto the floor.

Tile selection

Not only did we modify the design (now only $280 of mosaic in shower) but in doing so the tile became even more of a focal point. Imagine how boring this shower would have looked without it. Yawnable.

Tile plan

This particular bath calls for a fair amount of tile and this wasn't something we would change. Tile covers the floor, side walls of tub enclosure and the walls, ceiling and floor of the shower.

In the end we were able to use the beloved tile even increase its use by further using it as a faux rug boarder in front of the vanity. With a radiant heated floor real rugs which slide around and get dirty aren't needed but this helps break up the expanse of tile.

When it comes to using tile, especially decorative tile it pays to do the math. Work with a designer and contractor to value engineer the design to get the most for the money. In the end the homeowner is happy. They didn't overspend nor did they have to give up something they really liked and will end up with a very special master bathroom.

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