Trends in Bathroom and Kitchen Tile
July 1st, 2006

By Jeffrey Steele

July-August 2006

You don’t have to look far to see the latest kitchen and bath tile trends. The materials are familiar: stone, glass, and wood. The design directions are equally clear: upscale, outdoors (for kitchens) and spa-like (for baths). TileDealer turned to leading interior designers and manufacturers to learn how they envision tile and stone in kitchen and bathroom designs.

Start with the products

Two of the biggest trends are stone and glass. Glass is everywhere. It can be matte or shiny, colorful or neutral, in large formats and small. A glass shower or counter top is a knockout. Used along or in combination with other materials, glass tiles can lighten a design because of their transparent or translucent finish. This quality broadens the design options since you can play with the grout color behind the tiles to give them a different or more enhanced hue.

Spanish tile manufacturer, Onix Ceramica specializes in recycled glass mosaic tiles perfect for adding a personal touch to your kitchen or bath. Stylish colors and endless combinations are available for building custom mosaics or the Roseton Collection features mosaics on mesh ready to install.

For homeowners considering stone but hesitant because of the maintenance issues, tile offers an ideal solution. Marble and polished granite can scratch and may stain, but glazed tile with a PEI 4/Grade 4 rating or higher can resist such damage. Tile can also offer a lighter weight solution when load bearing is an issue. In some cases, tile may be a less expense alternative and with the advances in screening and glazing, many tiles are hard to distinguish from the natural material. Stone-look ceramic choices are available in a broad range of size, prices, and even programs that combine a variety of sizes and trim pieces.

Another trend is the use of tile that mimics such materials as leather and cement. Jeanne Nichols, vice president of Transamerica, Ltd., a GraniteFiandre company, points out that, “GranitiFiandre has introduced the NewGround collection, a sleek alternative to stained concrete. This innovative flooring solution does not require stains, waxes, sealants or coatings. Now, kitchen and bath flooring is able to support homeowners’ busy lifestyles and impeccable taste.”

The Kitchen Reborn

Kitchens are as much about living as they are food preparation, and that means comfort and class are as crucial as sinks and stoves.

“It’s the new meeting place, the hearth, the gathering place,” says Anita Wiechman, senior interior designer with The Interior Design Firm in Omaha, whose 13 designers focus on residential, health care and hospitality interiors. “Everyone’s in the kitchen these days, so it’s very open. It has to be a multi-faceted area [accommodating] at least one cook, plus someone visiting and kids doing their homework.”

The key word is function, adds Nancy Barsotti, owner of Nancy Hoff Barsotti Interior Design, with offices in New York City and Pittsburgh. The materials must work for living and entertaining as well as preparing meals.

In the kitchens Barsotti designs, counters tend to feature stone such as granite or marble, and in most cases, the floor is chip-resistant porcelain. She uses less glazed tile, and favors softer, matte finishes on porcelain as well as slate and other natural stone materials. Marble is popular, but appears with a honed, matte finish, she adds. Details are important, for example, mosaic medallions combined with solids and anything with a border.

Varied surface materials are a priority in kitchens designed by Michael Thomas, president of Jupiter, Fla.-based Design Collective Group, which creates interiors for single-family homes and condominiums, and specializes in remodel work.

On floors, “We don’t want to use the same travertine over and over again,” Thomas says. Instead, a porcelain mosaic or a wood accent may be incorporated to prevent one material from dominating.

The same goes for counters. “If we have the main prep area in granite or a solid surface, we’ll try to do the island in maybe a glazed ceramic, maybe a hand-made tile,” he says. “We’re making sure a sealer’s on them, so they don’t have to worry about tomato juice staining the grout line. And we’re carrying that same tile or hard surface from the island over to the backsplash to maintain the theme.”

Because some tile can be costly, Thomas tries to make the most cost-efficient use of accents. The island is frequently seen as a special area in the kitchen, and clients may be more willing to spend on an accent there, he says. They may even be willing to spring for a border on the floor running around the island, as a means of framing the island in the same material seen above.

For her part, Wiechman believes “tile is everywhere” in today’s upscale kitchens. “If it’s not limestone, porcelains are a very close knockoff of tumbled marble or honed limestone,” she comments. “In general, the looks are honed, and not shiny. The exception is glass mosaics.” Metallic tiles are turning up in borders or in backsplashes behind stoves. On floors, eight-inch and 12-inch squares have long since given way to 18-by-18-inch and even 20-by-20-inch formats. Four different sizes and shapes of tile may be combined in one floor, to give a varied appearance reminiscent of stone. Porcelain tile, limestone and honed marble are the materials most often chosen. “Everything is very natural looking,” Wiechman adds. “They even have tile that looks like wood plank.”

The Outdoor Kitchen

Pools and spas have always been ideal for tile, but today exterior tile installations are increasingly mimicking indoor living space, especially the kitchen. Where homeowners once equipped their patios with a charcoal grill and a picnic table, today’s homeowner is interested in outdoor or auxiliary kitchens, with built-in grills, refrigerators, ice makers, and even kitchen sinks are increasingly popular.

Designers credit the cocooning instinct, our passion for remodeling, and even our interest in cooking (about 500,000 viewers tune in to the Food Network to watch shows like BBQ with Bobby Flay) to this trend. But whatever the source, outdoor living spaces offer great opportunities for tile installations.

Materials in these exterior spaces need to withstand exposure to elements, making ceramic tile a natural. Thanks to its inherent durability and low maintenance properties, ceramic tiles are resistant to fading from ultraviolet rays; inhibit the growth of mold, mildew and fungus; and when installed correctly, can last up to 40 years. Tile will not rot, attract termites or require painting. An eco-friendly covering made from 100 percent plentiful raw materials, ceramic tiles do not require toxic detergents and waxes for maintenance.

As with interior designs, combining different styles in tile will create a custom outdoor retreat. Tiles in a wide range of formats from accent pieces and mosaics to the familiar squares and large rectangles add interest to a plain patio or define areas.

New options in tile offer a more cost- and maintenance-efficient alternative to stone but with the same rugged rustic appearance. The Roncal Series by Garogres is porcelain stoneware in 16” x 17” that also captures the characteristics of natural stone with texture and relief. Each tile is produced with fingerlike protrusions that interlock when laid to eliminate the grid effect. These tiles are suitable for outdoor applications that may experience seasonal temperature fluctuations as they are frost resistant and designed to be used in areas where slip resistance is needed.

Spell Bathroom l-u-x-u-r-i-o-u-s

Bathrooms have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis, transformed into spas with soaking tubs in elegant surrounds, walk-in showers, under floor heating, towel warmers and warming drawers, according to Wiechman.

She recently completed on an opulent Omaha-area home with “His” and “Hers” master bathrooms, connected by a walk-in shower with two rainheads and additional body sprays. “Her bathroom has a therapy tub and a plasma TV, and both bathrooms have TVs behind the mirrors,” Wiechman relates. “Radiant heat is very big in bathrooms, and in that ‘His’ and ‘Hers,’ we put the radiant heat in the walls, in the seat of the walk-in shower and in the floors.”

Tile, stone or glass surfaces set the tone for the décor. “They represent such a big portion of the total area,” Barsotti says. “Other than the fixtures . . . every inch is covered by those materials.”

Glass tile may be the most luxurious, but it’s also the most expensive. Barsotti frequently uses glass tile as an accent, often in combination with porcelain tile, to provide beautiful looks and lighten the budget. For instance, she may create a porcelain walk-in shower with a glass tile border.

Glass block is making a big comeback, often used as a wall on one side of the shower. “A lot of times, it can define a separation between the shower and the tub,” Barsotti reports. “The nice thing is, it allows the light to pass through, but still gives a sense of privacy.”

Porcelain offers a softer look and can deliver slip-resistance. Large formats are often used to create a look of spaciousness and expand the room. In many instances, it’s laid on the diagonal, to imbue the room with “some geometry,” Barsotti says, and provide a more open feel.

Ceramics and stone have always been naturals for the bath, but today many designers are looking for the warmth and luxury of wood. Using natural wood in a bathroom presents a unique set of problems, moisture being the biggest one. Ceramic tile will not warp or rot and will never require refinishing. The obvious solution is tile that mimics the look of wood.

Manufacturers such as Hispano Azul and Ceramicas L’Alcalaten have invested tremendous time and effort in developing techniques to achieve perfect graining, life-like veining, and shading and highlighting. Production and rectifying methods have greatly improved since its introduction about 10 years ago, so, today’s tiles can be installed with nearly invisible grout lines. They are also producing formats that more closely match those of plank or parquet wood floors. Some manufacturers offer wood inspired tiles for use on walls as well. Hispano Azul presents the Irati Collection with matching floor and wall tiles.

The Fusta Collection, a wood look from Ceramicas L’Alcalaten, is available in four finishes and 12″ x 23.75″ and 6″ x 12″ formats. For a modern edge, tiles from the Fusta Collection can be combined with stainless steel accents. The Galeon Series from Azulejos el Mijares, which come in 6″ x 17.75″ format, can be laid in a herringbone weave for a genuine parquet look and are available in three natural shades that capture the characteristics of wood.

Low-Maintenance, Safety and Timelessness Rule

Regardless of whether he’s designing kitchens or bathrooms, Thomas says he’s seeing specific trends impact both areas. One is a desire for low maintenance. “People don’t want to spend a lot of time working on their houses, or mopping their floors,” said Thomas, an expert in aging-in-place design. Safety is also a consideration where spills or excess moisture can be commonplace. Tile with a honed or textured finish is crucial to keeping people safe, regardless of whether they are older or not. Grout lines in tile floors can also be an effective way to increase traction, he notes.

Thomas forgoes passing trends in surfaces and selects tile that offers timelessness. “We try to choose things that are neutral in color,” he notes. “We don’t want ‘bland’ or ‘boring,’ but try to make sure tile or natural surfaces have a classic quality to them. We pick things that are classic in nature and timeless, as well as easy to maintain . . . For the good of the long-term completed project, doing things that are timeless and classic makes economic sense, as well as provides for a stronger design statement. Stone and tile need to be classic statements, by and large.”

What Designers Want from Dealers

As they strive to give their clients the luxurious custom looks they desire, interior designers believe tile dealers can be important allies. Wiechman says she likes to see wide selections of actual samples, not just photos. “In a book, some of the photos are not true to color, or we’re not seeing the real texture,” she comments. “Some of our clients, and even some designers themselves, need to see ideas. Changing out materials frequently, mixing different products not normally associated together and having tile vignettes on display all help sell it.”

Barsotti likes dealers to go beyond discussions about a tile product’s features and benefits to offer information on its applicability and recommended installation. “It’s great to have them say, ‘This is the newest thing, and available in 10 colors,’” she says. “But I feel what’s very helpful is when they offer seminars, particularly on installation . . . A very important aspect is where the tile should be specified, and how it should be installed, and whether there are any special requirements.”

When Barsotti specifies tile for a client’s project, she tells the dealer about her intentions regarding the material. If the dealer sees a problem, he or she can provide the necessary cautions. “They can really help you ensure that when the installation is complete, clients will be satisfied,” she says.


Nancy Barsotti, Owner

Nancy Hoff Barsotti Interior Design,

New York City, Pittsburgh


Michael Thomas, President, EASID, CAPS

The Design Collective Group, Inc.

Jupiter, FL


Anita Weichman, Senior Interior Designer

The Interior Design Firm

4315 North 154th Circle

Omaha, NE 68116


Special thanks to Tile of Spain

GeoDesign Project 2 offers a less-than-traditional look in mosaics to great effect in the home of Melissa Bogusch, AIA, senior project manager for Whiney Architects, Inc

Photo courtesy of The DESIGN Collective Group, Inc. of Jupiter, Florida; Michael A. Thomas, President, FASID, CAPS

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