Showroom Seminar – Match-Making: Tile and Place Helping your customers choose the best tile for their installations is a win-win
January 1st, 2007

January-February 2007

By Kathleen Furore

TileDealer presents the first in a series of Showroom Seminars, a new how-to series on some of the most common topics in the sales showroom. Use this information as a reference, share it with your sales staff and your customers. Most important—tell us the topics you’d like to see in upcoming issues.

Metallic tiles in bathrooms. Glass mosaics in kitchens. Porcelain tiles as accents in a foyer’s wood floors.

Today’s style-savvy consumers are demanding tiles as fashionable as they are functional in most every area of their homes. But can designers really let clients choose any tile for any space?

“It is true—you can,” says Keith Milne, showroom manager at Hastings Tile & Bath, a dealer of ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone tile and trim at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Ill. “But you have to look at the circumstances—some tile works better than others in certain applications.”

Balance aesthetics with lifestyle

Learning about a customer’s lifestyle is the first step in assuring tile is aesthetically pleasing and application-appropriate, too, industry experts agree.

For example, installing high-maintenance, natural stone might not be the best choice for a foyer or bath in a home full of active, young children, Milne says.

“What customers pick should depend on things like the traffic pattern in a particular area,” advises Dona Wallace, owner and president of American Tile Specialties, Inc., a distributor in Emigsville, PA. “I’ve learned a lot of people out here never wear their shoes in the house. That means they’re not going to be dragging much stuff in, and they won’t be scratching the floors!”

Trend Watch

Staying abreast of trends can help designers point customers in a fashionable direction where tile selection is concerned.

Milne, whose Chicago area clients favor contemporary European designs, says porcelain and glass tiles are in demand, including porcelain tiles that mimic the look of wood, stone, fabric, rusted metal and steel.

Porcelain also reigns in Pennsylvania, where Wallace’s customers prefer natural-looking materials in tans, browns, terra cottas and greens. “Porcelain tiles are about 85% of our sales,” she says, noting that clients frequently accent with metal tiles to match cabinet knobs or appliances. “Some also use glass to cover the backsplash, or combine it with tile or stone to change the texture and dimension of the backsplash,” she adds.

And Lenia Pilkonis, a CKD, CBD, ASID, CAPS Registered Interior Designer in Atlanta, GA, reports an increase in the use of glass and metallic tiles in kitchens and baths, “usually as contrasting accent pieces or as part of mosaics on back splashes, walls, shower surrounds, or other non-traffic type of installs.”

Textural tiles—those with actual texture and implied texture—are also in vogue, adds Pilkonis, who also sees tiles used in combination with wood in foyer floors.

Not all tiles are created equal

Whatever the trends, understanding the basic characteristics of specific tiles is a must. Milne, Wallace and Pilkonis share some important features below:


  • A dense, hard, chip-resistant material that doesn’t absorb stains.
  • Available in full-body, with color running all the way through, or glazed with a full-body look (meaning a similar color is underneath so if it is damaged, another color won’t show through).
  • Offers a look similar to stone, but is more durable and easier to care for, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic and outdoor areas.


  • Lighter and not as compressed as porcelain, so has an easier chance of chipping and breaking.
  • Glazed ceramics can be single- or double-fired. Single-fired tiles are typically stronger and better for floors.
  • Ceramic floor tile is usually larger and thicker than the wall tile to accommodate foot traffic and wear.


  • Porous––absorbs elements like water, grease and oil.
  • Must be sealed twice a year to fill in pores, protect the stone, and let natural beauty shine through.
  • More maintenance-intensive––needs special cleaners.

Glass and Metallic Tiles:

  • Glass comes in translucent or transparent, matte or shiny finishes, so it is a good fashion choice.
  • Glass can break if something heavy falls or is dropped on it.
  • Metallic tiles are reflective, shiny and show water spots.
  • Metal tiles with brushed finishes don’t show water as much as shiny metal.

Bath and Kitchen Tips

Although most tiles can be used in most applications, the moisture and traffic in bathrooms and kitchens can present unique challenges. Milne, Wallace and Pilkonis offer these additional, room-specific tips:

In the Bath:

  • Mosaic floors work well because they provide better traction than a single-piece floor. Large porcelain pieces are fine if they are textured. Use grout lines for traction, too.
  • In a shower, tile with a honed or textured finish offers slip-resistance.
  • High-polished or high-gloss tiles will show water spots; matte-finished tile won’t.
  • Natural stone is not recommended in a bath because the water and splash marks will stay in the tile.
  • Glass is not the best choice for the floor, since dropping a hairbrush or bottle of shampoo could cause tiles to chip or break.

In the Kitchen:

  • Porcelain is the best for kitchen floors. Look for a PEI surface rating or 4 or 5—it is the abrasion rating for the surface of the tile.
  • Natural stone can be troublesome behind a stove because grease and oils can stain the stone.

Tile Size

While there are no hard and fast rules on tile size, a room’s scale and proportion can guide customers in tile selection, Pilkonis says. Her tips:

  • Use multiple sizes in a space to create visual interest and to define specific areas of that space.
  • Remember that large tiles can overwhelm small rooms, and small tiles can get lost in too large a space.

Budget Tips

To help customers pick tiles that are within their budgets, Milne offers these general guidelines:

  • The more common the type of stone, the lower the cost Porcelain averages $10-$20 sq. ft.
  • Ceramic runs $10-$15 sq. ft.
  • Glass/glass mosaics run $20-$30 sq. ft. and up.
  • Metallics are priced between $40-60 sq. ft.
  • The smaller the piece the more expensive. Porcelain mosaic, for example, is more than a 24-by-24-inch piece of tile.
  • Individual glass tiles are more expensive than those on mesh because the individual tiles take more time to install.
  • What you have to work around impacts installation and, therefore, price.


Keith Milne

Showroom Manager

Hastings Tile & Bath, Merchandise Mart

Chicago 312-527-0565 x12

Lenia Pilkonis, CKD, CBD, ASID

CAPS Registered Interior Designer


Dona Wallace


American Tile Specialties, Inc.


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