6 ways to transform a bathroom with tile

For The Baltimore Sun
6 ways to transform a bathroom with tile

Few things are as irresistible after a long day as the beckoning of a beautifully designed bathroom. Whether you’re soaking in the tub or getting a massage from a multifunctional showerhead, it is almost impossible not to notice the star of the impeccably turned out oasis — the tile.

“The sky is the limit with tile now,” notes Diane S. Taitt, founder and managing principal of De Space Designs in Washington, D.C. “You have natural stone, marbles, granites, clay, porcelain [and] now glass tiles. There are stone chips [and] marble chips, which give a lot of flexibility with different sizes. You go to the tile store now, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed.”

Of that there is little doubt. Here are six options trending in the types and uses of bathroom tile, the looks they achieve, and how they can be incorporated in the most important bathroom of all: yours.

1. Create depth

What Taitt dubbed the “Zen” master bathroom demonstrates several of the tile trends she sees in today’s bathroom renovations.

“Both reflectivity and satin looks are huge,” she says.“In color, gray is the new white.”

Taitt’s clients for this project wanted a bathroom that would be a retreat from the busy, hectic world. To begin, she used tile to create depth by mixing several styles and various modes of placement. This is especially important when the palette is a soft one and bright color is not desired.  The tub surround is composed of large-format glass subway tile, reflecting the dark floor and creating a translucent, other-worldly feel to the tub. 

Silvery glass mosaic tiles measuring 1 inch by 1 inch form a niche where candles have been placed, their flames reflecting in the glass. The look is sophisticated but accessible.

“Anyone can make a niche,” says Taitt. “Use contrasting tile with some reflectivity to create contrast, depth and interest in the bathroom.”

2. Experiment with sculpture

In the same bathroom, the Caribbean homeowner had originally asked for the bright colors of the islands, but Taitt found another way to suggest peace and eternal life in paradise. She designed a bas-relief above the niche featuring a purposeful yet subtle pattern of palm fronds. The matte white porcelain tile is textured with the relief of bright polished white leaves, creating a sophisticated, tonal touch that doesn’t overwhelm a room the way bright colors might.

3. Frame a mirror

Have tile left over from refinishing other areas? Add interest to a plain mirror by framing it with leftover tile. Taitt’s Zen bathroom showcases a taste of the sea in the soft greens, blues and yellows that surround the mirror. Creating a tile mirror frame in your bathroom is an easy, inexpensive way to freshen its look.

4. Go for granite

“A lot of people do not know that they can have granite in the bathroom,” says Daniel Khoshkharaman, president and interior architect of Grandior Kitchen & Bath. “A good fabricator will be able to take any granite slab and make granite tiles out of it.”

In designing an elegant guest bathroom for a Mediterranean villa-style home, his strategy for granite implementation was twofold: First, he chose Verde Laura, an exotic stone found mainly in Brazil and marked with flowing striations of various shades of green that allude to movement. Then he placed the 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles on a diagonal — both on the floor and on the bottom of the sink wall, rising 4 feet to end at a bull-nosed edge just under a pair of mirrors in carved gilt frames.The same treatment extended into the shower, visible behind glass doors.

The granite tile finish is polished on the walls but honed on the floor to make it less slippery.

“Granite would work perfectly in any kind of bathroom; placed on the diagonal, it will make the room look taller,” notes Khoshkharaman. “With smaller bathrooms, you can work on the diagonal but in a lighter shade. What I usually do then is a diagonal 12 inches by 12 inches or smaller on the floor and choose a different pattern for the shower wall — maybe a rectangular pattern.”

5. Add an accent

For the cautious renovator, accent tile might be the way to go. Instead of committing to bold designs across the room, make a statement with a distinctive wall, or add a touch of drama with carefully placed color.

Laurie JB Stubb, principal of Place Architecture: Design, used tile to create an accent wall in her bathroom on both sides of the wall that separates the interior of the shower and the wall facing the toilet.

Her tile choice for the accent wall is half-inch circles of Calacatta marble, sealed with a clear, rubbed-on finish, to protect the otherwise porous material. The small size together with the slight variance of gray gives the delightful impression of bubbles — perfect for the bath or, in this case, the shower.

“What we were trying to accomplish was a very natural palette to go with the space and [to] have the accent wall not only different from the surrounding tile, but also to add more texture,” Stubb says.

Her advice on selecting the right tile for an accent wall? Consider the light.

“For me, natural light is always a big factor,” she says. “That changes the color and hue of the tile. It looks different at different times of the day. If you pick an accent tile and you like it in the morning, you may not like it in the evening.”

Jon Skarda, president of Shore-Line Construction, uses touches of hand-painted tile to create another kind of accent — as a way to break up a wall, create a border or add interest to a sink. The finished product often has a Latin, Mediterranean or Moroccan look.

“Anyone can have these as an accent in their bath,” Skarda says. “A diamond grinder removes the old tile and installs the painted tiles in their place.” 

6. Make a mosaic

Mosaics, in their earliest form, have been around since the second half of the third millennium BC. The process of implementing small pieces of inlaid multi-colored materials to create patterns, pictures and medallions is anything but innovative. However, mosaics it is today’s uses of mosaic as accent walls that are growing in popularity and affordability in both residential and commercial spaces.

The Mosaic Tile Co., with five regional locations in the Mid-Atlantic area, showcases a marble-in-marble technique of geometric patterns used in both kitchens and bathrooms.

“Our Athens Seaweed Mosaic is a very popular design that came out in the last year,” noted Product Development and Design Center Coordinator, Amy Kelly. “It’s modern, very sleek, but the marble gives it a classic look.”

Small chips of randomly cut marble in sizes ranging from ¼ inch to 1 inch are affixed like puzzle pieces to mesh in 12-inch by 12-inch blocks. The exact pattern is placed on every block to ensure continuity of design. In the Athens Seaweed Mosaic, natural shades of gray with white marble produce a wave pattern that stops and starts in the same spot.

“The variations in color provide interest, create texture and [keep] the design from looking flat,” Kelly says.

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