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As subway tile becomes a backsplash standard, homeowners are turning to stylish tweaks like the gray veining in this kitchen by Hunt Valley Tile & Stone and Greenleaf Construction.
As subway tile becomes a backsplash standard, homeowners are turning to stylish tweaks like the gray veining in this kitchen by Hunt Valley Tile & Stone and Greenleaf Construction. (Alan Gilbert)

Easy to clean and often waterproof, tile is a natural choice for kitchens and bathrooms. But its appeal is more than just practical; it can make or break a room.

Here, local kitchen and bath design experts share what’s new in the world of kitchen and bath tile, from shades and shapes to textures and patterns.

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Not so square

“For years, tile was four-by-four or 12-by-12” inches, says Stu Dettelbach, owner of SD Kitchens, a kitchen and bath remodeling firm in Pikesville. But today’s homeowners are experimenting with different dimensions and shapes, from rectangles to hexagons.

Sierra Fath, a design consultant at Hunt Valley Tile & Stone, sees people choosing one tile “look” for their bathrooms, but using a variety of sizes.

“Some people like to do the same tile on the floor, shower walls and walls, but change shapes and sizes,” she says. “It’s a way to add interest and a clean look.”

In bathrooms and kitchens, subway-style tiled walls are popular. The rectangular tiles are usually about three inches by six inches, laid horizontally, like brick. Typically, they’re white, mimicking the look of actual subway walls, but Fath says homeowners sometimes get creative, going with gray or bolder colors.

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Shades of gray

Neutral colors are king in kitchen and bath tile. And right now, gray rules.

“Gray has been huge in cabinets, and that’s carrying over into countertops and backsplashes in kitchens,” says Dettelbach.

Shane Gahan, co-owner of Chesapeake Tile & Marble in Owings Mills, agrees. Though some of his customers choose splashes of deep blue or green, “For the past few years, grays have really been the colors – whether it’s in porcelain tile or marble with gray veining,” Gahan says.

Grout optional

Though the tile itself makes the biggest visual statement, the grout between the tiles — or lack of it — also has an impact.

Homeowners who want a no-grout look choose tiles with square edges that are designed to butt up against one another. “This is driven by aesthetics,” says Dettelbach. “There’s no grout to discolor.”

Even if a no-grout option isn’t feasible, customers often try to minimize grout. “For shower walls, if you don’t do subway tile, people are going for larger tiles because there’s less grout,” Fath says.

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More materials

“We all refer to ‘tile’ as ceramic tile, but the composition has changed, and today most tile we see is porcelain,” says Dettelbach. Unlike ceramic tile, which is topped with color or pattern but white underneath, porcelain tiles are the same color all the way through.

Porcelain tiles sometimes look like other desirable materials, too, from marble to industrial-chic cement. Fath’s customers love marble in bathrooms and for kitchen backsplashes, but sometimes choose lower-maintenance porcelain that looks like marble.

Glass accents in “fun shapes and patterns” are hot now, too, as are decorative mosaics that are available by the sheet. “Little pieces come matted on a sheet, so you don’t put them in piece by piece,” Dettelbach says.

Time for texture

Experimental looks used to be about color, Dettelbach says, but today texture is all the rage. “For years, tile was a plain or mottled finish, but today we see more linear patterns,” he says, explaining that even if the tile itself is smooth, the patterns are designed to evoke texture.

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“We see lots of tiles with subtle lines,” he says, noting that faux wood grains are especially popular.

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