Tile Design Tips for Bathrooms and Kitchens

Man measuring floor tiles


Kymberlie Dozois Photography / Getty Images

Each type of tile has its own personality, depending on what kind of material it is, and its appearance, but there are some standard, time-tested design rules to keep in mind that will help you achieve pleasing results in any kitchen or bathroom installation.

Design Tips For Better Tilework

  • Avoid Using Large-Format Tiles in the Bathroom
    Unless you have a super-sized bathroom, keep bathroom tiles 4 inches square or smaller. Larger tiles are difficult to fit around the many obstacles in a bathroom, such as the toilet, water pipes, cabinets, etc. Small slivers of cut tiles call attention to themselves when the rest of the tiles are large. And because bathrooms are typically rather small rooms, large tiles can look visually strange and out of scale.
  • Think Twice Before Tiling Your Countertop
    Tiled countertops are appealing due to the fact that they are considerably less expensive than human-made materials such as Corian and natural materials such as granite. By contrast, tile is a bargain. Many cooks do not like the seams between the tiles, and they find the grout lines difficult to keep clean. A tile countertop is a high-maintenance surface.
  • Do Not Choose a Tile Color to Match Furnishings
    While this may seem like common sense, many homeowners forget about this in their rush to install new tile. Furnishings, wall color, fabrics—all of these things are temporary. The tile color is permanent, so don't design a tile installation to coordinate with furnishings that are temporary.
  • Be Careful With Multiple Tile Colors
    Multiple collars often become tiresome. Instead, consider using a generally neutral background color, and installing a few splashes of color here and there as accents.
  • Do Not Forget That Grout Is a Design Element
    This is a big secret that many homeowners do not even consider when designing with tile. Grout can become almost as important as the tile itself from a design perspective. You can change the color of grout, space the tiles wider or narrower to emphasize or de-emphasize the grout, and many other things. Do not ignore the design possibilities of grout.
  • Small Tiles Emphasize the Grid
    Sometimes, the design that you wish to achieve has as much to do with the grid pattern created by the tiles as it does with the tiles themselves. You can work miracles with grout. By using smaller tiles, you are emphasizing the grid pattern created by those tiles.
  • Tile Need Not Be a Cold Material
    Heated or radiant tile was, at one time, a specialty item reserved for the homes of rich people. Now, heated tile (friendly to bare feet!) can be found more and more in homes of ordinary folk.
  • Tile Is Not 100% Waterproof
    Even though tile has been used in wet applications ever since Roman times, water can still be introduced through the porous seams created by the grout. You need to apply grout sealer to the seams after the tile is first installed, and you need to keep applying the sealer periodically to keep the seams waterproof. Not only that, but some tile itself (granite, marble, quarry, etc.) is porous and needs to be sealed and polished on a regular basis.
  • Tile in the Kitchen is Hard on the Feet
    Many people find it painful and tedious to stand on hard ceramic tile on a kitchen floor for long periods of time. You may want to install more flexible, “giving” materials. You can mitigate the problem with throw rugs or gel pads of the type used by professional chefs. Examples of "giving" floor materials are solid wood, engineered wood, vinyl, laminate, and linoleum.
  • You Might Need Expansion Joints
    When you lay down tile, you are filling spaces between the tiles with tile grout. There are certain places where you want to replace the grout with silicone caulk expansion joints, because grout is solid, not flexible, and will crack if the substrate flexes. Most grout will be some basic shade of white, black, or gray, so it can be a problem finding a color match with silicone caulk.

Places To Add a Tile Expansion Joint

  • Where a pipe runs through a hole in the tile.
  • Where kitchen countertop tile meets the backsplash.
  • Where ceramic tile comes in contact with woodwork.
  • At any kind of inside corner (where a corner is formed with two courses of tiles).
  • Every 24 feet of interior floors. The reason for this is that large expanses of tile tend to be subject to expansion and contraction. By using a flexible type of bonding material such as caulk, instead of inflexible grout, you help the tile expand and crack--without cracking.