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The Ultimate Designer Guide to Bathroom Tile

NOVEMBER 14, 2017
Photo credit: Aubrie Pick

Decided to give your bathroom a facelift? Congratulations! A bathroom renovation is one of the most exciting projects you can take on in your home, from your dream showerhead to lust-worthy faucets. An essential element of your salle de bain renovation is your bathroom tile. With so many options, choosing bathroom tile can be daunting. And, if you’ve never tackled a renovation before, you may have many questions to begin with.

We tapped a few star Decorist designers to help you navigate the world of bathroom tile. Read on to learn what’s exciting them, what affordable bathroom tile they love, and what tips they’d give to beginners.

Bathroom Tile Trends

Like fashion and decor, bathroom tile sees trends come and go. While certain tiles, like subway tiles, may be timeless, they too experience trends—such as dark grout with white subway tile, which has been popular the last few years. We asked our designers what’s exciting them lately regarding trends, materials, colors, or finishes for bathroom tile.

Handmade Tiles

Moroccan Zellige Tile - Bathroom Tile

Prue Ruscoe

No matter what look you’re going for, handmade bathroom tiles are a good bet. “Anything handmade is always amazing to look at in person and instantly elevates a space,” argues Decorist Elite designer Heidi Caillier.

More specifically, Decorist Elite designer Lauren Martin recommends Moroccan zellige tile—“a piping hot design trend, which I believe has already become a timeless classic,” she says. Each zellige tile is made by hand, one-by-one, crafted from terracotta clay.

Soft Palettes and Finishes

Bathroom With Seafoam Green Bathroom Tile

Joe Schmelzer for Kishani Perera

Echoing trends in paint toward muddier hues, we’re also seeing subtler shades in bathroom tile. Cailler tells us she’s feeling drawn to softer palettes, while Elite designer Jillian Scott says she tends to run toward natural finishes. An exception, says Scott, is a small space, where reflective bathroom tile can help to make a space feel bigger.

Creative Trims

DeGournay Wallpaper Bathroom With Blue Bathroom TileSeth Smoot via Dina Bandman

Hear the words “bathroom tile trim” and you might have flashbacks to the ‘90s, but as Caillier points out, “being creative with trims,” can be one of the most transformative choices you make for your bathroom design. Consider alternate bathroom tile shapes, colors, sizes, and finishes, and don’t get stuck in a rut with the same bathroom tile everywhere.

Patterned Tiles

Blue Patterned Bathroom Tile

Diana Relth

Patterned cement tiles, or mosaicos hidralico, originally developed in Latin America, have seen a resurgence in the U.S. over the past five years. However, designers are in debate over whether the trend has passed its prime. Scott argues that the patterned cement tile trend is still going strong, and advises that “incorporating these tiles in a design adds an instant dose of personality.” “For a shower accent wall,” Martin says, “pattern and color adds a fun energy and jazzes up any space.” Meanwhile, Caillier fears the trendy graphic cement tile may have seen its day. We have to agree that patterned cement bathroom tile has reached a fever pitch, but we won’t rule it out—there’s always an opportunity to make a trend your own.

Terracotta Tiles

Clé Tile Vintage Rose Terracotta Bathroom Tile

Clé Tile Vintage Rose Zellige Terracotta Tile 4"x4" ($1.98/each)

One trend that we’re excited to see making a comeback is terracotta bathroom tiles. This time around, the most popular tile artisans are eschewing traditional rust tones, in favor of fresher shades. “Clé Tile is making some really beautiful terracotta tiles in rich blues, greens, and my personal favorite—vintage rose,” says Scott. “I love the rough textures and uniqueness of color in each individual tile; no two are alike.”

Top Tips for Installing Bathroom Tile

Feeling inspired? Before you pick up your hammer and chisel, our designers have a few tried-and-true tips for bathroom tile installation for you.

Invest in a Solid Subcontractor

First and foremost, nearly all our designers recommend hiring a professional installer for your bathroom tile. “A lot of vital prep work happens in wet areas, well before the actual tiles get installed and grouted,” says Martin. “Hiring a sub worth his salt, who will take the extra care and precision necessary in the prep stage, will greatly lessen the chances of moisture issues/leaks/cracks and mold later down the road.”

Be Thoughtful With Grout

“Grout color and type and grout line thickness can really change the look of whatever tile you choose,” says Caillier. While proper installation is key, grout can also be used creatively to add additional design elements. “Grout can go beyond the functional and add to the design by either accenting or blending in with the tile,” says Scott. “For example, patterned tiles will stand out more with a contrasting grout, while matching the grout to the tile will create a monolithic look and highlight the tile itself.”

Mind the Layout

Once you’ve picked your tile and your grout, you should choose a layout. “Even subway tile can be installed 10 different ways,” says Martin. “You'll need to decide on the layout and instruct your subcontractor for the install. A professional should be meticulous in this way, so you don't have strange pattern cutoffs in the corners.”

Affordable Tile Picks

On a budget? Aren’t we all. We’ve tapped our Elite designers to share their top affordable bathroom tile picks. Read on for their favorites.

“On a tight budget nothing beats classic white subway tile,” says Heidi Caillier. “It's timeless and always looks clean and fresh. We like to use Daltile Rittenhouse.”

Rittenhouse Square Arctic White 3 in. x 6 in. Ceramic Modular Wall Tile ($2.82/sq. ft.)

“I'm an avid fan of penny tile. They can come in all the classic neutral shades, mixed greys and even a gorgeous metallic ‘dirty penny’ color,” says Lauren Martin. “To give your budget a little breathing room, I suggest using penny tile on shower floors, laundry room floors, or going half way up bathroom walls. This way, you can spend a bit more on bathroom floor tiles or the shower walls (or your kitchen) where visually you can make more of a high-end statement. Penny tile comes inexpensively in sheets, not individual small tiles, making it grout free and super easy for an installer.”

Carrara (Carrera) Venato Hexagon Honed 2" Mosaic Tile ($11.75)

Tiles Worth Splurging On

Want to go all out with bathroom tile? Here are a few bathroom tile designs our Elite designers are lusting after.

“Hands down, my favorite splurge tile right now is Tabarka Studio. They can completely transform a bathroom and are worth every penny,” says Heidi Caillier.

As mentioned above, Lauren Martin says her dream tile of the moment is Moroccan zellige tile. “Not only are they exceptionally beautiful and one of a kind,” she says, “they are carefully crafted with care and support the local economy.”

More Tiles to Swoon Over:

Fireclay Tile Scalene Half Offset Tile 

Audrey Lane Kite Pattern Tile

Want more help with your bathroom renovation or makeover? Decorist designers are ready and waiting to answer your questions or help with a room plan. Visit our Design Bar for quick questions and learn more about how our design services work.

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