Using Tile Beyond Your Bathroom and Kitchen Floors

A section of a bedroom floor showing a special type of tile that looks like wooden flooring.

Wood-look tile can extend effortlessly from living to bathing spaces. Photo courtesy of LaFaenza/Ceramics of Italy member company. Below: New roof tiles can be integrated with fitted solar panels. Photo Courtesy of Ardogres/Ceramics of Italy member company.

If you look around your home today, you’ll probably see tile on one or more surfaces.

Tile is commonly used on foyer, bathroom, laundry and kitchen floors, shower walls and fancier backsplashes in American homes. 

If you lived somewhere else in the world  like Europe, for example  you’d probably have much more of it in your house. Tile makers want us to see the greater possibilities here, too, and so they sponsor visits by American architects, interior designers and journalists to their major trade shows.

Cersaie, held in Italy every September, is one of those shows. Organized by the country’s ceramic trade association, it brings 100,000 attendees to Bologna to ogle acres of tile and buy boatloads (literally) of it for their projects around the world. Some of those shipments make their way to the United States. Given tile’s versatility, low maintenance and durability, it’s definitely worth considering for your home, beside the spaces we traditionally think of using tile. Here are some ways you can use porcelain or ceramic tile that you may not have considered:

Interior Uses

If you had a tile countertop in your kitchen or bath in the last 20 years, it was probably made from four-inch squares with wide grout lines. Those are a nuisance to clean and look terribly dated.

New tile tops are made from long slabs of porcelain or similar sintered compact surfaces that are durable and a snap to maintain. (Unlike marble or granite, you’ll never have to seal them either.) You can get an integral sink made from the same material if you want one for greater sleekness and style. 

Some homes around the country  especially in warmer climates like Florida’s  have tile floors in the bedroom. The builder standard was 12-inch square, though maybe you upgraded to a larger format. Chances are, you opted for wood or carpet instead, and kept the tile in the adjacent bathroom. That’s OK, but you can now have much more style with 
wood-look tile that can extend across the entire master suite. This continuity makes the area look larger and more cohesive. New production technologies have made wood-look planks so realistic that it’s hard to tell tile from tree. If you don’t live in a warm climate, you might want to look into radiant floor heat for lovely warmth under bare feet. 

A few kitchen manufacturers  mostly in Europe still  are starting to clad their cabinetry with thin porcelain door and drawer fronts. The advantage of these over other materials are their durability and low maintenance. 

Tile can also serve an artistic function in your home. It can be used on a decorative screen as a room divider, on an accent wall as a mural or even on a ceiling for added interest between beams. 

It makes a great “rug” below a dining table or seating area, showcasing your style without ever needing a trip to the dry cleaner. It has also been used decoratively for distinctive stair risers, both inside and outside. 

Exterior Uses

Some Spanish-inspired American homes have barrel tile roofs, but these aren’t as common as they were in earlier decades. Many were Southern California bungalows torn down in favor of larger, more modern homes on the same lots. There’s an interesting development in the use of tile on roofing now in the form of integrated solar panels. These new roof tiles don’t (yet) have the distinctive style of their predecessors, but they can be installed with solar technology to create energy efficiencies for their owners. While you probably heard about automaker 
Tesla Rooftop Solar Tiles working on this concept, one Italian brand called Ardogres showed a ready-to-go solar-integrated roofing tile system at Cersaie this year. 

Two-centimeter-thick tile can also be used as pavers instead of concrete. It will not need to be sealed and can deliver style with durability and low maintenance. One tile maker at the show is working on a three-centimeter version that can work for driveways. In the meantime, you can use pavers on your patio, pool deck and other landscape uses for durable style. 

Tile is also regularly used around the world on building exteriors, though less so in the United States. That could change in the coming years as slabs continue to get longer, wider and lighter for exterior use. With a tile facade, you’ll never have to repaint your home as you might with other materials and it’s generally fade-, frost- and fire-resistant.

Last Words

If you’ve traveled overseas at all, you’ve probably visited some tile-rich historic sites. Roman ruins with gorgeous tile work dating back millennia have been found from Northern Europe to North Africa. Greek designs are found throughout the ancient Hellenic world. The reasons are simple: tile is both gorgeous and extremely durable. That makes it an excellent material to use in abundance on your 21st-Century home. 

Jamie Gold is a certified kitchen designer in San Diego and the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press). She is currently writing the New Bathroom Idea Book.

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