Caitlin Wilson's 5 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Tile

·5 min read
Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson
Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson

I’m a total Francophile. French culture cherishes style and sophistication. I love how the mundane aspects of everyday French life seem elevated to artforms. Take their bread, for instance! Anywhere else, bread is just bread, basic and ordinary. In France, it’s a celebration of all our senses.

Perhaps nowhere is their elevation of the ordinary more apparent than underfoot. When temperatures soared in the days before air conditioning, European designers could have settled for basic tiles that kept things cool. Instead, they made the functional beautiful, with classic marbles and intricate mosaics.

Here’s the thing about tile: Once installed, it’s a permanent fixture in homes. Unlike paint or fabrics, which can easily be replaced for a new look, you’ll live with your tile choices for a long time. That’s a lot of pressure!

As a designer, I’ve had ample opportunities to help clients choose tile for their homes. After years of experience, I know what I love. From the very beginning, I had a sense for what I wanted in my home.

Still, it wasn’t easy. It took me nine months and many, many iterations of gathering materials, laying them all over the tables in my house, staring at them, and thinking about what I couldn’t live without. While some decisions came naturally, others were a process.

Here are a few important questions to ask yourself when you’re choosing tile for your home.

How to Choose Tile

1. How do you want the space to feel?

Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson
Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson

As a pattern designer, I love a good theme. There’s nothing better than indulging in a moment or an inspiration. In our guest bathroom, for example, I went with an English-inspired theme.

To create a space that feels like a cozy, yet sophisticated, English cottage, I chose ceramic tiles and accented them with warm veining from marble in greens and blues.

2. Will the tile complement the surrounding rooms?

When you’re using patterns in close proximity, it’s often a matter of playing with scale to be sure you don’t have too much of a good thing. Where I was using a busier wallpaper, I went with bigger scale, more monochromatic palettes, and clean lines on the floor.

If you want to balance a loud pattern with a quiet tile, you might choose a neutral. Remember that neutrals can extend beyond shades of white, cream, or gray. While I am using quite a bit of white, I’m also drawn to a particular blue marble—a sophisticated way to add color to a bathroom. For me, this blue is so neutral that I had a hard time not using it everywhere!

3. What material is best?

Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson
Photo credit: Caitlin Wilson

We use marble more than we used to. Backsplashes are often full marble slabs. In this house, we chose to use marble on the floors in the entryway, the breezeway/mudroom, and the hidden kitchen, in large part because of marble’s natural durability.

With porcelain, you have a lot of options for textures, patterns, and colors. Manufacturers can use a mold to create a pattern, which lets you play around with pattern and color, borders and trim.

In one of the bathrooms, I was able to use able to add a pearl liner and a clover trim—almost as if the shower was given a pair of curtains.

4. Do you trust your source?

Today, consumers have access to good-looking marble and tile from an increasing number of retail companies. These companies aren’t created equal, however, and there’s a lot of wisdom in using a reputable source.

Ann Sacks and Walker Zanger are two tried-and-true tile suppliers that offer more variety and a greater ability to customize with unique pieces. They are great to work with, and they’ve supplied tile for the majority of our house.

You can save a little money if you go to a big box store, but you won’t have the consistency you gain from companies that specialize in tile. I’ve even had an experience where I could feel sharp edges of the box store tile as you walked across the floor! Especially if you’re creating a mosaic, you’ll want the edges to be soft and comfortable.

It’s important to remember that when you get creative with tile, mistakes with installation can happen. When the time comes, choose a craftsperson who understands the importance of laying each piece out precisely to be sure they’re centered and the borders line up.

5. Does it have a timeless appeal?

Photo credit: Katie Nixon
Photo credit: Katie Nixon

I’m the youngest child in my family, and my parents chose to San Francisco just as a I was graduating from high school. For a time, we lived in a 1920s apartment. The bathroom had mint-green subway tile accented with a pink border. I loved the two-tone look that added a fun pop of color. When we later remodeled their apartment, we decided to leave all the tile in the bathroom because it was so cool. I’ve always taken inspiration from this classic design concept.

In my own house, we adopted a fresh twist on the '20s Art Deco vibe with a vintage-inspired mosaic by Maison Mosaics for our baby’s bathroom. I chose a recycled glass with a matte finish to create a classic trellis with shades of pink and periwinkle. Already when people walk through the house, they comment on this fun pop of color and pattern that’s used in such a refreshing way!

This is part eight in our Along for the Revival series with Caitlin Wilson. Get caught up with the rest of the series here.

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