A Quick Guide to Tile Patterns, According to an Interior Designer

A Quick Guide to Tile Patterns, According to an Interior Designer

Here's how to choose the right patterned tile for any space, from backsplashes to flooring, so that it makes a lasting impact.

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We all want spaces that strike a balance between universally on-trend and individually on-brand. A successful design can interpret the most popular looks in a way that still speaks to personal taste, and one material that can pull this off is tile. Given its wide range of sizes, shades, and finishes, tiles can pull a room together, but finding the right pattern and design can be a struggle.

"Sometimes you want tile to be the statement in the room, and sometimes you want it to work in harmony with other dramatic accents in a room," says Orlando Soria, interior designer, author, and TV host.

In order to determine the best tile pattern for your project—whether it's for a kitchen backsplash, a living room floor, or a bathroom vanity—it's best to know what your options are. Soria discusses how to think of tiles like a designer, so that you can approach your search for something on-trend and on-brand with confidence.

Finding the right tile is a whole lot easier if you stick to of-the-moment styles. Not only will it significantly narrow down your choices, but it will also make the ordering process much more straightforward.

"The most common tile patterns out there are subway, hexagon, and scallop," Soria says. "There's obviously a ton more out there, but these are the three you can find readily available almost anywhere that sells tile." Here's what to know about each one:

Another way to narrow down your tile choices is to determine your budget—tile prices can vary widely, and the labor to install them can also be pricey. "Generally, the more interesting and handmade a tile is, the higher the price. You can get inexpensive subway tiles for $2 a square foot, but higher-end tiles can be $60 a square foot and higher," Soria says.

If you can afford handmade tiles, Soria says to go for it, particularly if there's something unique about their design. "But if you can't afford to plop down thousands of dollars on tile, then you can get creative with patterns," he says.

Since tiles usually become a statement in any room they're used in, it's best to consider all of the other factors in a space as you shop. A modern home with lots of white surfaces can likely contrast well with a busier tile, for instance, while a more traditional space would probably complement a more subtle choice.

"Think of your home the way it is now, and the way you'd like for it to be," Soria says. "Spanish patterned tile got really popular about 10 years ago, for example, so people started putting it everywhere, including places it didn't always make sense. I've seen a lot of Spanish tile used in super-modern contemporary homes and usually it hasn't been a successful application. For a contemporary home, a solid tile probably works better." Solid tiles can be made more interesting with colors and shapes, and one pick Soria recommends is blue tiles in kitchens.

"If you're designing with resale in mind," he says, "I'd stick to a pretty strict palette of white, black, grays, and neutrals—you can always bring in color with paint." A "forever home," on the other hand, can take more design risks and should reflect its owners. "But make sure to try tiles out in the space before you install them," Soria suggests. "The color a tile may appear to have in a showroom might be completely different once it's in your home."

"The simplest, most universal pattern for a kitchen backsplash is subway tile laid horizontally, staggered, in white," Soria says. "I know people are sick of this pattern, but it really never looks bad." A kitchen with a lot of eye-catching features—like bold lighting, brightly-colored cabinets, and shiny appliances—may need a classic backsplash for balance. But pared-back kitchens should use patterned tiles to make an exclamation point in the design.

He says it's usually best to go for neutral hues in the bathroom for a timeless finish. "Everyone wants their bathrooms to feel clean and bright, so I find using lots of light hues and materials with some shine in the finish makes a bathroom feel like how it's supposed to feel." Usually, Soria goes for marble rectangles on the main floor, and smaller-scale tiles for the shower floor, so that both sizes complement rather than compete with each other. "Also, the more grout lines, the more grip you have," he says.

No matter which tile pattern you choose, Soria notes that this is a very subjective process—and it should be thought of as more fun than stressful that there's so much to choose from. "There's a lot out there for everyone," he says. "Overall, try to select patterns that feel classic and won't look so 'now' that they still read '2021' in 2031."

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