Designers flip over tile, go for the bold

Willow tile from Grow House Grow. Handout

When Katie Deedy of Grow House Grow — a boutique design shop renowned for its narrative-inspired wallpaper — began experimenting with new materials and designs, it was expected that we’d see more of her whimsical, illustrative offerings. Luckily, her sights were set much lower: the floor.

Deedy, along with countless other brands and designers, is embracing the opportunity to create a tile product that visually delivers elements of bewitching color, pattern, and personality, and to showcase them in a way that’s apologetically distinct and bold. These are not your granny’s tiles. Nor are they basic in any way, shape, or form. In fact, these new offerings challenge the expectation that 3-by-6-inch subway tile is still an obvious choice in today’s kitchens and bathrooms. If anything, new tiles of all shapes, sizes, and hues shirk the ordinary and, more important, give homeowners full permission to live a life rich in color, even if it’s underfoot.

Tropicana tile from Grow House Grow. —Handout

Nature on display

Deedy’s foray into creating designer cement tiles began approximately four years ago and was a natural transition from her wallpaper creations. “My family is Cuban, and I’d always wanted to create tile like what I’d seen growing up in our family photos, but with my own twist,’’ she said. “Initially, I wanted all the tiles to match wallpapers, but it’s a different format.’’ The most direct example, according to Deedy, is the Captain Smith tile, a cephalopod-inspired pattern modeled after her best-selling Captain Smith wallpaper.

It’s only fitting that the celebration of flora and fauna continues to be a focus for the brand. This year, Grow House Grow debuted three new nature-inspired tiles, and counts Deedy’s Otomi tiles, which feature animal and floral folk art, as an ongoing fan favorite. “Our tiles are usually used on the floor, but backsplashes and walls are the second runner-up,’’ Deedy said. “One of my favorite Otomi installs utilized both, with floor and wall transforming the bathroom into a sort of patterned nook.’’

Otomi tile by Grow House Grow. —Handout

Michael Aram for Artistic Tile has also created a nature-inspired design that marries innovation with natural stone and results in a stylishly seductive offering that is turning tile on its head. Dubbed the Orchid Dimensional, this collection captured Interior Design magazine’s Best Wall Covering Award (tile and stone) in 2017 for its crystalline white Thassos marble flowers sprouting from a base of polished Bianco Carrara marble.

Michael Aram’s Orchid for Artistic Tile. —Handout

Fresh, colorful hues

Artistic Tile is embracing color, too. “One trend we are seeing this spring is the use of color and the mixing of materials when designing tile patterns,’’ said Rachel Adler, a representative for the brand. Their newest pattern — Fan Club — is a mosaic glass design that’s beguiling in a blue ombre colorway that would instantly deliver a touch of fancy flair behind a wet bar or on a feature wall.

Fan Club tile in ombre for Artistic Tile. —Handout

The color-rich ceramic tile collection from Popham Design also exhibits a playful punch that has design editors taking note, including Tori Mellott of Traditional Home Magazine, who finds Popham’s graphic designs to be an ideal choice for an entryway in a home. “A foyer sets the mood for the house; it should capture the spirit of the house,’’ Mellott said. “It’s sort of like a preamble and lets a visitor know what to expect. It answers questions like ‘Are these people formal? Playful? Artsy? Boring? Busy?’ I love the continuing trend of using encaustic tiles for entryways as they have so much personality!’’

Whitney Robinson, Elle Decor’s editor in chief, is especially smitten with the pink-driven India Mahdavi collection created for Bisazza, and suggests it be considered an option for anyone seeking a prettier, personalized washroom. “A bathroom by nature — no pun intended — is a utilitarian space,’’ Robinson said. “But it’s also the first room we see after our bedroom in the morning and usually the last one before we go to sleep. … It’s definitely a room that should make you happy. What better way to achieve this than with pink-colored tiles? Pink makes skin look radiant.’’

Pink tile by India Mahdavi for Bisazza. —Handout

Got time? Make it your own

“It not hugely more expensive to make custom tiles — it just takes time really,’’ explained Sarah Watson, founder of Balineum in England, which excels at small-batch custom orders. Their Hanley collection of ceramic tiles is available in a dozen solid-color glazes that are hand-mixed to achieve an ideal blend of pigments. “We regularly make custom-glaze colors for clients. They will give us a Pantone reference, or we’ll try to match to a fabric or wallpaper,’’ Watson said. “Once we have an approved glaze color, we can then apply this on almost any size or shape tile.’’

Watson knows how passionate her customers can be about finding just the right hue for their home. “Last year we made two slightly different shades of blue for a boys’ bathroom. Both brothers wanted blue tiles but not the same.’’ To create a truly one-of-a-kind design within the home, Watson suggests using the tiles in any number of formations, including graphic chevron.

Sweet relief

When it comes to successfully marrying serious color tones with unexpected texture, Granada Tile’s new Relief collection, which debuted this spring after many years of development, takes the cake. Melanie Stephens, director of design and marketing at Granada Tile, explains: “We have been fascinated by the idea of relief tiles and their potential to create a tone-on-tone effect. We are launching them now because, thanks to a powerful new Italian polishing line, we are able to achieve high polish on the top surface to contrast with the matte of the indented surface.’’ Each pattern is available in four colors selected from Granada’s standard palette of 40. According to Stephens, certain designs lend themselves to particular colors. “For example,’’ she said, “Tangalle has a very Southwest Native American feeling and calls for our earth and rock tones: tan, coffee, terra cotta and clay.’’

Hanley chevron tile from Balineum. —Handout

Adding dimension

For anyone seeking to create a futuristic style statement to liven up a boring wall, the Yara Metal hex ceramic wall tile series from The Tile Shop creates a conversation piece with its slightly reflective metallic finish —available in black, silver, or white —and a 3-D geometric pattern on its surface. Pittsburgh designer Lauren Levant believes that textured tiles, such as the sculptural wavy tiles from Porcelanosa, can truly bring a whole new layer to a finished design scheme. “Thinking about walls in three dimensions is a way to give an even more dynamic effect to a naturally beautiful material,’’ Levant explained. “In this case, the natural beauty of limestone is accentuated by a sculptural treatment and allows light to play beautifully across its surface.’’

Yara metallic tile by The Tile Shop. —Handout

Wall tiles have recently become available to designers in a myriad of materials, including natural stone, porcelain, wood, metal, glass, and others. “All of these can create a level of depth to a design that can make a big impact,’’ she said.

A twist on a classic

If the urge to play it safe with subway tiles still strikes you, consider this novel twist from San Francisco designer Jon de la Cruz, the design maestro behind the 2017 House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year: “Fireclay Tile also offers a handmade glazed thin brick, a beautiful recycled brick tile that gives you both texture and saturated color that is just the right fit for traditional and modern palettes,’’ Cruz said. “We love using it as kitchen backsplashes and fireplace surrounds to add a special layer of subtle patina while still feeling clean and fresh.’’

Tile has never looked so good, and the colorful and textural offerings to dress floors, walls, and backsplashes have never been so pretty or plentiful. Ready to decorate? The hardest part may be in choosing where to begin.

Christina Poletto lives just outside New York City, where she writes about unusual old homes and interior design trends. Follow her on Instagram @dovetailordesignstudio. Send comments to [email protected]. Subscribe to our newsletter at