Bathroom Tile Ideas

That Will Work Anywhere

But First a Little Background

Greek Key Mosaic Border -

If you have come here for bathroom tile ideas you are in the right place, but first let us cover some background, then we can look at various patterns. If you want to skip ahead then check out my page on bathroom tile design ideas.

The use of decorative tiles goes back thousands of years. Tile decorated surfaces have been found in Mesopotamia from around 3000 B.C. Today there are cheaper alternatives but tiles still account for about $2 billion in annual sales in the United States. That is a lot of tile.

They are used on floors, as backsplashes in kitchens, and in bathrooms. They are often used in wet areas, where carpet and wood won’t go, but in the right hands they can be effectively used in just about any room in the house.

Let us take a quick look at the pros and cons of tile.



Tile can look beautiful and expensive - This is probably true of most materials, but the cheap tiles don’t look as low grade as cheap linoleum or cheap formica, while the expensive varieties can look worthy of a palace.

Tile is readily upgraded with the addition of trim or contrast tiles or the addition of a little creative tile work. You can use relatively cheap tiles, but add a row of more expensive tiles and end up with a look that belies your thriftiness.

If you are like me and on a tight budget, the ability to pinch a penny is important. Take a look at my sight, and others, and maybe you can find some bathroom tile ideas that can be both inexpensive and beautiful.

Tile allows free reign to your creativity -  With tile you create interesting patterns, or even works of art, by mixing tiles. Some people will want to follow a well-recognized pattern, but others will prefer to create their own. With tile you have that option. 

Whether you are looking for bathroom tile ideas, or something for another space, this page and its adjoining page, Bathroom Tile Design Ideas, can offer inspiration to spark your creativity. 

The waiting room at Union Station in LA shows the possibilities of tile - bathroom tile ideas

Tile is hard and durable  - Wood and linoleum will show impressions from chairs and bear the scratches from moving heavy furniture. Tile bears up, maintaining its good looks.

Tile is generally waterproof -There are some tiles that are not, but most tile is waterproof.  The grout is not, but can be sealed.  

Tile comes in a wide variety of color and shapes that will go with any decor. If you can’t find a tile that will work, you aren’t looking hard enough.


Tiles are difficult to clean  - Correction: Tile grout is difficult to clean.  Just ask my mother who had my father tear out the tile in the kitchen.  Just ask my wife who deals with the rust stains on the shower tile left by our iron-rich water.

I don't have any good solutions for this. You can seal the grout, which helps, but the grout is always going to form a low spot that traps dirt. I wrote Bathroom Tile Ideas with the understanding that I would offer the truth, even if it might dampen your enthusiasm.  

Tiles are prone to cracking -  This isn’t a big problem, but it is the weak spot with tile. However, you can remove one tile at a time to replace the cracked tile. Just try to do that with wood planking or wall-to-wall carpeting.  It will show.

Tile floors are cold and hard - This can be overcome with heated floors, but on a cold winter morning in a house without radiant floor heat you will quickly discover that slippers are a must, not a want. 

As you consider bathroom tile ideas put a little thought into things like area rugs and runners that can provide a little relief for your feet.

Tiles are noisy  - Any hard surface will reflect sound.  If a house had tiled floors, walls and ceilings the sound would ricochet around and you would get disturbing echoes. In a bathroom it isn't so great a concern because typically there won't be a lot of voices. In other rooms it might be a problem.

Most people won't have so much tile that this becomes an issue, but if you use a lot of it consider what you can do to improve the acoustics. Rugs, wall hangings and soft furniture will all help.

Remember, while you might have come here just for bathroom tile ideas, the tile has to work in the context of the architecture of the house and the house as a place with real people living in it.

Tiles are expensive  - Even if you use inexpensive tile there is a high labor cost to lay them. It simply takes more time to put in tiles than to install most of the competitor products. Now if you lay them yourself, much of the cost goes away.



Types of Tile - Bathroom Tile Ideas

There are a variety of ways to divide the tile options available.  Here I will discuss them in terms of opposing types or properties.

Ceramic versus Stone versus Glass  - While the term “Tile” is generally thought of as referring to ceramic tile, it can also apply to stone when the stone is used in the form of thin slabs that are laid on a bed of mortar and separated with grout.  In other words if stone is applied like a tile we call it tile.  

Ceramic tile is made with a clay that is pressed into a shape and then fired at several hundred degrees until it is hard like a rock.

Stone tiles are natural stone that are cut to shape and polished.  If it is a stone currently in use in the building industry chances are someone has found a way to cut it into small tiles. Granite, marble, limestone, travertine and slate are commonly used. While all of these have long been used as basic building blocks, and more recently as veneer stone, the idea of making them into small tiles is relatively recent.

There are some tiles that are formed from a stone material, like quartz, which is mixed with a bonding agent to create a synthetic stone. It is formed into a tile shape and then fired, like ceramic tile, but the ingredients are unique and distinct from the natural clays used in ceramics.

Glass has also become popular as a tile.  An ordinary tile has a top surface. Glass has the top surface, but since the glass is transparent there is a bottom surface and the region in between.This gives glass tile a depth that you don’t get with other tiles. There are opportunities to play with the light when you use glass in ways that you can’t with a ceramic or stone tile. If you want to explore the limits of bathroom tile ideas consider ways that you could backlight glass tile. It is tricky, since you need to set it in a mortar, but it is possible.

Here is a set of lime green glass tiles - bathroom tile ideas
From the same company we have metal tiles in a pre-set pattern - bathroom tile ideas

Glazed versus Unglazed  - A lot of tile is glazed.  In this process a tile is painted with a ceramic-based glaze and then fired. This glaze glasses over, which is where we get the word glaze. This gives it a color, but also give it a shiny surface.  This process will usually make the tile impervious to water. Unglazed tile often need to be sealed periodically to prevent staining.

The glaze is a little softer than the tile and the glaze can wear. This is usually not considered a problem in homes. It is more of a problem in high-traffic commercial buildings.Shiny glazes tend to be softer than matte finishes, which is one reason why shiny tiles are usually not installed for floors. The other reason is that the shiny tiles tend to be a little more slippery. 

Impervious versus Absorbent  - It is not just the glaze that determines whether a tile will absorb water.  The unglazed clay tile, known as the bisque, can vary in density. Air spaces within the clay can allow water to soak into the bisque. A dense bisque, with most of the air pockets squeezed out of the clay, will resist water. This property effects where tile can be used.

Anything tile that can absorb 3% or more of its weight in water should not be used outdoors as a freeze can cause the tile to crack. These tiles are often known as non-vitreous or semi-vitreous tiles. Any tile that absorbs less than 0.5% of its weight in water is considered impervious tile. The tile in the 0.5% to 3% range is called vitreous tile. Both vitreous and impervious tile can be used outside.

Some of the most effective use of tile I have seen has been outdoors. I think this is because it is often an unexpected application. We look for bathroom tile ideas for bathrooms, but those same ideas can be used in your garden or around your patio, and it is those applications of tile that will draw the most comments and praise.

Wall versus Floor  - Floor tiles take more abuse. They have to be stronger. They are made denser and thicker. 

To shave costs and weight wall tiles are thinner and less dense. During installation the sticky mastic has to bear the weight of the tile. On walls thick, heavy tiles would tend to move out of position before they set.

Decorated  versus Plain - Most tile falls into the category of plain tile. It is all one color or if there are multiple colors there is not distinct pattern. With decorated tile the surface is inscribed or molded or glazed to create a pattern.Usually this pattern are designed to be placed next to other tiles of the same design to create a continuing pattern. 

However you don’t need to use decorated tile to create a beautiful pattern. Many lovely patterns have been created through the years using combinations of plain tile

Decorated Tile
Plain Field Tile

Border Tile, Corner Tile, Bullnose Tile versus Field Tile   - While most tile will end up in the middle of a large, flat surface (the field) some will end up on an edge or a corner. Manufacturers often make special tile with rounded edges to provide a smooth edge.

A line drawing of a bullnose tile - this provides a smooth, rounded edge - bathroom tile ideas
On Boykins site is an example of a bullnose tile used in his bathroom project - bathroom tile ideas

Decoration versus Art - Most applications of tile are there for decorative purposes, but it can also be used as a medium for art. This is not to belittle decoration. It makes the world around us more beautiful and more pleasant. 

I merely point out that tile can be used in works of art and sometimes rises to the level of a masterpiece. Mosaic floors from ancient Greece and Rome are often highly prized works of art. Various civilizations in the interim have rediscovered this art form and applied it in new ways.  

This is equally true of our modern civilization, where some artists have chosen to devote their artistic energies to working in tile. It would be silly to only look to tile shop showrooms for inspiration for bathroom tile ideas when we have the whole world of art that we can draw from.

As an example I present the work of J. Kay Aplin, an artist from the United Kingdom, who has decided to make her whole house a work of ceramic art. The picture below is pulled from the website about her ceramic house.

This article continues on to Bathroom Tile Design Ideas where I present examples of the various patterns that you can make with tile. (Hint, click on the underlined words above).

Garden Tiles from the home of Kay Aplin - bathroom tile ideas

Bathroom Tile Ideas - An Apology

You probably came here with a somewhat different purpose in mind, but since you made it this far I trust this background information has proved helpful.

While I have your attention, let me also recommend my many other articles on my site. I always strive to give value for the time you spend on my pages. They may not always get where they are going in the most direct fashion, but they tend to entertain and educate along the way.

And good luck with your search for bathroom tile idea.

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