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Romancing the Stone
When, where and how to use stone and tile in your interiors
Adda Carpets and Flooring
Options in floor and wall coverings continue to grow as technology and trends introduce new possibilities in materials, colors, sizes and textures. Tile and stone is an area that, even as time goes on, has one foot in two different worlds — the timelessly classic and the unapologetically modern. Between the timeless, elegant look natural stone provides and the modern shapes, textures and strength now possible in porcelain tile, finding the right material for your floor, backsplash, shower or other surface requires a number of considerations. This season, we sought advice from a number of local tile sellers and interior designers for tips on what kinds of tile to use and when and where they’re most appropriate.
Why tile and stone? The first consideration is function.
“When working on a design project, our client’s lifestyle is a big part of what leads us to stone, tile flooring. We like to discuss with the client how they plan on using each space and how much time is spent in certain areas to determine what type of material is used,” says Kristine Flynn, Owner & Interior Designer at Flynn Designs. Considerations include the effects that kids, pets and activities have on certain areas of the home.
“Porcelain provides a level of durability that carpet and hardwood floors do not offer. The residents of Houston who just endured the terrible flooding — they are all switching from carpet and hardwood to tile flooring,” says Olivia Boone, President of Horizon Tile, which has showrooms in both Texas and Louisiana. Not only can a durable floor provide for less headache down the line, it can also increase the value of your home.
According to Lindsay Swenson, chief executive merchant at Floor & Decor, carpet doesn’t enhance the value of a home and has downsides such as a difficulty to keep clean and a tendency to harbor allergens. And while hardwood can increase home value, it is unfortunately sensitive to moisture and prone to scratching.
“Natural stone tends to be the expectation in higher-end homes. We advise customers of this so the material they select matches the resale value of their home,” says Swenson. For home owners concerned with maintenance and the potential staining of natural stone, especially in a high-traffic area like a kitchen, Swenson encourages them to go with an non-porous, man-made material such as porcelain tile, which these days can mimic natural stone surprisingly well.
“Natural stone comes in many sizes and patterns and laser cutting stone has allowed manufacturers to come up with some stunning designs that can turn heads,” says Interior Designer Susan Currie. “On the other hand, digital imaging has come a long way so now porcelain tile is made to mimic the look of natural stone. I consider this technique ‘the new trompe l’oeil’ for the tile industry because it can fool the eye.”
At Horizon Tile, Boone recommends customers determine whether or not they’re comfortable with the changes that happen to natural stone over time due to their porosity and sensitivity to acids. While there are many homeowners who love the beauty and patina of natural stone, there are others who would rather avoid the maintenance, polishing or sealing that stone can require.
Chris Judge, owner of ADDA Flooring, brings up another point of consideration for the stone tile versus porcelain tile debate.
“One of the beauties of many natural stones is their variation,” he says. “If a client desires a more uniform appearance, porcelain tile is often the best choice.”
Variation is a big consideration according to our experts, who recommend doing your best to explore a stone’s variation before purchase and to hire setters who know how to work with it. At Palatial Stone and Tile, Owner Amyre Romain emphasizes that natural stone inherently has a much wider range in color and veining than other products. According to Romain, viewing the natural color range of that lot for approval is imperative before ordering.
It’s also important to get your numbers right — a last-minute order of more stone tile may not be available from the same lot and could differ from your original order.
“When setting the stone, your tile setters should open all the boxes and select randomly when setting,” says Penny Francis, interior designer and owner of Eclectic Home. “Don’t set one box then move to the next. You want a blend of the materials.” This tip can go along way in avoiding an accidental gradient effect with one side of your room being heavier in color or veining than the other. Francis also recommends making sure your setter has prepared the surface and waterproofed and sealed properly, especially in wet areas like a bathroom or kitchen.
Once you’ve considered how your tile should function in the house, you can get to the fun part — design. From a stone mosaic in your shower to large-format tile for your master bathroom floor, or an imitation wood plank porcelain tile for your living area, there are looks, sizes, shapes and textures for every palate.
“Porcelain tiles and manmade quartz products have come a long way,” says Amyre Romaine of Palatial Stone and Tile. “Due to advancing technologies, tile can now mimic not only the look of natural stone but hardwood, fabrics and more. Larger and thinner format and plank tiles are still on the rise.”
Before you fall in love with your tile choice, make sure it’s suitable for your intended use. Some tile is rated for walls only and some can only be used indoors and not out. Once you know what kind of tile you need, it’s time for the fun.
At Stafford Tile, tucked Uptown near Audubon Park, Owner Peggy Stafford loves working to create one of a kind tile and stone designs. She notes the lack of opportunity you have to customize or get creative with carpet and wood.
“I am seeing a more prevalent use of color than in the past,” says Stafford. “Strong colors and exotic patterns in different shapes and sizes are much more widely used in our projects. We also now have a wide array of very well priced, stylish porcelain tiles that can perform in a high traffic commercial area but are attractive in a residential environment.”
At Adda Flooring, large format tiles are sought for their ability to create a seamless appearance and fewer grout lines with sizes as big as 24 by 48 inches or 32 by 32 inches. Wood-look tile is popular at Floor & Decor, where they offer planks as long as 72 inches in addition to large format tile. Likewise, large porcelain “slabs” are available at Horizon Tile, and Boone notes their popularity for walls, countertops, shower walls and exterior cladding.
“Porcelain is very versatile and suitable for almost every project,” she says. Other popular porcelain designs include wood- and textile-look tile, encaustic or concrete looks and porcelain terrazzo.
Interior Designer Susan Currie calls vibrant color one of her design trademarks, and currently she’s loving the look of encaustic tile, which dates back to medieval times and was originally created with clay. Today, many manufacturers are making encaustic tile with cement and others are creating the look on porcelain.
“Encaustic tile can add pattern, color and interest to a space.” says Currie. “When it’s used, it’s like creating an inlaid floor. When paired with white or neutral cabinets in kitchens or bathroom, a design using this type of tile can become the main focal point in a room. The array of matched patterns and the use of colors are to die for if you are a color enthusiast like I am.”
Waterjet and laser-cut stone tiles are expanding the world of mosaics, another key part of the tile and stone industry. Mosaics can create a focal point for a room, be it a backsplash, a shower wall or a fireplace surround.
Currie fell in love with an Ann Sacks laser-cut pattern made with a mixture of Calacatta Gold marble, frosted glass and clear glass tiles for her home.
“The circular pattern added just the right level of interest in my master bath,” she says. “I achieved the right mix of scale and pattern with the combination of 6 inch by 12 inch tile on the shower walls, one-inch square stone mosaic for the shower floor, along with a bold floral wallpaper, making the bathroom one of the rooms in my home that my guests most inquire about and admire.”
Likewise, Francis used a stone mosaic as a feature wall in her bar and incorporated a stone and glass mix in her kitchen backsplash. For recent clients, Flynn has been using a lot of shaped mosaic tiles in tub surrounds such as fish scale and picket mosaic patterns.
“They are a fun surprise when you open the shower curtain,” says Flynn.
Another important part of the tile and stone equation is price, and fortunately for homeowners, thanks to technology, you can largely achieve the look you want with reasonably priced materials. While a custom, hand-made tile or mosaic is going to cost more than machine-cut basic shapes, you can find well made products that make a statement in a wide price range.
“You really can pay as much or as little as you want to,” says Olivia Boone of Horizon Tile. “It is like buying a dress — there are many choices in style, quality and price.”
At Adda Flooring, Chris Judge echoes that sentiment.
“With the prices being so varied, we can truly design the looks that clients are drawn to for virtually any budget,” he says.