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Four tips on choosing the best tiles for your home: The reno files

The vision I have for my home is quite modern, so I'll have to save my love of bright colours and patterns on fabrics and soft furnishings instead.

Screen shot

Sarah Richardson design, image Stacey Brandford

The vision I have for my home is quite modern, so I’ll have to save my love of bright colours and patterns on fabrics and soft furnishings instead. For the shell of the house, I spent about two days hitting up all the major tile suppliers in the Toronto area, which ended up becoming a segment for Cityline. Watch it here if you haven’t seen it already!

Here’s what I learned about tiles on my little field trip:

1. All about natural stone
These days discussions about tile are essentially discussions about marble. It seems ceramics have taken a back seat to marble, glass and in some cases, porcelain.

When it comes to marble, grey and white is where it’s at right now. The creamy tones of limestone and crema marfil marble that had dominated the last ten to fifteen years have been replaced with white and grey tones (except in more traditional applications I think).

A quick primer on marble:
Carrera is the more common white and grey marble. Lots of grey with a subtle all over kind of veining. ($12 for 12”x12”)
Calcutta is the very beautiful white and greyish/brown marble with big veins and big areas of white.  ($37 for 18” x 18”)
Statuario is the most beautiful (in my opinion) of the white and grey marbles, with large expanses of white and striking, dark grey large-scale veining. ($30 for 12”x24”)
Cipollino is another hot stone, especially when you lay it with the pattern horizontal. It has quite regular, almost stripe like veins. ($24 for 12”x24”)
Greystone is also really big right now — apparently they can’t keep it in stock. It looks quite a lot like slate, but with a slightly warmer tone, and a very subtle veining in it. Lovely! ($14 per sq ft)

For all of these, I went to Ciot. The showroom manager gave me some crucial advice when it comes to ordering marble: order 15 percent more than you need. When you buy a quantity of marble, it all comes from the same cut in the quarry, known as the dye lot. If you come back later because you need more, you may end up with a different dye lot and the colour and pattern may not match.

Also, bigger sized tiles is where it’s at — but that also means they’ll be more expensive. A good alternative is to go with is porcelain imitations or even porcelain veneers which brings me to my second point.

2. Fakes have come a long way
I have a hard time with anything that pretends to be something it’s not. But I may need to rethink my attitude. Faux marble and porcelain wood tiles are amazingly similar looking to the real thing and offer more flexibility.

In the case of wood, I grabbed some amazing samples from Olympia. The beauty of this product is that you can use it in applications where wood does not work, such as in areas with big fluctuations in humidity, like a seasonal home, a basement, bathroom or laundry room. (Cost is around $10/sq ft.) The more expensive the product, the more real it will look. You want to avoid what looks like a computer generated image of the real thing.

Stone Tile has amazing porcelains that are dead ringers for really expensive marbles at a fraction of the price. The beauty of these is not only in the pricing, but that they can come in much larger sizes than the natural stone products.  These can also be installed directly onto an existing surface or even on a countertop. They also recently started importing a new product from Italy that is a stone laminate. It’s a super thin layer of real stone on a porcelain backing. Again, you can get really big pieces at a fraction of the cost. It’s also much more stable than solid stone, and less likely to crack. Prices vary by product.

3. Pattern is hot
Marble mosaics are really big right now and my favourite place to get those is at Saltillo-Imports. Saltillo has beautiful geometric patterns in all the popular colours of stones. I love the triple basket weave and the herringbone. If you’re going to invest in these tiles (about $25 per sq ft), my advice is to use it in a smaller area. For example, make a border out of more affordable Calcutta tile in a front hall and leave a smaller area in the middle for the more expensive pattern.

4. Details, details, details
Finally, don’t forget about grout. I think the best example of this is when it comes to subway tiles, which, by the way, are still (and always) in trend. White subway tiles grouted with white grout have a clean contemporary look, while white subway tiles grouted with black grout have a vintage, 1920s kind of vibe. Also note that contrasting grout tends to make the tiled area look smaller, while complimentary grout makes a tiled area look larger. If you’re using coloured tiles, remember that you can “pull” the colour of the tile one way or another by changing the grout — a blue glass tile with white grout looks crisp and nautical but when paired with green grout, it creates a soothing spa look.