Can you think of any wall or floor covering more versatile and exciting than tile?  Probably not but you may still be asking yourself “What exactly is tile?”  Let’s go back to school and learn a little something about the tile products available in today’s market and how to select the most appropriate tile for your project.  Welcome to Tiles and Mosaics 101!


Merriam-Webster defines tile as “a usually flat piece of hard clay, stone or other material that is used for covering walls, floors etc.”  And in this world of limitless options there is a tile product to meet any application or aesthetic you can imagine.

Where to use tiles and mosaics?

Tile is one of the most versatile materials available as it can be used in literally any residential or commercial project. Your creative self can run wild with the location and pattern or design you choose. Let’s start with the application:

    • Kitchen: The durability, heat resistance and ease of maintenance makes tile the perfect choice for a kitchen floor, wall or backsplash.
    • Bath: Like a kitchen, the bath area benefits from the use of beautiful wall and floor tile in the shower, tub and vanity areas. Tile is both moisture and heat resistant and easy to keep clean.
    • Mudroom: Dirty boots and dirty paws can wreak havoc on a wood or carpeted floor but tile will stand up to anything your kids and pets can dish out.
    • Living areas: Tile is a wonderful choice for flooring in homes located in a warm climate as it is both visually and physically cool.

Types of tile

Tile is most often available in 5 types of materials:

      • Stone: stone tiles are cut from natural materials that include marble, slate, granite and limestone, just to name a few of the more popular options.
      • Glass: just as the name states these tiles are manufactured out of glass and a perfect choice for mosaic installations.
      • Ceramic: formed from a mixture of clay, minerals and water, ceramic tiles are resistant to scratching making them an ideal choice for flooring.
      • Porcelain: formed from a dense sand like substance that is more water resistant than ceramic, it is appropriate for both interior and exterior applications
      • Clay: as the name implies, this tile is formed from a clay mixture and is most often used in exterior applications.

While these are the more commonly used tile materials, technology and ingenuity has made it possible to find wall and floor tiles made out of a variety of products including recycled rubber, metal, glass and natural materials like seashells.

Styles of tile

From mosaic to subway to tiles that mimic the look of wood, wall and floor tiles are available in a myriad of finishes, shapes and edge options, thereby making it possible for you to find the perfect tile style for your kitchen, bath or floor.  Let’s take a look at a few of the options available:

  • Mosaic tiles: mosaic simply refers to the cut and arrangement of the tile pieces.  Mosaics are cut from any type of tile material in small shapes that may be square, round, hexagonal or triangular.  These cuts make it possible to mix and match shapes, colors, sizes and material to create beautiful designs that will add personality and a unique factor to a floor, backsplash or shower stall.  They can be used to form decorative borders around a mirror or create a tile “rug” on the floor.  Medallions are also a popular mosaic tile design that will help break up a large expanse of flooring
  • Subway tiles: These iconic tiles are appropriately named for the subway walls they covered when they were first introduced in the early 20th  century. White glazed tiles with dark grout lines were chosen for their durability and ease of maintenance.  This traditional look is a popular choice for today’s modern kitchen or bath and are available in a variety of materials, colors and finishes.  For a modern twist to this classic tile, choose a high gloss white tile with white grout in a sleek contemporary kitchen. A glass subway tile finished with a beveled edge detail in the bath will add a bit of elegance to the shower or tub area or use a dark grout for a rustic appearance.

How About Patterns?

Once you have selected the tile of your choice, the next decision will be to decide what pattern you would like to use in your installation. The choices are endless and include grid, checkerboard, herringbone, diamond, brick…almost any pattern you can imagine. Anything goes but there are some standard looks you may want to consider.

  • Herringbone is a classic zigzag look that can be used in floor or wall tile or even as a fireplace surround.
  • A brick pattern is best used when a single color tile is chosen and is most often laid in a horizontal method that can help visually expand a room.
  • Mosaics can be applied as an accent or used to cover an entire wall. Border a shower stall or create a “rug” on the floor or surround your tub with a wall of shimmery mosaic tiles for over the top elegance.
  • The checkerboard pattern is a fun way to install large tiles and will provide a playful, graphic look to a casual area such as a playroom, kitchen or sunroom.

How to choose the best tile

Possibly the most difficult question to answer is what is the best tile to use on a project?  And while there is no definitive answer that will apply to each and every project there are some things everyone should take into consideration:

    • Durability: The room where the tile will be installed and how the space is used will determine your individual needs regarding durability, maintenance and appearance.  It is easy to understand that an entry or mudroom where heavy traffic and moisture must be considered would require different tile than a powder room backsplash, for example.
    • Function: Some areas in a home or building will require wall and floor tile that can accommodate the special needs of the space.  In a busy family bathroom the best choice would be a tile that is water and scratch resistant while the lobby of a public building would be best served with a tile product that is extra durable, perhaps slip resistant and easy to maintain.
    • Decorative: Wall tile, in particular mosaic tile, can add a decorative touch to many areas of the home including the backsplash, foyer or even an entire wall.

The way you use tile is limited only by your imagination.  Regardless of the type and style of tile you use or the tile pattern you choose, you will enjoy the beauty and appreciate the functionality of this timeless material for years to come, making it a wise investment for your home.