Decorating & Design

August 10, 2015

What Do I Need To Know About Choosing Tile?

Here are general tips that you can use when shopping for tiles, plus ideas for different looks for floors and walls.

SIP Fall 2013

Size And Style

The most common size of wall tile is 4″ x 4″. It’s often laid square, but can be varied as a focal point or border by turning it diagonal.

  • For an airy look in a room with tiled walls, choose simple, straight-laid or large tiles; the smaller the tile or the more intricate the pattern, the busier the look.
  • If you’re mixing and matching wall tiles, keep in mind that different types have different thicknesses; this can work to your advantage if you want to create texture.
  • Top a wall that’s only tiled partway up with matching cap pieces. Not all tile styles come with these; laying the tiles without them creates a sharper edge and more modern look.

The most common size for floor tiles is 12″ x 12″. The size and shape of a room often determines the size and pattern of floor tiles. For example, large tiles work best on the floor of a large space, where smaller tiles might create a busy look. Mosaics are stunning in a small space, like a powder room, that benefits from more detail.

  • If you want a floor pattern created from different-sized tiles, choose tiles of the same thickness so you don’t trip on the edges.
  • It’s possible to use floor tiles on walls, but it’s not generally advisable to use wall tiles on floors since they’re often not as strong.


Most tiles are only glazed on their tops; if your wall won’t have a border of cap pieces or wood trim, make sure the tiles at the edge of the pattern are glazed on the sides for a finished look.

A tile with a glossy glaze or one made of glass or polished stone imparts a more modern look or a formal feel.

For a softer look, choose a honed tile, which has a soft, buttery look, or one with a matte finish.

For an area that requires a lot of wiping, like a backsplash, choose tiles with a shiny finish. Use waterproof backer board before tiling your bathroom.

When choosing floor tiles, consider safety: highly polished tiles are very slippery; matte tiles are less so. If you want a high-shine floor, use small tiles, which have more grout lines to create slip resistance.

In high-traffic areas like mudrooms, slate tiles are a great option because of their rough texture, but their ridges trap dirt, so they require more cleaning than smoother tile.

Stone tiles are more porous than ceramic or porcelain and must be treated with a sealer if used in areas that are exposed to moisture or grease. (Slate is the most absorbent stone, followed by limestone, marble, then granite.)


There are many colors of grout to choose from. One option is to match grout to the tile’s tone so the grout blends in. Keep together cool tones (grey grout with blue tiles) or warm tones (taupe grout with beige tiles).

For a graphic look, a dark tile with a white grout is always crisp and fresh.

White grout can look dirty quickly, especially on floors or in showers, where mildew builds up; to camouflage dirt, use a darker grout. However, avoid using grout that’s too dark or you’ll obtain the opposite effect of hiding dirt: the grout may look dirty even when it’s clean.


To find out how much tile you need, multiply the length and width of your room to determine the square footage. Subtract the areas that don’t need to be tiled, like under cupboards. Add 10 to 15 per cent for waste and cuts. If you’re tiling on the diagonal, add 20 percent.


Sarah Dorio, House & Home Fall 2013


House & Home Decorating 101


Mark Williams