At Home Now: Tile Away the Hours


As an interior designer I spend a fair amount of time in building supply stores, one of which is the tile store.  And as I chat with my sales rep and make my selections, I sometimes turn a corner and bump into a shopper with that deer-in-the-headlights look as they stare down a wall of tile options.  

I know that look well, because it’s me when my daughter drags me to the super sale at Nordstrom Rack.  I mean, where on God’s green earth does one even begin?  Nordstrom Rack has got me beat, but tile I can help you with.

If you are in the market to purchase some tile, I offer you my standard rules of thumb.  Go to a reputable tile store, make sure you make an appointment, and if possible, try not to go on a weekend.  Communicate your price range up front, and be wary of getting distracted by all the eye candy at the front of the store.  If you are on a budget, your stuff will probably be towards the back.

Now as I offer you this sage advice I know that some of you, even while nodding your heads in agreement with me, are at the very same time plotting their shopping excursion to one of those cash-and-carry warehouse super stores. 

Some of you cannot be deterred.  The lure of the potential savings is just too much to bear.  And honestly - those stores aren’t all bad.  The prices are low, and one nice benefit is you can leave there with tile samples in hand to prop up in your bathroom or kitchen.  And if you are doing a job that only needs one kind of tile (like a kitchen backsplash), then maybe it’s worth the trip.  

But for larger projects with multiple selections needed (like a bathroom or two,) all I can say is, yeesh! They’ve got genuine stone on one side of the store, and the accent tile I want is about a quarter mile away on the other side of the store.  So, pulling together a design is challenging.  And the customer service is relatively non-existent, so you will most likely forget something important, like a Schluter edge (more on that later) or grout of the proper type and color. 

I always say about a bathroom design, the devil is in the details.  So, for my money, what I’ve potentially saved in dollars I’ve lost in time and headaches, so I call the whole thing a wash.  But you might feel differently.  If you do go, remember to wear your sneakers, bring a water bottle, and leave a trail of breadcrumbs.  

So clearly, I like an official tile shop where I work with humans who think about nothing but tile all day long.  They help me with my selection process, and if you are in that overwhelmed state, you will find them indispensable on that front.  Plus, they have tables to lay everything out on.  And they are thoughtful about suggesting products, like a good sealer for your stone tile for instance.  Sometimes I bring a swatch book and choose a wall color too, while I’m there with everything laid out.  And yes, they will get me the right Schluter edge.  

Here’s the low-down on those Schluter edges.  They are a little metal edging strip that tucks around the edge of your tile.  So, say you are tiling the walls of your bathroom to chair-rail height.  You don’t want to look at the unfinished edge of the tile, so you top it with a Schluter edge to finish it off.  It’s minimalist and clean.  You can get it to match your tile and have it disappear, or you can use it as a design statement in, say, brass to match your faucet.  Anyway, it’s a small, subtle thing that prevents a big ugly thing, which is otherwise known as bull-nose tile.  

But all that said, before you go shopping you must do your homework.  Take measurements and sketch out your room and the walls, on graph paper if you’ve got it.  Include the wall heights and window and door sizes if you will be tiling around them.  And for bonus points, calculate some approximate square footage so you can run some numbers in advance.  That way you’ll know what per-square-foot price point you are trying to stay below.

A more fun homework assignment, but equally important, is gathering inspiration photos.  Take some time to pull pictures from magazines or to create a Pinterest page.  Focus in on how other people handle niches, or patterns, or feature walls, or the new ways they are stacking that subway tile.  

And remember, figuring out what you don’t like is almost as good as pinpointing what you do.  Hey, it’s the wild west of tile options out there.  Do what you can to cull that herd. 

When thinking about budget, keep in mind that you can spend a little more on the surfaces that have less square footage.  So maybe you want to highlight one wall of your walk-in shower, above the bench.  That can be the focal point for the whole room, and it may be worth the splurge for something stunning, and you can use less expensive tile on the other walls.  In smaller bathrooms, maybe it’s the floor tile that you spend a little more on.  Are you building a shower niche? Because you can almost always afford something special there.  But make sure it matches your design.  Sometimes I use niches as focal points, and other times I just want them to disappear. 

Keep in mind that in most cases the cost of your tile is a very small fraction of your overall construction budget.  The larger amount of money is spent on installation.  So don’t be blindly eliminate tile options just because it's your budget bathroom.  It’s one of the most visible parts of your renovation, and you are already paying your installer no matter what you put in.  Run the numbers.  Sometimes your splurge tile only amounts to a few hundred dollars more.

And that's a wrap on tile, I guess. 

Did you think I was going to tell you what exact tile to buy?  I’m sorry to disappoint.  But I know you’ll come up with something great.  Hey, even someone like me can come up with one winner at Nordstrom Rack, and I don't even have an inspiration photo!

So, get out there intrepid designer, you’ve got this.

Jennifer Coles is a local interior designer.  Her website is:   Her instagram is: @coles_color_and_design., interior designer, there intrepid designer, local interior designer, jennifer coles, schluter, little metal, tile, tile art, ceramic art, decorative arts