10 ways to add character with tiles
From rich encaustic designs to the traditional chequerboard, we love the character tiles can add. Here's how to use tiles to maximum impact on walls and floors around your home
Try new metro style
Standard subway tiles are still very much a go-to for kitchen splashbacks and bathrooms but recently we’ve seen these rectangular tiles turn longer and leaner and laid in more stylish and updated layouts to the regular running brick bond pattern. The new elongated format has been arranged in herringbone formations as well as vertically, stacked in straight lines, zigzags and chevrons. There are also lots of different colours and finishes available, from matt to metallic. For added punch, try covering larger areas and mixing in the odd pop of colour with a single tile here and there.
Go for mismatched maximalism
A little dissonance and clash can go a long way. Mixing tile styles, colours, patterns and finishes in the same room makes for a bold statement that’s very 2019. While we love mismatching floor and wall tiles, try looking at where else tiles may look good – to line a glass-fronted cupboard, for example, cover a chimney breast or use as an alternative to regular skirting. In Emily Murray’s Pink House, the plinth of her kitchen island is clad in shiny pink glazed Siham tiles while the back wall is covered in zigzag matt chalky green encaustic tiles, both by Bert & May, to achieve a jazzy and individual look.
Add depth with deep green
Perhaps it was due to our resistance of the ubiquitous avocado bathroom that, for so long, green has played such a small role in our bathrooms. But as the colour in various hues takes centre stage in our homes so we are seeing the trend carry through to tiles, especially in emerald shades or sleek dark forest greens, which work particularly well combined with gold, copper or brass fittings and marble and wood. Victorian Green, from the Artworks collection by Original Style, is intense and rich. For extra impact, paint walls green to match the tiles and complement with brown antique furniture.
Colourful and patterned encaustic tiles, especially antique versions, are guaranteed to add character to your home. For a more modern and edgy take on the design, try newer examples in contemporary shades and styles, which complement mid-century and vintage furniture. Surface pattern designer Neisha Crosland has recently collaborated with Artisans of Devizes on a new encaustic tile collection called Jigsaw. It features different and unusual tile shapes that fit together to create bold walls and floors in a kaleidoscope of colour.
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Try natural wood effects
Natural timber is being used more and more in interiors but it’s not always practical in some spaces. Cue the wood effect tile: porcelain that’s designed to emulate wood. These tiles are ideal for kitchen, dining room and bathroom floors as they are much easier to clean plus they’re water resistant, durable, won’t stain and are perfect for underfloor heating. Tile companies are producing realistic ranges of wood effect tiles in various styles – from planks to parquet – and many types of timber, such as ash, oak and ebony. These tiles really come into their own as panelling on walls and radiate a warmth that’s not usually associated with tiles.
Mix colour and pattern with patchwork
If you love colour and pattern, consider mixing different patterned tiles to form a patchwork on a wall or floor. This works really well if you collect antique and vintage tiles and want to display them. It’s a sure-fire way to channel that sunny and exotic feel of countries such as Morocco, Portugal and Cuba.
Use tiles as art
Tiles don’t necessarily have to have a functional or practical use. And when it comes to antique tiles such as Delft examples or those by William de Morgan, of which you may only find one or two that match, framing them and then hanging on a wall can show them off to their best. Tiles are big news in contemporary craft, too, and make stunning works of art as seen in pieces by artists Rachel Dein and the murals of Laura Carlin.
Go tactile with texture
Texture features heavily in interiors at the moment, as seen in rugs, baskets, crafts and antiques bearing maker’s marks and signs of wear and age. Happily, this subtle hand-crafted aesthetic has been applied to tiles and, the right design can add interest and tactility to a space that’s more suited to a softer, earthier vibe. We love Fired Earth’s limestone Palio collection, which features the sculptural Dome Mosaic with its neutral colour, woven design and understated sheen.
Try American tin
Tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the exquisite plasterwork used in European homes and were particularly popular in the late 1800s. Today, not only can vintage and new tin tiles be used on ceilings but also on walls for a bold yet classic statement.
Be inspired by scales
Move over hexagonsthe tile shape of the moment is the scallop (also known as fish scale), as seen in our photoshoot. Mosaics of small tiles in intriguing shapes have been becoming increasingly popular. For a while, we’ve seen triangles, stars, quatrefoils and diamonds emerging but it’s the less geometric, softer shapes such as scallops and circles that are now being fully embraced. There’s something oceanic – and almost Art Deco – about them. The designs make the biggest impact in showers and as kitchen splashbacks in marine shades of deep greens, blues and white. Use one colour or mix three or more colours together.
How to buy antique and salvaged tiles
You can either collect antique tiles or reuse them in your home. Most Delft collectors are interested in pictorial themes, while some look for tiles that were made at the beginning of the Dutch tile industry (c1580-1600). It is mainly 18th and 19th-century tiles that are used for projects now, as they’re available in larger quantities.
Letting tiles with chips or restorations be exposed to moisture is not advisable, nor do we suggest anyone to put them directly in shower areas, but you can use antique tiles on bathroom walls. Tiles in perfect condition do not need any treatment.
You will find antique tiles in antiques shops from time to time. They are, however, often 18th or 19th-century tiles, or 20th-century reproductions. Tiles that are perfectly square, do not have signs of age (chips and crazing) and have a smooth glaze are often 20th-century reproductions. The back of the tile should have a grainy look and feel, while the glaze should not be perfectly smooth. Most antique Delft tiles are blue or manganese. The thicker they are, the older they are, but be aware, 20th-century reproductions were made with an extra thickness.
If you intend to reuse antique tiles in your home, find a dealer like us that cleans and prepares them. Ask how old the tiles are, whether they’ve had restorations or repairs, and whether they are suitable for a tiling project.
4 of the best vintage & antique tiles
Period tiles can bring extra character to you home, and you don't need to look far to find some beautiful, original options
For a graphic period look, seek out batches of reclaimed encaustic tiles. These French finds with flower pattern cost £12 per tile from Lassco.
Invest in antique tiles created by a Victorian designer or British pottery house. George Jones 1870 snowdrop majolica tile, £650, 1st Dibs.
Antique Delft tile murals are beautiful works of art. This plaque depicting a hay cart passing over a bridge is from 1820, £690, Spencer Swaffer.
Tin tiles salvaged from old buildings are full of character, which the aged paint and uneven edges only adds to. Vintage tin tile, £36, TinCeilingTiles.co.uk.
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