The Decorative Value of Tile

There is always room for more beautiful design with ornamental tile, and the possibilities are virtually endless.

Lisa Jacob, showroom manager at Brick House Tile in Keene, loves Cider Press Tiles Co. tiles, which are handmade in Keene. Among the offerings are tiles with motifs of banana leaves, paddles leaves and palm fronds (left) as well as tiles with motifs of herbs, such as parsley, sage, basil and thyme (right).

Surfacing interiors with tile is not a novel idea. For centuries, people have embellished private residences, churches and public buildings with extensive tilework, yielding distinct architectural flourishes and awe-inspiring visual experiences.

Diane Dubberly, owner of Artistic Tile, LLC in Nashua, appreciates the way tile can add a unique touch to a room, like New Ravenna’s Vittoria handmade mosaic in polished onyx, limestone and marble at the head of the bathtub.

Mosaics, for instance, were a common decorative feature employed throughout antiquity, particularly as flooring in Roman dwellings. The glittering and geometric effects were used to show off wealth, individuality and power. Mosaics possessed a practical function as well; credited early on as a hygienic surface material, mosaics were equally admired as beautiful works of art in themselves. Cut from a variety of materials (such as marble, glass, pumice and shells), the tiles were arranged into intricate designs that often imitated paintings. Beyond antiquity, cultures from east to west established their own designs and techniques, establishing an enduring and diverse artistic tradition.

Today, designers, tile manufacturers and homeowners are all taking a fresh look at how tile can be used to add that “extra-something” in a home, looking beyond tile’s utilitarian function as a durable flooring or countertop solution. “We must always remember that tile can be art,” says Lisa Jacob, showroom manager at Brick House Tile in Keene.

Whether placed as a backsplash in a kitchen or a shower surround in a bathroom, whether made of porcelain or natural stone, whether metallic or hand painted, tile can be fabricated and presented in beautiful and often unexpected ways, and the advantages of embracing it as a decorative feature are plentiful and rewarding.

A custom touch

Adding decorative tile to a space is the perfect way to rejuvenate a room. Use tile to create a focal point on a wall, either as a mural or backsplash; to emphasize a room’s architectural features, such as an alcove; or to dramatically transform bath surrounds, fireplaces and stair risers.


Lenny Cushing, of ZenStoneworks in Portsmouth, likes the stone and porcelain tiles used together in the shower (below) as well as the basketweave floor tile available from Anatolia Tile and Stone (above).

“Tile is a design element that adds a lot of visual interest and personalization,” says Cheryl Tufts, owner of 3W design, Inc. in Concord. “It can showcase a homeowner’s personality and can change a room from being ordinary to something very special.”

One way to make a statement: handcrafted tiles that evoke your interests or environment.

“A handmade tile is not perfect, but it’s unique,” Jacob says. “It can come in a variety of glazes and colors, and it’s a wonderful way of adding a thoughtful touch that speaks directly to you. You can make it a piece of art.”

Diane Dubberly, owner of Artistic Tile, LLC in Nashua, also sees the artistic potential of tile. “Instead of doing a linear border of decorative tile in a bathroom, we are seeing people use more surface space by installing something much larger on a wall— like a water-jet cut tile that looks like a tapestry or painting,” Dubberly says.

Cheryl Tufts, owner of 3W design, Inc. in Concord, chose Fantasy Brown quartzite countertops to complement Aurora White Candlelight Cabinetry. Subway backsplash tiles set off the vertically installed glass tile mosaic.

She notes that state-of-the-art water jet machines have the ability to cut the most intricate lines and shapes (such as medallions) in a wide variety of materials, including stone, porcelain and glass. “The design possibilities are endless,” Dubberly says, “and it’s a great way to draw attention to special features in a room, like a freestanding soaking tub.”

“There is nothing like a handmade tile,” says Jacob, who recommends the beautiful tiles of Cider Press Tile, handcrafted in Keene by an experienced ceramicist. Cider Press Tile’s collections vary in style from nautical and rustic motifs to abstract and figural designs, providing homeowners a variety of custom options.

The perfect way to balance style with functionality, tile is long-lasting when properly installed. It’s also a fairly durable and low maintenance material that is easy to clean and resistant to moisture and stains, if sealed and finished.

“I think for many people, the appeal is that tile is easy to maintain; offers a gorgeous way to add texture and color; and is more exciting to look at than a painted wall or a prefabricated surround,” says Ann Henderson, owner of Ann Henderson Interiors in Keene.

Luckily, the current tile market is accommodating this appeal. “Manufacturers have become much more competitive in the last decade,” says Lenny Cushing, owner of Zenstoneworks in Portsmouth. “There is a greater selection with lots of artisanal options, so you can find something that is really unique and of high-quality craftsmanship without breaking the bank. Because of that, more people are incorporating tile into their kitchens and bathrooms to give the space that extra custom detail to distinguish it from others and add resale value if it’s not your forever home.”

An outstanding variety

Homeowners have many choices: there are so many different types of decorative tile available today, varying in cost, material, size and color. Some popular options include frosted glass, limestone and porcelain tiles that mimic the look and feel of marble and wood.

Each material has its unique properties and advantages. Buyers can create an elegant impression with marble or a more modern vibe with jeweled metallics. Dubberly recommends leather tiles: “They are so interesting, and look great as an accent wall in a powder room or in a bedroom directly behind a bed’s headboard.”

Henderson loves the reflective qualities of glass: “It gives you the ability to have a sparkling array of colors, as opposed to one solid color.” Cushing adds that glass has design flexibility, and can be combined with marble to create a striking mosaic or herringbone pattern.

Ceramic subway tiles are always a timeless choice and are morphing into something quite modern. They come in a variety of different shapes and sizes (as large as twelve-inches-by-twenty-four-inches) and with a crackle finish, which provides an iridescent look.

Both metal and stone tiles are great for sleek and streamlined interiors. Tufts thinks bronze tiles are “absolutely gorgeous,” and a great way to emphasize the finish of a faucet or shower head.

Slate can make a wonderful textural statement as an accent wall and can also complement stainless-steel appliances and countertops. However, most natural stone tiles are porous and care-intensive; they must be honed and sealed in order to withstand moisture, stains and scratches.

For some, porcelain tiles—which are extremely dense—may be the more suitable and cost-effective option for a visual punch with low-maintenance.

Arrangement is also key with the tile you select. “You can purchase a very neutral and generic-looking tile that may not initially seem exciting and give it some interest in the way you install it,” Henderson says. Herringbone, parquet and arabesque patterns are popular, and look great when framed as a kitchen backsplash.

Color is also coming back—giving life to whites and grays, the preferred hues of late. To effortlessly add a punch of color, several designers suggest pairing an art tile as an inset or border with a neutral body tile. “If your room’s features are plain and simple, you might want to add color with a cool glass mosaic of small format tiles,” Cushing says, “or use color to provide tonal balance to help unify features.”

Be artistic

Overall, the decorative possibilities of tile are endless. Feeling overwhelmed? Educate yourself. Visit tile specialty showrooms, study sample vignettes, talk with designers and tile manufacturers, and bring home samples. Most important have fun!

Here is your opportunity to turn an ordinary surface into a beautiful work of art and to contribute to a time-honored artistic tradition that knows no boundaries.


Ann Henderson, owner of Ann Henderson Interiors in Keene, worked with Trikeenan Tilework in Swanzey, to create the custom range backsplash (below) as well as the surrounding subway tiles and the tiles above the sink (above) for the Wright Estate Show House in Keene.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Artwork and Design

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