Rebooting the Bathroom – The New York Times

To update a bathroom, you could swap out the cabinet pulls and switch the faucet. But if you’re ready for a bigger change, almost nothing is more effective than new tile.

Replacing tiles that are damaged, stained, outdated or just not to your liking is an opportunity not just to refresh a bathroom, but to give it a whole new style. And with all of the materials, shapes and colors currently available, you have the chance to create something extraordinary.

But that’s also the problem: With all those choices, how do you know you’ve made the best one?

Ceramic is the most common material for bathroom tiles, but there are several other popular options, including natural stone, glass and cement. Each offers a decidedly different look and feel.

If you prefer a Zen-like environment that’s a little more colorful, she suggested using ceramic tiles in subdued hues or glass tiles in blues and greens.

The square tiles had different geometric patterns that the Richters mixed freely, but because they were a common size, they could be combined to form a cohesive whole. Still, before the installation, Ms. Richter said, “We spent a lot of time laying out the pattern and numbering all the tiles to make sure they worked together.”

“As long as you can unify the pieces you’re using through color or shape,” she added, “it can work.”

To allow the Portuguese tiles to be the star of the room, they chose simple white hexagonal tiles for the floor, expanses of white plaster for the remainder of the walls, and a color-coordinated blue for the doors. For another bathroom in the same home, they did the reverse, laying vibrant blue Moroccan zellige tiles on the floor, with white tiles on the walls.

If all that feels like a little too much drama, there is a subtler way to introduce visual interest to a bathroom: Instead of choosing a vividly patterned tile, focus on the installation pattern.

Simple square and rectangular tiles don’t have to be installed in a grid. In fact, while a grid, or straight stack, looks modern and clean, it can also feel cold or institutional. A common option is an alternating, or running bond, pattern that staggers tiles like bricks in a wall.

Or if you’re using rectangular tiles, “you can do what is called soldier stack, which is where you set the tile on its short end. Especially in a low-ceilinged environment, it gives you verticality,” Ms. Chappell said. “Or you could do herringbone to introduce something a little different that’s still classic.”

Some designers prefer to mix tiles with the same finish and varying proportions, for a less symmetrical installation.

With all those colors and shapes to play with, it’s easy to forget about the humble material that holds it all together: grout. But the color of the grout and the width of the grout lines have a big effect on how your bathroom is going to look.

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