Kim Berndtson | March 5, 2021
Tile offers a way to make a bathroom highly functional given its durability and waterproofing capabilities, which are both important considerations for this highly used space. However, manufacturers offer such a vast array of products in so many different material compositions, shapes, sizes, colors and patterns that designers can also use it to make a statement that takes the room from ordinary to extraordinary.
This month, KBDN asked designers to share designs that showcase how tile can elevate the bathroom.
What started as a kitchen remodel ultimately turned into an entire home renovation that included the master bathroom for this retired couple who wanted a modern, clean space based on a foundation of neutral colors and purposeful pattern.
“They wanted something subtle, but fun,” stresses Heather Bernstein, owner, HKB Interior Design in Kentfield, CA.
Each room features an intentional pattern play and attention to detail. For the master bathroom, that’s epitomized in the expansive accent wall where Fireclay Tile picket tile is showcased in three complementary colors, including Calcite, Feldspar and Dolomite, each with a matte finish.
“We wanted the tile to have an orientation and direction,” she explains, “like it’s going up…or falling down, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it feels very ethereal…like it’s raining tile.”
Bernstein also designed the ‘rain’ with an ombre effect that transitions loosely from light to dark, with the latter color playing off the dark freestanding tub that is accented with a pewter tub filler.
“We laid out the tile on the floor of the master bedroom and played with various patterns…for hours, finessing the design to get it exactly right,” she says, adding that additional challenges came into play with the shower niche. “We wanted a pattern, but nothing too definite. We wanted it to have some irregularities.”
While the accent wall sets the stage for the freestanding tub, the designer extended the tile into the shower, giving interest to what could have otherwise been a rather plain and lackluster wall. She finished the other shower wall with waterproof drywall.
“The wall is pretty large, so the tile helps break it up,” she says.
The designer complemented the accent tile with a relatively subdued floor comprised of honed Aspen Silver Cream marble tile that offers a threadlike linear veining pattern in complementary colors.
“We wanted the floor to be a bit quieter,” she says. “The whole point of the bathroom is that tile wall.”
Timeless twists and turns
Except for taking into consideration current client preference for larger format tile and more natural materials, Laura Cripe doesn’t tend to follow trends when contemplating design and material selection for the spaces she creates.
“It’s not something that works with timeless architecture,” says the founder of moss Design in Chicago, IL.
So, when her clients requested a pink bathroom for the renovation of their historic worker cottage that reimagined the home into a new light-filled residence, Cripe obliged with Clé tile’s Cement Arc White + Mocha, which she used on the floor as well as the wall behind the freestanding tub.
“The modern and natural aesthetic of the cement tile is a timeless tile that weathers well with time and provides a modern, yet rustic look,” she says. “Also, cement tile is durable and outlasts ceramic tiles. Durability is important since our clients have a large dog and the tile needs to hold up to dog traffic. Concrete tiles are also made with natural materials and are more sustainable and environmentally friendly compared to ceramic.”
Cripe considered the tile – which is painstakingly hand crafted so no two tiles are the same – as a way to make a bold, fun statement in the bathroom. As such, she played with its arrangement to achieve a unique layout that showcased its bold arc in seemingly random twists and turns.
“Tile is an art piece, and rather than an off-the-shelf typical tile, this Clé tile is unique and plays to the fun sensibility of our clients,” she says.
The decision to use Merola Tile’s Roaring 20s-inspired Twenties Crest tile in the master bathroom of this new-construction townhome is a reflection of several insights. One is related to timing, with the home being completed in 2020, a century after the tile’s namesake. An historic association is boosted by the home’s location in downtown Richmond, VA, not far from the eclectic retail district of Carytown and the historic Byrd Theatre, which since first opening in the 1920s, currently celebrates the art of cinema as a Virginia Historic Landmark.
“You can stand on the deck of this home and smell the popcorn,” says Lori McNulty, design studio manager, Lifestyle Home Builders in Midlothian, VA.
The designer was also challenged by the owner of Richmond Hill Design + Build – the homebuilder for the project and with which Lifestyle Home Builders has a partnership – to create something bold for the spec home.
“We wanted to make a statement with the bathroom,” she says. “When you walk in, the shower is directly in front of you, so it’s the first thing you see. And, its impact is heightened by the reflection in the framed mirrors, so when the homeowners stand at their vanity, they can see the tile in the shower.”
Successfully designing with such a graphic pattern is achieved, in part, by the use of the full-glass shower panel, the designer notes.
“Since the glass extends from the floor to the ceiling, you can visually see the entire pattern,” she explains. “It comes to life and you’re able to take it all in because its flow isn’t interrupted. However, if a portion of the pattern is blocked, for example by a knee wall, a person may tire of such a bold pattern because they can’t see it all.”
The tile’s boldness is additionally tempered by other anchoring elements within the room, such as the rich black double vanity; the quartz countertop with swirls of soft white, taupe and dark gray, and the neutral gray walls. McNulty continued the calming colorway with American Olean’s Historic Bridge 6″x36″ wood-look porcelain tile for the floor.
“The floor tile is a nice contrast to the patterned shower tile and it flows well into the bedroom,” she adds.
McNulty also based the tile selection on materials used in the kitchen, building upon its design elements to create a connection between the two spaces.
“We wanted the design to flow from the kitchen to the upstairs so there was some continuity, without directly repeating anything,” she concludes.
Whimsical wall ‘art’
Dina Bandman anticipates increased interest in bold accent walls, such as the one she created for this Jack and Jill bathroom that features New Ravenna’s Otomi mosaic tile.
“People need to be happy right now,” says the principal, Dina Bandman Interiors, in San Francisco, CA, and president, California North ASID.
Plus, unique, handmade tile such as this can elevate a space to make it feel special, she adds.
“You’re essentially putting art in the form of tile on the walls,” she says. “I don’t know how you can elevate a room more than when you envelop it in art.”
As the focal point of the room, the designer sheathed the upper portion of its walls with the vibrant blend of hand-nipped Absolute White, Peridot, Aventurine, Lapis Lazuli, Sardonyx, Citrine and Ruby mosaic jewel glass that creates a lively motif of colorful critters, including llamas, deer, foxes and rabbits, frolicking amongst an assortment of flowers.
“I wanted the room to be whimsical, colorful and happy,” she remarks. “This bathroom was created for a brother and sister to share, so the playful design works for both genders.”
Additionally, the pattern brings a lot of movement to the relatively small space and adds an element of fun that can encourage youngsters to more readily complete potentially mundane tasks.
“It can sometimes be a challenge to get kids to brush their teeth and hair,” she says. “Creating a fun environment like this can distract them from doing tasks they might not like.”
Covering the entire room – except the ceiling, which is painted a high-gloss, pastel pink – with tile also promotes a sanitary environment that is easy to clean. In addition to the mosaics, Bandman used several other tiles, including white subway that is laid in a traditional brick pattern for the bottom half of the walls and the shower. Accents of Hot Red ticking stripes from Sonoma Tilemakers offer a unique twist and add interest to an otherwise plain white field. For the floor, the designer laid tile in a basketweave pattern, giving it a contemporary look with white, rather than black, dots.
A custom red lacquered vanity grounds the room and adds sophistication.
“I really believe that bathroom vanities should look like furniture,” she says, noting an affinity for those that look like vintage chests. “It makes the space feel less utilitarian. In this case, we included one that has beautiful bamboo details.”
Mirrored mosaic ‘jewelry box’
As avid art collectors with an affinity for the unusual, Peggy Fuller’s clients wanted each space within their renovated home to have its own unique character. In the master bathroom, that translated into what the design team reverently calls ‘the jewelry box.’
With an added goal of making the relatively small space feel larger, Fuller created a stunning accent wall of shimmery Crossville Sideview Glass mirrored mosaic tile that is essentially the first visual the homeowners see when they enter their bathroom.
“We wanted something that was eye catching,” says Fuller, owner/founder/principal interior designer for By Design Interiors in Houston, TX. “These clients are unique and they love to be introduced to design elements that are outside the norm, or something they had never thought of before. This tile definitely has the glitz and glam we were after. It brings an artistic, sculptural edge the homeowners love!”
While the 3″x3″ tiles – in the Tungsten colorway with a polished finish – are precisely cut and smooth across the surface, the facets/bevels beneath create depth and dimension.
“It’s a very unusual tile,” she explains. “The bevels vary for each tile to add more depth and dimension. It creates a chiseled look with subtle variations, taking inspiration from the art deco style, yet its surface is symmetrical and perfectly smooth so it’s easy to clean.”
To extend the reflective vibe, Fuller incorporated a mirror on the door that leads to the closet. Additionally, a wall-length mirror on the adjacent wall extends from the top of the vanity to the ceiling. Light fixtures mounted through the mirror doubles the lighting effect.
“The mirrored tiles line up next to the vanity wall, elongating the room and making the space appear larger by expanding the ‘eye’,” she says.
While the tile steals the show, Fuller added other ‘gems’ that continue interest for the wandering eye. In particular, the Illusion Blue exotic granite vanity top offers a shimmery palette of metallic blues, greens and deeper tones of gray.
“It encompasses the artistic characteristics of the homeowners, who fell in love with its many hues and specks of metallics,” she continues. “Full of variation and movement, there is no section of this slab that is the same. It gives this stunning master bath even more personality.”
To allow certain elements to shine, Fuller kept the shower relatively simple, using Arizona Tile’s Cebu Silver tile for the walls and pebbled shower tile from Interceramic for the floor.
“The pebbles add a casual element to the space to balance out the drama from the mirrored tile accent wall,” Fuller concludes. ▪