In today’s homes, the surfaces that are tiled more often than any others are walls, especially in rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom where a hard-wearing, water-resistant and easy-clean decorative finish is required. Tile designs tend to change with fashions in interior design. Plain tiles, often with a simple border frame, are always popular, as are tiles which create a frieze effect when laid alongside one another. Some sets of tiles layer up into larger designs (known as feature panels), which can look quite striking when surrounded by plain tiling.
The surface of ceramic wall tiles is no longer always highly glazed, as was traditionally the case. There are now semi-matt finishes available too, often with a slight surface texture that softens the somewhat harsh glare of a high-gloss surface.
Tile edges have also changed over the years. Once special round edged tiles were used for the exposed edges of tiled areas, and plain ones with unglazed square edges (known as field tiles) were used elsewhere. Nowadays tiles are either the universal type or the standard square-edged variety. The former have angled edges so that, when butted together, they leave a gap for the grouting, which fills the spaces between them. The latter, as their name suggests, have square edges and so must be positioned with the aid of spacers.
Tiles for floors and work-tops
Ceramic floor tiles are a popular choice for ‘heavy traffic’ areas such as porches and hallways. They are generally thicker and harder-fired than wall tiles, to enable them to stand up to heavy wear. Again, a wide range of plain colours, simple textures and more elaborate designs is available. The most common shapes are squares and rectangles; hexagons are also sold in plain colours, and a popular variation is a plain octagonal tile laid with small square coloured or decorated inserts at the intersections.
Quarry tiles are unglazed ceramic floor tiles with a brown, buff or reddish colour, and are a practical choice for hallways, conservatories and country-style kitchens. They are usually laid in a mortar bed, and, once the joints have been grouted, the tiles must be sealed with boiled linseed oil or a recommended proprietary sealer. Special shaped tiles are also available for forming up-stands at floor edges. Terracotta tiles look similar to quarry tiles but are larger, and are fired at lower temperatures and so are more porous. They need to be sealed in the same way as quarry tiles.
Many tile ranges include a variety of plain and patterned field tiles teamed up with a complementary border tile, allowing the home decorator complete freedom to decide on the finished design.
Mosaics are just tiny tiles — usually plain in colour, sometimes with a pattern — which are sold and made up in sheers on an open-weave cloth hacking. These sheets are laid like larger tiles in a bed of adhesive, and all the gaps, including those on the surface of the sheet, are grouted afterwards. Square mosaics are the most common, but roundels, hexagons and other interlocking shapes are also available. Mosaics intended for laying on walls and floors are made in different thicknesses, as with ordinary ceramic tiles.
Cork, vinyl and lino tiles
Cork tiles come in a small range of colours and textures. They feel warm and relatively soft underfoot, and also give some worthwhile heat and sound insulation. The cheapest types have to be sealed to protect the surface, but the more expensive vinyl-coated floor types can be walked on as soon as they have been stuck down, and need little more than an occasional wash and polish to keep them in good condition.
Vinyl tiles come in a very wide range of plain and patterned types. They are generally more resilient than cork and so can be used on floors subject to fairly heavy wear, but they are a little less gentle on the feet. Some of the more expensive types give very passable imitations of luxury floor coverings such as marble and terrazzo. Most are made in self-adhesive form and need very little maintenance.
Cork is the warmest of tiled floor coverings underfoot, and when sealed is also good-looking, hardwearing and durable.
Modern lino tiles, made from natural materials rather than the plastic resins used in vinyl tiles, offer far better performance than traditional linoleum. They come in a range of bright and subtle colours and interesting patterns, often with pre-cut borders.