Subscribe for 33¢ / day

There’s no doubt about it, tile stores have become the playground of many home improvement projects. So many new, exciting, and fun options. Where and how does one begin to choose?

Whether you are a homeowner, house flipper, or Realtor guiding your client, choosing the best tile for the best outcome can be overwhelming. Just as the right choice can create a powerful impact, the wrong choice can adversely affect not only the specific space the tile has been applied, but also the surrounding spaces.

I’ve used words like “fun” and “powerful” but let me add that sometimes, a classic white subway tile is the best solution.

How do you know when your tile should be the leading star and when it should play a supporting role?

One way to find out is to attend the seminar that Abbey Carpet & Tile and I are hosting. I will take you through steps that will narrow your tile focus including its size, shape, texture, and finish. I will also give examples of patterns and directions tile can be set, and will differentiate between materials such as clay, glass, metal, and stone.

If you’re unable to attend, or if you’re bursting with curiosity, I’ll use the bathroom makeover pictured here to give you a preview. The reassuring thing about this makeover is that I designed it six years ago, and because I followed my self-imposed rules, it is still fresh. There isn’t anything about it that I would change today.

One of my first rules is to ask clients to list their goals. I also consider the type of room at hand and how it relates to the rest of the house. Is the area to be tiled meant to add personality, color or architecture? Or, is it meant to be one part of the whole? How will the tile be used? That is, will it be walked on, exposed to red wine, or will it mainly serve as decoration? Is its sole purpose to be functional or functional and visually attractive? To what degree are clients willing to maintain the tile’s appearance and condition? Do they have well water? Lastly, I ask them to decide on a comfortable budget.

In the featured bathroom here, my client’s answers helped me visualize what she wanted and pointed me to the right tile. My vision had a head start because I had previously designed other rooms in her house and knew her style well. And since a cohesively designed house is the most desirable, I took cues from things I had already done.

This was a guest bathroom and not frequently used. The rest of the house had an eclectic cottage feel. Not country-cute but more sophisticated. Traditional and packed with personality and cheerful color. Not modern or avant garde. My client appreciated details and a slight bit of whimsy. She was willing to maintain the tile without being obsessed with its upkeep. She had a mid-range budget and expected me to apply it judiciously.

Given these parameters, my overall concept was a French Country style. There are several ways to achieve this and my starting point was 4-inch by 4-inch porcelain tile for the floor. I surprised myself with this size because I normally avoid smaller tiles that require a lot of grout. However, larger tiles would have looked too contemporary. I chose porcelain because it is appropriate for floors and is maintenance-free and virtually bullet-proof. Ceramic tiles can crack if used on the floor and stone tile would have required upkeep. As an added attraction, the glaze on our tile “puddled” (accumulated) around the edges which made it look hand-painted and rich.

In the spirit of the classic, French black and white checkerboard floors, I laid out the same pattern on our floor and paid extra attention to the base board (a nod to my client’s appreciation for detail). The base was 10 inches high and included a diagonal accent piece, an accent strip, and decorative molding. Although the tile was glossy, and therefore slippery when wet, the advantage of all the grout joints was that they allowed for a more secure footing.

We had a custom vanity built which left us in need of a countertop. A marble or limestone slab would have fit our French Country theme, but unless we found a remnant, there would be a lot of costly waste. In any case, we were happy to repeat the floor tile on the countertop and backsplash in a similar fashion.

Get home and garden tips sent to your email inbox

Our final touch was the shower curtain. Since our porcelain tile was cost-friendly, my client splurged on a custom-made, linen-blend curtain in a French toile pattern. (Pure linen would stretch with exposure to humidity).

Because we had asked and answered meaningful questions at the beginning of the project, the tile choices and implementations hit all the right notes — the best tile for the best outcome.

More before and after photos of this project can be viewed at

A complimentary seminar at Abbey Carpet & Tile

Join designer Patti Cowger for a presentation on choosing tile for multiple applications on Thursday, Sept. 28, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. or Saturday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to noon, at 1145 Jordan Lane. Refreshments served. RSVP by calling (707) 322-6522 or emailing Add “Tile” to your subject line and specify which day you’d like to attend.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Patti L Cowger is a Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at; call (707) 322-6522; or email Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday.