Go Wild With Tiles

A few years ago when we knocked down the wall between our kitchen and playroom we made the decision to remove a fire surround and hearth and install a log burner in the new open plan area.  Although we live in a period house the surround was not original and so it didn’t feel like such a wrench to remove it and start again.

A few months and several attempts to install a liner in a chimney that was ultimately condemned, we gave up on the real wood route and put in a gas burner which we have, to be fair, been glad of ever since.  I love an open fire but I’m also constantly cold so to be able to heat up the room quickly without fire lighting and subsequent ash cleaning has been a bit of a godsend.

What we were left with however, was a hole that the burner went into that was unadorned and which we were never happy with.  Any kind of mantelpiece above felt wrong for the period of the house and to fit with the rest of the decor but the bare hole also felt so, well, bare, even with our lovely Sudbury Yellow (Farrow & Ball) wall.

Image: Lived In 365

Scrolling one day I came across the image below which started me on a tile quest that went on for over a year.  First, came the seemingly endless search for just the right tiles.  Then the realisation that they would have to be a very specific size to avoid having to make any cuts which would spoil the aesthetic.

Image: Good Homes Magazine

A few months in and my interest was seriously waning but I had come across Mandarin Stone’s beautiful Monochrome tiles as I spend many hours scrolling tile sites building interior schemes for clients.  I knew that I wanted to find somewhere to use them but it still took me a while to put two and two together as they weren’t the size that I was looking for.

Image: Mandarin Stone

Then came one of those light bulb moments that I have every now and again (just wish they were slightly more frequent!)  Instead of just creating a border around the fireplace we decided to really go for it and tile most of the wall to create an exaggerated, out-sized surround that completely changed the design of the space and made an anchor of the fireplace we had disliked for years.

Image: Lived In 365

If I’m completely honest it was probably less a light bulb moment and more of a light bulb six months as the idea of tiles being taken out of their traditional kitchen and bathroom habitat is one that has been building in my mind and one that I’m starting to see more frequently across design magazines and social media.

We’re so conditioned to only seeing tiles utilised in a practical way that it’s almost easy to forget that they are beautiful in their own right and, whilst perhaps less easy to change up than paint or wallpaper, they can be a relatively inexpensive way of making a unique statement in almost any room in the house.

Image: Mandarin Stone

Image: Smink Things

As well as thinking more creatively about where we use tiles in a domestic environment, in client projects and also in my own house, I am also thinking more about tile layout rather than automatically defaulting to the traditional brick bond pattern that we see so frequently with metro and subway tiles.

A simple way of making cost efficient subway tiles look instantly more modern is to adopt a differing laying pattern – I love basket weave as shown below, a simple stack bond pattern which places the tiles directly above each other rather than offset, and herringbone can also make a real statement against a contrasting colour or pattern.




I’m also currently loving this very simple linear pattern which can look really effective with simple white tiles and dark grout.  In fact this is the pattern that we are going to be using in our new shower and for our new kitchen splashback when those projects eventually get underway (and if I don’t change my mind in the meantime).


Images: All Topps Tiles

Another aspect of tiling that is often not considered, or at least often left until the last minute, is the grout, and yet grout choice can really make a huge difference to the overall effect of the tiling and so is worthy of a decent amount of thought and research.

Over the last few years we have seen a move away from the traditional white grouting to more greys which are much more practical as they show the dirt far less over time and so have more longevity.

There is also an increasing use of black which, again, can look extremely effective to create a minimalist monochrome look with a pure white tile and this is what we’ll be going for with our linear pattern (not that I’m very good at the whole minimalist vibe in general).

What is particularly interesting, however, is the increasing use of coloured grout which becomes a design statement in itself.  Not only does this look fantastic but it can also be a relatively cheap and simple way of achieving a unique and modern look as cheap and simple subway or metro tiles are instantly transformed when mixed with blue or pink grouting for example.  Much more cost effective than costly patterned encaustic tiles which we see so frequently today.

Image: The Design Sheppard

So next time you’re thinking about a tiling project, or even a feature wall, take a step back.  Think about tiles for living rooms, bedrooms, offices and hallways instead of just bathrooms and kitchens and think about how you can take a simple tile and elevate it to a real design statement by spending time thinking creatively about laying patterns and grout.  2019 just might be the year that tiles went wild.