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Tiles: a go-to guide on Instagram’s favourite interior trend

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Alix Walker
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Tiles are continuing to have quite the moment. Alix Walker dives into their aesthetically pleasing, highly ‘grammable world.

Foot selfies with cobalt blue, canary yellow and gold-flecked azulejos tiles against the backdrop of Porto flood our lnstagram feeds. Brunch spots are dictated not by the best turmeric latte, but the mustard and rose encaustic tiles that decorate the restaurant floor.

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Millennial pink, Lily Pad-tiled bathrooms have become the badge of honour for interiors influencers. Somehow, tiles have become as 2019 as Fleabag and that Zara dress; just look on Pinterest, which saw a 1,276% increase in searches for “painted floor tiles” over the past year and declared it a global trend.

No doubt a huge part of tiles’ current popularity can be traced to that summer we went to Lisbon a few years back, ferociously snapping photos of the beautiful tiled buildings. Suddenly, restaurants, hotels and our own bathrooms took inspiration from our holidays and everywhere from the toilets at London restaurant Gloria to the shop floor at Aesop were jostling to get a mention on the lnstagram account @ihavethisthingwithtiles

Created by architect Gabriella Insana, the account has 110k followers and showcases tile work around the world, with foot selfies from Marrakech to Mexico City. “Our most popular posts are always blue, and hexagon tiles are particularly visually appealing,” notes Insana.

It comes at a time when interiors are getting far more of our attention. “The brilliance of tiles is that you can get a lot of impact for relatively little money,” says interiors writer and founder of Mad About The House, Kate Watson-Smyth. So whether you’re about to embark on an interiors project or are looking for the world’s most beautiful tiles, our guide has you covered.

START AT SQUARE ONE

For those cluelessly contemplating tiles, Mark Thomas of Original Style tiles breaks down the different materials.

Ceramic

“Ceramic tiles are a nice entry-level tile price-wise. They are typically used for walls and suit any room in the house. Porcelain is darker and denser than ceramic, and therefore harder to cut and drill, so they tend to be used for floors. Most factories will do complementary versions of both so you can have the same style on your wall and floor.”

Encaustic

“A decorative Victorian or Edwardian tile in pressed clay, which means the pattern is inlaid in the tile itself rather than painted on. They’re so popular right now [many of the foot selfies you see are on encaustic tiles] as people love the intricate, Victorian tiled look – but it can be expensive.”

Stone 

“Stone tiles (marble, granite, slate and limestone) are real rock, which means they need a lot of maintenance. You have to seal and treat natural stone; it changes colour when its wet and no two tiles will be the same. It’s still really popular but people are moving towards lookalike stone for marble, granite and slate because it’s so much easier to look after.” 

Glass 

“These are a much more sustainable option than ceramic tiles as they require less energy to produce and there is a huge amount of choice in terms of colour and finish. Glass is also very resistant to stains, but the drawbacks are that they’re usually more expensive and are prone to scratches.”

GET CREATIVE WITH TILES

Not everyone has a courtyard begging to be tiled, so how do you try the trend if you don’t have the funds or the real estate.

Tabletops

“It’s very easy to elevate an Ikea table with tiles,” says Sarah Watson, founder of Balineum, which produces some of the most beautiful hand-painted tiles. “Buy an affordable table and superglue antique, handmade tiles onto the top. If they have cracked tops then you may need to paint some tile sealant on top (buy from B&O for a fiver) but they’re very sturdy.”

Vases and plant pots

“We covered square planters with tiles,” say Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead of interior design studio 2LG. “Obviously house plants are huge and this is a great way to get synergy between the two trends.” It’s also a useful way to use old bits of tile or samples – just stick them on with super glue. You can also take a sheet of stone mosaic tiles (try hexagon white gloss tiles, £2.79, Tiles Direct) and roll around a vase. Secure with glue and finish with grout.

Picture frames

‘I know this fantastic decorator who hangs Islamic titles in frames on his walls. It’s a brilliant way to make use of decorative tiles’ says Watson-Smyth.

Coasters

“Using samples of terrazzo tiles as simple coasters looks really cute,” says Bianca Hall of French For Pineapple, an interiors blog. “Or you can put felt on the back of it and use it as a tile cheeseboard.”

THE TILE TREND LIST

Our favourite interior experts on the tile trends you’ll be seeing everywhere.

KEEP IT RETRO

How would you ever get out of the bath?
How would you ever get out of the bath?

“Square tiles in a grid pattern are going to be massive,” say Cluroe and Whitehead. “They really nod back to the 80s and 90s, which is so loved right now and feels so much more modern than the metro tile, which we have been seeing everywhere for ages. Our pink bathroom (Victorian pink tiles, 65p each from Tile Giant) went viral when we posted it. The best thing is that they’re available everywhere and can be done really affordably.”

THE BUSIER THE BETTER

“Ornate tiles are incredibly practical, like a Persian rug – the more pattern you see, the less dirt you see,” says Watson-Smyth. “Use handmade tiles from Maitland and Poate, the beautiful Hanley Tube Lined tiles from Balineum or the famous Lily Pad Porcelain Cloud tiles [£4.07 each, Capietra] to create statements next to plainer, more affordable tiles.”

ADD SOME CURVES

“Curves are massive this season,” says Watson-Smyth. “Curved, scalloped or fish-scale tiles will be everywhere; Topps have revealed their tile of 2020 is the curved Syren tile in midnight blue. Incidentally, dark blue is fantastic in bathrooms.”

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THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

“White, grey or black grout [the adhesive used to bond and seal your tiles in place] has been the go-to for years now, but coloured grout is slowly gaining ground,” says Watson-Smyth. “I’ve seen white tiles with cobalt blue, yellow and pink between them, which looked so effective. I’ve even seen gold grout, metallic grout and grout with sparkles. Experimenting with grout colours – Mapei has loads of choice – can bring life to really cheap, classic tiles.”

EMBRACE TEMPORARY TILING

“If you rent and have horrible tiles, you do have options,” says Watson-Smyth. “Tile paint tends to come in fairly basic colours and there is quite a bit of preparation work to be done first, but the market is growing. Try Valspar Paint for tile spray paint which can be used on ceramic, stone and terracotta. If the tiles are in good condition, use a primer, paint a normal eggshell over the top and then seal it. You can also use pens to clean up the grout [try Ronseal One Coat Grout Pen, £7.95, from Victorian Plumbing]. 

Another option is tile stickers: Rockett St George do really effective floor runners [below, £125] which look great in a hall. Al mere Tiles Wall Stickers have a touch of the Lisbon azulejos about them [£ 19.99, Wayfair] and both Moonwall Stickers and Quadro Style have huge selections.”

Metallic grout perfectly complements deep green
Metallic grout perfectly complements deep green.

SO LONG, MONOCHROME

“There’s so much freedom to be had in creating high impact with colour,” says Watson-Smyth. “If you pick an affordable tile you could start with grey and move to white, clash shades [Claybrook Studio] or create patterns. “In terms of key colours, pink is here to stay and mustard is really strong. What starts on the cat walk ends on a tile.” 

MIX UP YOUR LAYOUTS

“For years we’ve seen classic metro tiles [£ 12 per square metre, Homebase] in a brick formation,” say Cluroe and Whitehead. “But you can lay a very affordable metro tile in a different way to create impact: there’s herringbone, which looks fantastic, and vertically looks really fresh. Experiment with layout and you can make a pretty standard tile look more modern.”

Floor runners are an easy way to add a touch of tiling

TILES WORTH TRAVELLING FOR

Lisbon may have kickstarted our obsession, but beautiful tiling can be seen all over the world. Here are a few of our favourites.

Llama, Copenhagen

Llama: satisfy your hunger and the obsession in one.
Llama: satisfy your hunger and the obsession in one.

This South American restaurant, which has won the renowned International Design Award, has inspired more than a few Pinterest pins thanks to its Mexican cement tiles, which adorn the entire interior of this stylish space. Side note: when you go, order the halubut ceviche with mango, jalapenos and chulpe.

Hotel Californian, Santa Barbara

Hotel Californian's spa transports you to Marrakech
Hotel Californian's spa transports you to Marrakech.

This hotel may be nestled on the Californian coast, but the spa is pure Morocco. Aptly named Majorelle after the distinct blue found in the traditional tiles, windows and doorways of Marrakech, it’s home to 27 different styles of tile (many custom-designed by interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard), two million of which were imported especially for the renovation.

Only You Hotel, Madrid

The spectacular lobby mural at Only You hotel in Madrid.
The spectacular lobby mural at Only You hotel in Madrid.

Forget the pop-up gin bar and the seventh-floor terrace, it’s the commitment to beautiful tiles at Madrid’s Only You Boutique hotel that’s the biggest draw. Especially the white and blue tiled mural in the lobby, which opens to reveal a gold lift.

Soho Beach House, Miami 

Soho house knows a thing or two about interiors.
Soho House knows a thing or two about interiors.

Soho House has relied heavily on tiles in their interiors for years – see their collaboration with Bert & May – and their floors have been the star of many a foot selfie. But it’s their ceramic tiled courtyard in jade and cream at South Beach-based Cecconi’s that’s got the most appeal.

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Alix Walker

Alix Walker is editor-at-large at Stylist magazine. She works across print, digital and video and could give Mary Berry a run for her money with her baking skills. 

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