Bathroom Surfaces: Ceramic Tile Pros and Cons

Article By: John Whipple

Often praised for its durability and variety, ceramic tile is a popular choice for bathroom finishes. If you’re drawn to color and texture, this material can deliver on both fronts. But the sheer variety of ceramic tiles is endless, which can make finding just the right tile very difficult. 

Because ceramic tends to cost less than porcelain and is much lighter, it’s often used for wall and ceiling installations. However, there are some major cons to this material, too: It’s not as strong as porcelain, so it doesn’t make the best walking surface. It can be very cold underfoot in the winter, and heavy tile can be difficult to install. 

Curious if ceramic tile will work in your bathroom? Here’s what you should know before making the purchase. 

The basics: Ceramic tiles are wide ranging; all are generally made from red or white clay that’s been fired in a kiln and glazed or finished. If you’re a tile nerd like me, ceramic tile technically includes porcelain tile too, but for this ideabook we’ll exclude that category. 

Cost: Ceramic tile is often priced below $2 per square foot. Higher-end tiles can easily run $20 to $40 and more per square foot. The average tends to be around $7 to $9 per square foot. 

Pros: Ceramic tile can be incredibly affordable, and there’s a ton of variety in styles, colors, finishes and textures. It’s also easy to customize it for details like chair rails, soap dishes and special edging and nosing, as in this bathroom.










Cons: Ceramic tile is not as strong as its cousin, porcelain tile, but what it lacks in strength, it makes up for in price.











Special considerations: Since ceramic tiles often have texture, you may want to consider this to add dimension to your bathroom. The eased edge on this tile adds a little extra something to a bathroom wall, but can make it difficult to figure out how to cut end tile. Consider using a tile edge profile, like a Schluter strip, to make the transition less awkward. 

However, today’s ceramic tile offers much more than an eased edge. This wavy tile from Porcelanosa is just one example of the texture and detail available today. 

This type of tile can make for a great accent in a bathroom, but I’d avoid using too much texture in a shower , since it can make for difficult cleaning. Try using it for a feature wall or feature corner instead. 

Maintenance: Make sure you choose a ceramic tile with a durable finish. How can you tell? Buy a sample, take it home and clean it to death. 

I recommend cleaning ceramic tile with a white nylon scrub brush and a little soap. You shouldn’t need much more than that. Ceramic is very durable, but it’s best to stick to mild household detergents and to spot test before using anything new. 

Installation: Installing ceramic tile is pretty straightforward; it could even be a DIY project if you have some experience working with tile. Many of today’s ceramic tile actually has directional arrows on the back side; make sure you keep them lined up the same way so you get the correct look. 

Why Bathroom Floors Need to Move

Article By: John Whipple

“Tenting” is a terrible word to a tile professional. When a bathroom floor has been installed incorrectly, tiles can press against one another and pop up off the floor, creating a tent shape. It’s not just tile that does this — almost every material in a home expands and contracts with time, including the plywood subfloor, which can develop popped tiles or cracked grout joints.

These professional pointers for preparation and installation techniques can help keep your bathroom floor from tenting.

Avoid large-format tile. More grout joints allow for minor movement and spreading out.

If you have a large bathroom — like this beautiful space — with loads of natural sunlight, a smaller and lighter tile is definitely a safer option. Darker tile absorbs heat and expands and contracts more than lighter tile.

Contemporary Bathroom by New York Architects & Designers TURETT COLLABORATIVE ARCHITECTS 

All of a home’s building materials expand and contract; the hardwood floor, the tile and even the countertops all move over time. Any good pro should know how to account for these size changes and prevent expansion from wreaking havoc in a home.

Tip: Make sure your tongue and groove subfloor does not get filled with dust, debris or adhesive mortar (thinset). This subfloor needs the ability to move, and the joints should not be too tight.

This photo shows some great tile work. The beautiful tile is nicely lined up, but I especially appreciate how there’s no mortar or thinset where the tile meets the wall. Using mortar here can lead to tenting issues, since it prevents the tile floor from moving and expanding. This clean finish is exactly what you want to see in your bathroom. Make sure your tile contractor understands that you don’t want your installation done with thinset on the edges that meet the wall.

If you drive over bridges frequently — like I do every day — you’ll notice that bridges have expansion strips. During the summer the bridge is quiet, since summer’s heat has expanded the bridge’s concrete and the expansion strips are pressed tight. But in the winter, driving over the same bridge sounds quite different; the expansion strips are wider, and they click-clack as your tires hit them.

Designing tile floors to expand and contract follows some of these same principles. Uncoupling membranes underneath floor tile can improve your floor’s flexibility. This photo shows a professional installing a Strata Mat uncoupling membrane to account for minor floor movement.

Hearing a hollow noise when you’re walking across newly tiled floors could be the early signs of tile bond failure. This sound results from poor thinset coverage.

In this photo the floor tile goes underneath the tub skirt. This is a solid design that allows for movement on the floor tile.

Tip: Gently tapping set tiles with the wooden handle of a rubber mallet can help you find the hollow noise where poor thinset coverage has occurred.

Modern Bathroom by North Vancouver General Contractors John Whipple – By Any Design ltd. 

All steam showers have a modified thinset to account for quick thermal expansion. The powerful steam and heat in steam showers require a thinset that can accommodate immediate expansion and contraction.

Glass expands more than many other building materials. Large panels like these let in lots of sunshine and quickly heat up the bathroom, increasing thermal expansion.

For an installation like this, I’d make sure that the corners of the shower stall had two layers of a waterproofing membrane. Products like NobleSeal TShave a thicker membrane that can take some compression in the corners.

With extremely large bathrooms, expansion strips inlayed into the tile assembly are a must. In my opinion, any room larger than 15 feet in one direction should be using some kind of expansion strip and specialty thinsets and grouts to increase expansion and combat mortar fatigue.

Go for the Glow: Mother-of-Pearl Shines Around the Home

Article By: Ines Hanl

Mother-of-pearl has been used since ancient times to make people and their homes more beautiful, but today’s manufacturing techniques have made this product even more accessible and economical. “Mother-of-pearl” is the common name for iridescent nacre, a blend of minerals secreted by oysters and other mollusks and deposited inside their shells; it coats and protects them from parasites and foreign objects. 

Now we can use this wonderful material in our homes in a wide range of products. Mother-of-pearl tiles, wallpaper and countertops can adorn a space with the same elegance that a pearl necklace adds to an outfit. It’s not cheap (mother-of-pearl tile starts at about $30 per square foot), but it can be just the splurge you need to set your project apart from the crowd.

Mediterranean Bathroom by Calgary Interior Designers & Decorators

Mosaic tile. Available in a wide range of natural hues, mother-of-pearl tile and mosaic blends are made from the nacre on shells like capiz, black lip, brown lip, paua and violet oyster.

White mother-of-pearl appears iridescent naturally, but it can be artifically tinted to almost any (sometimes shocking) color.

Contemporary Kitchen by Tel Aviv Architects & Designers Rina Magen

This is a beautiful example of mother-of-pearl on a kitchen backsplash. This shell tile is often thin, unless it’s mounted to a thicker substrate, so if it’s combined with another tile, it’ll need to be built up to look flush.

If you’re not sold on a shell product but love the iridescent look, look for manufacturers that produce iridescent glass mosaics. White iridescent glass can look quite similar to mother-of-pearl tiles.

Traditional Bathroom by Tampa Tile, Stone & Countertops Europa Stone

Flooring. What a elegant mix of natural stone and mother-of-pearl! This application is a great example of layering textures in a white-on-white application. Note how the simple act of creating a border around a well-proportioned floor tile strengthens the grid pattern.

Mother-of-pearl can be used for walls, floor surfaces (make sure to check with the manufacturer) and sometimes outdoor applications.

Contemporary Bathroom by Charleston Interior Designers & Decorators Melissa Lenox Design

Accents. If you are craving the glow but don’t have the budget for a full iridescent wall, use mother-of-pearl mosaic tile to add a bit of sparkle to an accent. Mirror frames, side tables and table lamps can all shine with mother-of-pearl tile.

Mediterranean Living Room by Miami Furniture and Accessories Jalan Jalan Collection

Inlay. Mother of pearl is a very suitable product to be cut into shapes. The cut shapes, called tesserae, are often used as inlay on furniture and other decorative home accessories.

Traditional Bathroom by Belmont Interior Designers & Decorators Julie Mifsud

Sinks. Shown here as a semivessel model, a mother-of-pearl mosaic sink, like those fromLinkaSink, can be cleaned with mild household cleaner or soap and water. The grout can be cleaned with grout cleaner; it should be sealed once or twice a year for maintenance.

Contemporary Dining Room by Hillsborough Interior Designers & Decorators Lisa Silverman/ Decorator Guru

Furnishings. Mother-of-pearl cabinetry faces utilize shell panels, rather than tile. These panels are laminated shell tiles and come in a variety of shell types, colors and sizes

Contemporary Buffets And Sideboards by Los Angeles Furniture and Accessories Nusa Furniture Penida Nusa Furniture

 often uses mother-of-pearl in combination with coconut on its furniture. The dark chocolate of the rough textured coconut and mother-of-pearl’s creamy iridescence make for a delicious mix on this storage cabinet!

Contemporary Dining Room by San Francisco Interior Designers & Decorators Kendall Wilkinson Design

Wall coverings.Maya Romanoff, who specializes in luxurious wall products, offers a flexible tile that can be applied like a wallpaper. The tile is a thin capiz shell veneer applied to backing paper with a topcoat for easy maintenance. York Wallcoverings and Franco Ferrucci offer similar products.

Maya Romanoff’s wallpaper starts at $45 per square foot (plus installation). Candice Olson’s mother-of-pearl wallpaper starts at about $110 per double roll (about 60 feet of wallpaper).

Kitchen Countertops by Brooklyn Design-Build Firms IceStone IceStone Hot Colors


Icestone uses mother-of-pearl as one ingredient in its countertop products. A cementitious base product mixed with recycled glass shards and mother-of-pearl creates beautiful color blends

Contemporary Spaces by Seattle Architects & Designers Beley Design, pllc

Mother-of-pearl accents bring a wonderful glow to Icestone countertops, enlivening a space in a calm way. The use of small pieces of glass doesn’t feel as aggressive as in some other products. 

From personal experience, I recommend using Icestone only in areas where there’s no risk of staining the surface. I’ve used Icestone quite successfully in bathrooms and laundry areas.

Icestone countertops are comparable to mid- to high-end granite in cost. Allow for about $150 per square foot (including installation) in you.

Go for the Glow: Mother-of-Pearl Shines Around the Home

Contemporary Bathroom by Charleston Interior Designers & Decorators Melissa Lenox Design