Choosing the Right Tile

Our expert shares tips on making the right choice for the space.

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bathroom floor

Not all tiles are created equal. Well, they’re basically the same, but there are many small differences to consider when deciding the application intended.

Tiles are a combination of clay, minerals and solvents that are shaped and sized and then heated to very high temperatures. At this point, the tile can just stay as is and is considered finished. It’s unglazed and without decoration. Without the glaze, the tile is very porous and, though attractive in a rustic way, it wouldn’t be wise to use it at this stage in areas where spillage might be common, like the kitchen.

Glazing adds a non-porous element that’s usually impermeable and therefore good for all areas, including kitchens and baths, foyers and countertops. A good idea is to take this one step further and seal the grout around the tile so that it’s also waterproof.

Besides being beautiful, ceramic tile is a desirable surface. Let me count the ways: It’s strong, colorfast, and flame-resistant, it doesn’t conduct heat or electricity, it’s hygienic, it won’t absorb odors or emit hazardous chemicals, it won’t swell or contract in extreme temperatures, and it’s easy to clean.

Where do these tiles come from? All around the world. Is tile from Spain better than tile from France? No, the only real differences are in design and perhaps shape.

There are some things to consider before buying, though. If the tile is to be used outdoors, look for weatherproof tiles. It it’s to be used outdoors and you’re going to walk on it, take it a step further and buy a slip-resistant tile. If you find just the right tile but it’s not slip-resistant, not to worry — you can have it treated for slip resistance.

Did you know that 45 percent of all accidents happen in the home and that 95 percent of those accidents involve slipping and falling? With that in mind, it might be wise to treat all your tile floors with this slip-resistant application. Ask your tile dealer or installer.

If the tile is to be used on a kitchen counter, find one that is not only glazed but also scratch-resistant. You won’t want to use it as a cutting board, but it should be durable enough that you can set pots and pans and cooking utensils on it.

Is the tile going to be put on a wall? It will probably receive little abuse in this position, so hand-painted beauties can be in the limelight here.

OK, so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to select the right tile for the right application, but with these pointers in mind, costly mistakes might be eliminated. Go to a reputable dealer and tell him how you plan to use the tile; the rest is up to your aesthetic choice.

(Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, is president of Rosemary Sadez Friedmann Inc. in Naples, Fla.)

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