Vancouver Interior Designer: One more Reason You Should Skip Accent Tiles Altogether

There is a new answer that I have come up with recently when clients ask me about the finishes for their renovation or new house.

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You'll show me your backsplash tile or countertop for your bathroom and then say:

"I'm worried that it's boring."

It's the pitfall that many designers (including me until I was in my 647th consultation) as well as homeowners fall into when they are choosing tiles and that is this:

Interesting = Trendy

Using the same tile much better than trying to coordinate three in one space. (source)

The shelf life of an interesting backsplash is about five years. I have never been in a house with trendy backsplash tile that is more than five years old and had anyone tell me they still love it.

I'm serious. Take this accent tile below. See the green and yellow-beige in the tiles? Until the day you renovate a bathroom with tiles like this, these are the colours of your walls.

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So when people say to me, "Maria, subway tile has got to be dated now right." My answer is, "No." Does it have to be a subway tile? No, but anything simple and neutral might still look boring to you before it's installed but trust me, you will thank me later.

Hey wait, I just thought of something else.  Everyone asks me for neutral walls, neutral furniture but then when it comes to tile, something that is permanently stuck to your bathroom or backsplash FOREVER, you suddenly decide it has to be interesting.

Show me a trendy and interesting backsplash tile or accent for your shower surround and I say be prepared to hate it very soon after you have it installed. Maybe.

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There are pretty ways to incorporate accent tiles into your fixed finishes (above) but getting the look right usually takes perhaps more than you'll want to spend. So in general, it's best to stick to the simple plan, tread carefully into the accent tile section, take a look and then run for the hills.

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Related posts:

Which Backsplash Tile goes with Granite?

The Hottest Trend in Backsplash Tile; Yay or Nay?

Selecting your Kitchen and Bath Backsplash Tile; Accent Tile or Not?

43 Responses to Vancouver Interior Designer: One more Reason You Should Skip Accent Tiles Altogether

  1. Dana says:

    I'm not thanking you later, I'm thanking you now! I was in the tile store today and kept struggling with this same problem! Great to have validation!

  2. So true. We built a house 11 years ago. I hated the accent tile after 3. Luckily it was all in the showers and not the kitchen.

  3. TOTALLY agree! I was only telling someone this last night when they were asking me what I thought was "in" for bathroom tiles! Couldnt agree more! Plus if its boring add some nice accessories!

  4. Tonya says:

    So appreciate the timing of this post today! I'm here in my office with tile samples for our master bath and was consiering glass mosaic tiles. Just put them back in the sample box and now deciding between the three porcelain ones that look like marble. Thank you! ; )

  5. Bert says:

    I agree 100% with you, Maria. I did my bathroom upstairs about 3 years ago. I chose neutral tile but had them install one of those 'matching' tiles with a little design on it, here and there. It's certainly not overdone but I still wish I had left them all plain. Now everytime I see it, I think "I shouldn't have done that"….so live and learn. I have to say I've learned a lot just from reading your blogs.

  6. Wendy Nelson says:

    Absolutely right. I recently bought a hundred year old house with a kitchen rebuilt in the 1990's. It is a testament to timeless white. With white cabinets, wood floors, marble counters and good layout all it needed to look current were some new appliances and a little lighting. Oh — Except for the tile backsplash which is accented with painted bowls of fruit and flowers that simply SCREAM 1990's. Chipping those off will be a major headache.

    • mairi says:

      Good points Maria! I resonate with Wendy's comments. I also reside in a century home and the classic white feels timeless and fresh. One thing I've learned to do is to Not have back-splash tile. Instead, I have changed the look and interest factor regularly with a variety of 'art'. At the moment there is a square plate collection mounted in a line-(easy with velcro strips). All are the same bold pattern creating a visual line-very mod and fun. Before that I had DIY canvasses- endless color possibilities there. Mirrors were nice too but high maintenance. The sky's the limit…and it can cover up the 90's fruit and flowers!

  7. Bette says:

    Maria,

    Love your new site everything looks happy. I had a client discussion on this same topic two days ago. My thoughts have always been in most cases simple is best, timeless, modern, classic, traditional and pleasing to the eye. Don't know how else to encourage those important decisions. Except keep saying the same things.

    Bette

  8. I couldn't agree more about back splash tile. People want to feel up to date in their choices. but don't realize that up to date has a very short shelf life. I try to steer people toward classic choices in anything that is permanently attached. I'm sure they think I can't be much of a designer if I'm suggesting something that boring. It's always a problem.

  9. I adore you, Maria!! You are so right!! Oh my goodness, and when you wrote about neutral walls and furniture and then all of a sudden now you want to get interesting … Truer words have never been spoken!!!! xo!

  10. Couldn't agree with you more, Maria. How many times have we seen a neutral backsplash ruined by some trendy accent piece – I know of a great white backsplash interspersed with floral tiles – breaks up the whole continuity and limits the choices for any other pattern in the room. Thanks for the advice.

  11. Maxine says:

    Agree with you but I must say the lightly veined tiles in picture 2 really bothers my eye. a little different distribution would work better for me.

  12. Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Maria, This advice is so right! I think what happens when people are building and/or remodeling is that the space is still empty.
    They need to be reminded that when all the food, small appliances and other people are added to the mix, (or in the bath–all the products, etc.)…..
    NOW the space becomes complicated. Keeping the background simple will always compliment the rest of the story !!

  13. Rebecca says:

    Tile can be painted. I have never done this but a niece had it done in a home she lived in when living in Omaha a few years back. She had it professionally done and you could not tell it was not original.

  14. Coley says:

    I loved every word of this article. It is SO TRUE when people want nuetral walls and furniture but want crazy, colorful permanent fixtures.

  15. So, so true! Brilliant post which could save people a fortune. Trend colours on towels & cushion is my motto too. You convey your point so well with excellent images, thank you.

  16. Amen Sister! I am battling with clients right now over not using light blue glass tile on an entire wall of their kitchen which is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door. It's just not a good idea.

  17. Dana Kretz says:

    Sad story.
    Did a total remodel 2 yrs ago ago. Chose white subway title across the entire wall with no overhead cabinets. Love that stark clean look. Well, while I was out my contractor put a black tile above the stove to form a square. His gift to me, no extra charge.
    My options are to put stainless on it or paint the black tile square white.
    Any other suggestions?

  18. Cheryl K. says:

    What if your accent were the beautiful – but perhaps too expensive for one's budget for the whole area – natural marble or stone? Your post also makes me wonder about the classic look of black strips done with the white of the 1930's.

  19. Barbara says:

    I beg to disagree. Safe, long-enduring, neutral is just plain boring. I have to live with it every day. It is the Pop! and the Bam! that talks to my soul that I want. Let's face it, the back splash in the average kitchen is not a large financial outlay. Why shouldn't it make you happy for five years. Do the math, what is the daily cost of real soul food?

  20. Jen says:

    As a big fan of Sarah Richardson's bathrooms, I have to disagree a little. She does great things with a neutral palette, but the variance in tile is what makes it beautiful.

    http://www.designinc.ca/tr/tr.php?id=8&season=01

    On the other hand, maybe this look shouldn't be attempted unless you have a Sarah-caliber designer on your side!

    • suze says:

      I doubt the "accent" tiles Sarah selected for this lovely bathroom is what Maria is opposed to, since they are all neutral and of the same material. They are a variation on a theme, not a dated and trendy "accent" tile.

  21. connie rese says:

    SO TRUE! even after years of consulting and also disliking accent tiles, I made the mistake of adding
    them to my bathroom because the owner of the tile store told me I should….I second guessed myself and in a moment of self doubt told him to go ahead. Funny, I would have never told any client of mine the same thing.
    A $20,000.00 renovation that I now hate 3 years later!!!

  22. L M says:

    Why not have tiles as an accent, but installed in a less permanent way? I would like a custom tile piece behind my range, but have it readily removable, i.e. within a frame that is installed on top of the backing wall.

  23. Two years ago, we purchased a house, where the master bath was renovated about 25 years ago. It had floor to ceiling brown tile with a flower motive on it. Truly not a pretty picture. Maybe, it was chic 25 years ago, but certainly not today. I aim for the timeless design approach. Thank you for reminding us to steer away from trendy.

  24. This sounds like great advice. My mom had some beautiful blue backsplash tiles installed in their kitchen..which is very open to the livingroom. For her, it probably won't matter. But I think the bright blue designs would cause a real problem for future owners. It looks great–at the moment. :o )

    xo
    Donna

  25. I could not agree more! Stick to accessories to get the trendy feel you want so you can easily change them when you get tired of them. I always advise my clients to go with tile that does not date it's self. Like good architecture, you should not be able to tell when it was done. As always, well done post!

  26. Angie says:

    Well….I'm about to do what you're saying not to do, but I feel that I'm allowed to because my husband is a tile setter. I'm currently doing reno's on a house we just bought, We've had the cupboards spray painted white and are doing a white silestone coutertop. The tiles I chose for my backsplash are the powder blue Walker Zanger Ashbury Vibe tiles, which I love. I'm pretty sure they'll make me happy every time I look at them. We'll see if I regret it! And if my husband will agree to rip them out in 5 years if I'm tired of them by then!

  27. diana says:

    amen amen amen.. so glad to hear you say this…. I thought I was alone in this thinking! I like accent tiles…. in someone elses home.Thank you

  28. Maria Killam says:

    HI Suze,
    You're right I think Sarah's bathrooms are accent tiles done with drama and they are fab. My advice is for everyone that is about to install a strip of tile around their shower, etc, etc, etc.
    Maria

  29. Shawna says:

    I recently did both my kitchen and bathroom. I chose white tile for both. As you said, tile is permanent, and therefore, I want something neutral. To me a backsplash and tub surround aren't the accent, they're the background. It's not to say the tile doesn't look beautiful, it does, but it's not screaming look at me. And more importantly in 10 yrs it won't be screaming I was installed in 2011. If I want trendy and colourful I'll use paint, towels and accessories. They're easy to change and need to be replaced regardless every 5-10 yrs, so I figure it's money I'd be spending anyway.

  30. Mary says:

    If someone thinks their neutral tile is boring, my advice would be to add some of the same tile layed in a different direction. It will break up the space without adding another color.

  31. Bonnie Lagerstrom says:

    Years ago when I was re-modeling my first home, it was the tile layer who wanted a hand in the design and was pushing the "interesting" look. I kept it simple and neutral and never regretted it.

  32. Barbara says:

    Hello Maria,
    So true and you explained it perfectly! Well done!
    Barbara

  33. Tawna Allred says:

    You are so right on! Love, love, love…..have a great day!

    Tawna

  34. KJ says:

    Very interesting. I always think that someone should come up with an "easy switch" system for installing and later changing out accent tiles; you'd make a fortune! I know Centsational Girl just dremmeled out the ugly medallion tile she tired of and switched it to something more plain. http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2011/02/basic-tile-installation-backsplash-bliss/

    Also, I love subway tile but it *will* look dated some day. People used to use subway tile until it fell out of favor. I don't think anything has remained "in" for decades and decades and decades. Not to say you shouldn't use it, but it isn't timeless. No idea what will replace it (or when), but something will one day.

  35. Robin Reid says:

    As always, great advice that makes us think. AND I love how you always explain why.

  36. Lori says:

    Maria you are so right, you are brilliant…I have found validation on so many decorating topics on your
    site. It`s like you are the afirmation of my inner voice and decorating gut instinct. Many light bulb moments
    after reading your blog.
    Thank you

  37. trish Berns says:

    We just built a new house. All of the tile I picked was some version of off white. Tile salesman, and builder both tried to talk me into accent tiles. So glad I didn't let them sway me.
    I have lived in a lot of houses that had tile I couldn't stand. I wasn't about to do that in this house. It looks beautiful. There are a lot of other (better) ways to bring temporary color into a room. Replacing a backsplash is very expensive, and a major headache. I've done it in 2 other houses.

  38. Farha Syed says:

    True – totally agree.

    I have yet to upgrade my kitchen – so I will definitely steer way away from the accent tiles.

  39. Soma says:

    I love reading your blog! I just spent a few hours in a tile store the other day, and you are so right. I've been using the same showroom for years, and I walked by their permanent display, which I was in absolute love with when they first put up (2007) and just shook my head.

    I will say for mosaics, when the are the dominant feature, they are EXQUISITE, however few people have the kind of budget that allows that.

  40. sometimes clients will come into the paint store with all their tile for the bathroom, floor, counter, shower and then the dreaded band of accent tile to go around the shower/tub area. after some conversation and looking at wall color, I ask them if they've bought the tile? if they haven't, I suggest leaving out the accent pieces because they are not happening any more, they look at me like 'it took a long time to pick out this tile to match the other tile'.

    My recommendation to them KIS…

  41. Amber says:

    Wow! So glad I found this post! We're currently putting an addition on our house and I'm glad we didn't do a backsplash in the kitchen or accent tiles in the new half bath. We put a pedestal sink in the half bath and kept it simple and we love it! I just told my husband no crazy tiles in the new master bath! Neutral tiles, same color scheme-larger tiles on the floor, smaller in the shower-but no accents or designs! :)

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