It’s a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don’t Miss This One)



I’m depressed. My Mom is looking for a cottage trailer up in Vernon (as a second home). It’s 5 hours from here, warmer and dryer in the summer and she already spends a lot of time there. This means less time with my Mom here in the country (where I already moved to be close to her) because she’ll be up there more often. (Update, she is not moving anymore)

Yesterday morning over our 5:30 AM coffee, I decided to look for myself because the choices are bleak. Mom wants at least 3 bedrooms with 2 bathrooms, so there’s room for all of us when we come to visit.

The second reason I’m depressed is that NO ONE and I mean NO ONE installs basic and boring white tile in bathrooms. I’m sure you can relate if you’ve bought a house at some point.

I started at homes that were $250,000 and went up to over a million. Sadly, it doesn’t matter how expensive the house is, the bathrooms and kitchens don’t get prettier, just more expensive to renovate because you’ve already paid for someone else’s choice in basically brand new tile.

It goes like this, you look at an exterior and think “That’s charming, I could live with that”, and then you start flicking through the interior photos, and–in the homes I viewed–it seemed like the bathrooms are even worse than the kitchens.

Also with a kitchen, if it’s paintable, it seems easier than fixing up 3 bathrooms that are ALL JUST UGLY. And thankfully, because white kitchens are trendy right now, I did see them in the listings.

But then I looked at 3 homes, IN A ROW that were all in the $450,000 price range and this variation of tile (below) is what was installed in each bathroom.

That’s when I decided this intervention was in order ; ) ; )

Why is white not the default option I ask you? Why is it always the dark trendy neutral of the moment?

It seems that since the fresh/colour trend (I refuse to call it the grey trend anymore because that is NOT what it is) has really taken off, there’s even more charcoal and grey painted cabinets out there too. And by the way the charcoal hardwood you’re considering? Not good either. And don’t even get me started on the Encaustic tile trend. It’s all in the same category.

I know you’re loving it right now, but I promise you, as soon as this trend is over, you’ll be getting out your white paintbrush AGAIN.

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam

So notice we’ve moved from the Tuscan Brown trend, where the average kitchen and bathroom–NOT found on Pinterest–looked like this (below). To now, when someone goes out looking for tile, they come back with charcoal or black?? Seriously?? Are either of these the look of a classic, timeless and forever bathroom? NO.

It’s so wasteful because we rarely like someone else’s ‘trendy’ choice that we inherit and then we simply count the days when we can rip it out and then install our own trendy choices. And the vicious circle continues.

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam

Recently, when I sourced tile for my clients renovation that’s finally starting this week, I was dismayed to see that you actually have to look hard to find white tile, it’s not readily out on display in showrooms.

When I asked why white tile was buried in the back somewhere, I was told “Because we have so many other interesting tiles here“.

Then I walked into a tile showroom in the design district on West 2nd in Vancouver and had the best time with the two gals in the showroom, I started sharing about how I’ve pretty much built my brand around white subway tile and she laughed and said “Whenever people ask me which tile is classic, I tell them, white subway tile and hex tile, that’s it” And they always respond “But that’s boring”.

Interesting = trendy and extremely short lived. Boring = timeless.

When I arrived back in my clients home with a marble looking porcelain tile (her other bathroom and laundry room is hex tile), it was the ONLY one available in the 3 showrooms I visited that day. Everything else was solid grey on black on grey or of course, boatloads of variations of earthy, blotchy tile.

So no wonder, the consumer who doesn’t know, arrives home with it. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to feel bad if you’ve got charcoal on charcoal tile in your bathroom. If you have installed or inherited a bathroom you don’t love anymore, you can still make it pretty with a little styling.

Just don’t paint the walls a green beige (above black bathroom), that’s certainly not the right colour either. Earthy colours generally are not fabulous with greys/blacks and whites. If I inherited a bathroom that looked like this (above) I would go out and find some wall paper to bring this baby to life. Since you can’t do it with a shower curtain in this case.

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam


Don’t forget to remove the builder mirror and bring in a fabulous one!

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam

Baker Ballard Interiors

OMG how about the drama of red and gold (above)?

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam

Fornasetti Wallpaper

Notice that you can’t wimp out on the colour if your working with charcoal. A colour that’s too pale even if it’s fresh will die paired with such a dark neutral.

White subway tile is inexpensive but installation costs more than a large scale tile, so that’s fine, go with a 12″ x 24″ or 18″ x 18″ faux marble porcelain tile.

It’ll be just as affordable, and the new homeowners after you will continue to love their bathroom just as long as you do.

It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam


It's a Charcoal Tile Intervention (Don't Miss This One) | Maria Killam


I also like the way the trendy gold hardware was installed here along with the coordinating mirror and sconce lighting (easy to change) but the faucet was kept a in the chrome family which in the end seems to be timeless.

So here’s my bottom line, classic and timeless advice.

Stick to white (off-white or cream, same difference)

If all else fails, choose white.

If you don’t know what to do, choose white.

If you end up in a tile store that doesn’t have any white tile, walk out.

If you have a bathroom with charcoal tile, don’t be mad at me. This post is not for you. It’s for the person who hasn’t decided yet. I love you. We’ve all made the same mistakes without professional advice, so don’t despair.

I still love you, and I don’t judge you. We all have our gifts, this just happens to be mine. If you’re still not convinced that I’m not judging you, read this post. It’s an old one but it’ll make you laugh ; ) ; )

Have a wonderful week my lovelies! xoxo Maria

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact us! We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous e-design consultation packages here.

Related posts:

Colour & Condoms

First Rule of Design: Boring equals Timeless

The New Timeless Hardwood Floor



leave aREPLY

  1. I laughed when I read your post, as I just redid our bathroom to de-dark it! Our toilet leaked, ruined the dark wood floor (installed by previous owner). I was going to put in dark tile that looked like wood, but then thought better of it. I went with the black and white hexagonal. LOVE IT. Cheaper, classic, charming. I painted the dark wood vanity, got a lovely new mirror, then had board and batten put in and a nice cheery wallpaper above it. Boom!

  2. I’m moving from a 3 year old classic and timeless house to move across the country for a job. I’ve looked and looked but I don’t find this type of look there, even in the expensive homes that I cannot afford. I told my realtor that I’m too picky and I pretty much don’t like any of the house decor choices I’ve seen. We don’t have the time to go with a new build this time. The hardest part for me is that I don’t want to pay for someone else’s “updates.” I’m forced to find a house that is very dated and live through a remodel. If only more people read your advice! There are so many poor granite choices, bad undertones and blotchy tile. Bad choices cost so much money! What a waste, makes me so sad. I know there are more important things in life, but I want to be at ease in my home and find it beautiful.

  3. I renovated my house ten years ago and installed white subway tile, white countertops and white cabinets in the bathrooms. We’ve just put our house on the market and I don’t have to change a thing. Everyone who has been coming through keeps commenting on the beautiful updated bathrooms. Although, I did put a light grey in the master and it still seems to work.
    In the new house I’m building, I’ve used an all white palette again. The designer, who works for the builder, actually said, “it’s so boring”. After reading this article, I fee great about my decisions!

  4. We put Shades of gray-by Crossville in laundry room and powder room floor. Not too dark..not too light. Color=Haze. Very little movement with warm undertone. Looks great next to our Oak floor. Contemporary look with light colored walls. There are other shades including white. It’s not the marble look on floor that seem to me as formal. I love the marble look on floors, but feel that sometimes gives a more formal look. Different for counters since its a smaller space-used Torquay quartz (marble look) in powder room. Used Subway white in master bath…love it every day. Dark cabinet with Nougat quartz top. Love your blog Maria and everything you make us think through. ie Accent tile. Thank you.

  5. Hi Maria,
    Hooray (again) for reminding the world that white is right anytime. It’s been years since I happily started following your blog, and I can count on one hand (maybe 2) the number of houses I see, out of hundreds, that have white tile in their baths. Even less with kitchens, and rare are the white cabinets. I usually think “what were they thinking?” esp. when the counters, back splash and floor tiles are all earthy and/or dark, busy and vary in undertones. I can’t wait to leave the room!
    I’m moving to upstate NY and look forward to employing all I’ve learned through your blogs and ebooks into my new space. Thanks!

  6. Many years ago (30) I moved into our condo and my first project was to do something about our kitchen. It had laminate doors, fake butcher block countertops, and red & black brick backsplash. I bought painter grade doors, bought a trendy peachy countertop, and sprayed/sealed the bricks and painted the cabinets/doors/brick white. I loved my painted brick. It had lots of texture and just look great. When the peachy trend was over, I got new counter tops. I have had my cabinets and backsplash/wall painted a couple of times over the years, I have replaced knobs – but those cabinets and backsplash stay the same. When I move, I will get subway tile, but honestly, if I could get someone to install fake brick (a lighter color) and paint over the brick and grout I think I would!

    Maria is so right, fixed elements should be classic!

  7. First of all Maria; sorry to hear that your Mother is planning on taking up residence elsewhere but turn that frown upside down … ☺ as it will be only for a small portion of the year and as they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. That said and back to the subject; I have just completed three bathroom upgrades and have one more to go and yes, chose white for the majority of fixed elements and since easy maintenance is one of my top priorities went with porcelain tile and/or engineered quartz. i.e: Marble look-alike in one, subway tile in another etc. The only flooring I didn’t replace was the one done in a white textured, mosaic ceramic tile which is actually located in a (high-traffic) powder room that has stood the test of time both in aesthetics and durability and will continue to do so. -Brenda-

  8. I agree with your design principles, Maria—-except on this one thing. Black/charcoal goes with everything! Especially when it’s on the floors. It goes with white and brights, of course, but it’s also classic with tan/beige/cream. I think it looks terrific with pastels, too.

  9. Please send your gospel to house flippers too. They are so concerned with saving money that they could just use white tile and it would be so much easier to Stage their houses. Preach it sister

  10. I just bought a condo for my Retierment days and am renovation most of it. I read your blog on White Kitchens and feel confident with my choices. In my new white kitchen I selected a almost black matt porcelain tile floor (12 x 24) and love it. I loved it so much I decided to put in both bathrooms. However I didn’t go with the all white bathroom. I decided white (tub, sink and white marble Quartz) with a spa Aqua color. I wanted my bathroom to feel like a spa. Maria, do have any suggestions on how to pull this look off? I’m liking the Aqua glass subway tile. Love all your articles/blogs. You’ve helped me tremendously! Thanks!

  11. Maria, I have four words for you (that apply to almost all your posts):

    Thank you for all your excellent, articulate explanations re: color and finishes.

  12. I enjoyed reading this blog/article. I agree that beige (or any shade of beige) is well past it’s prime. However, as a lover of color, I am one of those that finds all white kitchens and bathrooms to be rather boring. I love MOSTLY white (particularly white cabinets), but I always need to put a pop of color somewhere.
    I’m with you on the charcoal and black tile though. Black & white tile…fine; all black…not fine.
    I especially love the bathroom in the first pic. The graphic wallpaper with the bright orange frame against is very striking. How fabulous would this be for a kids bath?!

  13. I am so grateful for your posts. I thought i would have to gut my bathrooms to renovate a place we just bought.. But now realize I don’t have to. All the bathrooms have white 6 inch square tile. 20 years old. Someone did a messy job with gray grout. But now I’m having a grout expert come make the grout white again. I’ll do one bathroom first to make sure he does a good job. I’m now keeping the white counter (looks like cultured marble) in two of the bathrooms because it is in good condition. So I’ll just frame the mirrors and update fixtures. In the master the sinks have cracks so I’ll replace that counter. I’m debating updating the therma foil cabinet fronts. I’d like to update the almond jacuzzi tub and solid surface shower because they scream 90’s to me. The tile also has a matte finish and would not be my preference but i plan to bring some sheen in elsewhere. So thanks to you I’m feeling confident that I don’t have to go all out. Did I miss anything?