Perhaps one of the most versatile building materials, for centuries tile has been used for both its aesthetic value and its utilitarian qualities. These days, tile’s easy-to-clean nature and steady durability mean the hardy material is often chosen for kitchens and bathrooms. But tile’s usefulness can extend far beyond those rooms—bringing beauty with an underlying practicality throughout a home. Whether you want to go bold in an entryway or create a sense of calm and order in a busy mudroom, even simple, inexpensive styles can be set in patterns to reflect your personality. Start with the basics—like location, material, and size—then think about color, grout, and pattern to put your own stamp on a space. To help get you started, we’ve gathered points to consider about different types of tile along with inspiration on shapes, surfaces, and styles.

Material Matters

The right material is well-matched to its location. Floor tiles need to withstand more traffic and wear than wall tiles, so they require heavier materials. For backsplashes and walls, tiles can be chosen based on color and pattern instead of durability. From design to ease of care, each material has its own set of advantages to consider.

straight herringbone pattern — ceramic tile (subway tile pattern on shower wall) 
small hexagon pattern — porcelain tile (on shower floor)
large hexagon pattern — porcelain tile (on bathroom floor)


TYPES: Clay-based tiles, such as terra-cotta and porcelain, which is a smooth, specialized type of ceramic tile.

CARE: These tiles are easy to keep clean, but over time sand and grit can dull a glazed surface.

DURABILITY: Because of their exceptional durability, ceramic tiles are often used for flooring. Should a tile break, replacement is easy.

NOTE: Even the same type of ceramic tile can vary in color. Check to make sure different lots are similar in tone so your flooring is consistent.

Examples of Ceramic Tile:

vertical stack pattern —  light blue glazed terracotta tile  + horizontal stack pattern — dark blue glazed terracotta tile 
stacked pattern — square terracotta tile  
stacked pattern — square hand-painted terracotta tile 
offset pattern — ceramic tile 


TYPES: Made from cement mixed with pigment, these tiles are unglazed by nature and have endless color and pattern options.

CARE: Cement tiles are porous so they stain easily. Consider regular application of a sealer to protect from moisture and discoloration.

DURABILITY: Their heat resistance means they can be used on hearths and outdoors. However, they can’t handle intense freeze-and-thaw cycles.

NOTE: Over time cement tile will patina, lending it an heirloom and lived-in quality.

Examples of Cement Tile:

custom-painted cement tile 
light + dark blue cement tile


TYPES: Materials vary from light to dark in color and include marble, limestone, quartz, granite, and slate.

CARE: Some types—like marble—can be high maintenance, and over time their porous surface might stain. Others, like slate, can be very low maintenance,
making them good choices for flooring.

DURABILITY: Because stone is naturally resistant to weather and wear, it works well for outdoor spaces.

NOTE: As they come from the earth and can’t be manufactured, stone tiles require more of an investment.

Example of Stone Tile:

large stone marble tiles laid in a straight stack pattern, rug inlay with a marble mosaic was installed + rug was trimmed with Bardiglio Gray marble trim to tie into the mosaic


TYPES: Glass tiles often come in smaller sizes, which are great for decorative, detailed surfaces.

CARE: Easy to clean and stain resistant.

DURABILITY: Because glass tiles can break or chip easily, they are most often chosen for mosaics, shower walls, and backsplashes.

NOTE: Grout choices are limited with glass. You’ll usually want to go with white, as other colors could distort the final color of the tile.


When you’re ready to shop, these vendors are some of our favorites. As you plan, remember a good rule of thumb is adding 10% to the square footage you think you need in case tiles chip or break.

+ Waterworks
+ Walker Zanger
+ Floor & Decor
+ Ann Sacks
+ Daltile
+ Bedrosians
+ CLE Tile (hand-cut zellige tiles)
+ Tabarka Studio (hand-painted options)

Pick Your Pattern

Tile is textural, so its style arises from the way shapes intersect. Depending on the installation pattern chosen, the same tile can skew modern or classic. Staggered brickwork, common in turn-of-the-century kitchens, creates a traditional, timeless look, while a stacked, vertical grid can feel at home in midcentury designs. Here, we look at how square and rectangular tiles can come together for varying effects. Keep in mind that tiles come in an array of shapes and colors, making the choice of patterns truly unlimited.


For a simple, clean, and modern look, set your tiles directly on top of or beside one another. This style fits in especially well with midcentury design.

Examples of Stacked Pattern:

stacked pattern — square ceramic tile
stacked pattern — square ceramic tile
stacked pattern — square ceramic tile


While an echo of traditional brick patterns found in historic architecture, this type of arrangement can give a very clean and modern feel to a space.

Examples of Offset Pattern:

stacked pattern — square ceramic tile
offset, horizontal pattern (classic subway tile pattern) — ceramic tile
offset, horizontal pattern (classic subway tile pattern) — ceramic tile
offset, horizontal pattern (classic subway tile pattern) — ceramic tile


Similarly shaped tiles can tell different stories depending on how they are arranged. If you want tile to be high-contrast or a focal point, these specialty designs are a good place to play.

Examples of Specialty Tile:

checkerboard pattern — ceramic tile 
herringbone pattern — ceramic tile 
basket weave pattern — marble tile

Other Design Considerations

Grout Color

The grout you select will play a big role in the final look of your tile. If you choose a grout color that’s complementary, the grout blends in and lets the tile speak for itself, giving it a classic, traditional feel. On the other hand, if you want an extra element of personality, you can choose a contrasting grout color. For example, dark grout with light tile emphasizes the lines, making it bolder, more modern, and graphic.

Scale of Tile

While the tiles we have included here are small in scale, you might want to consider the full range of tile sizes available for the home. Large tiles can make a big impact but are typically used in rooms with lots of square footage. To put large tiles in a small bathroom might make that space appear even more compact. But when used in a bigger space, large tile can serve as an anchor, grounding a room that might otherwise feel too expansive.

One-Of-A-Kind Options

To add depth and history to a space, consider vintage and antique tiles. Specialty options, such as hand-painted and hand-cut tiles, can add a unique and storied feel. Zellige tiles are known for their handmade, slightly imperfect charm.

Know Your Tile Terms

MORTAR sets the tile

GROUT fills the joints

CAULK seals the edges and corners

GLAZE OR SEALANT protects the surface

This story was adapted for digital from the fall issue of Magnolia Journal.

Story by Sarah Coffey
Photography by Carson Downing
Prop Styling by Scott J. Johnson