WORDS: SARAH MARJORIBANKS • IMAGES: ITALTILE
So why choose tiles over a simple painted wall? First and foremost, durability. When installed properly, they’ll be as good-looking in 20 years as they are now. Wall tiles also demand very little up-keep and are easy to clean, not needing much more than a wipe down with a cloth and warm water. They do not support mould or mildew, are water and fire resistant, and because they’re mostly produced from clay, are naturally good for the environment.
Wall vs floor
You might think that a tile is a tile is a tile, but there are a few significant differences between wall and floor tiles. While floor tiles can, in most cases, be used for the wall, the opposite is not the case and wall tiles should never be used for flooring.
Why? As we tend to avoid walking on walls, wall tiles have not been designed to be load bearing. Wall tiles are usually lighter and thinner than floor tiles, and they can also be slightly uneven. Floor tiles are glazed to handle heavier foot traffic and offer a non-slip surface, but most wall tiles become slick and slippery when wet.
Tiles come in a number of different sizes, so how do you know when to use a small (with sides under 30cm) or large format (above 30cm) on your walls? Small tiles are best used in a large space and can be mixed and matched if you’re looking to get creative. Small tiles are easy to transport as they’ll fit easily into a car and are lighter to carry, and there’s little loss of material from tile cutting.
Large tiles, on the other hand, make a room seem bigger. When the eye sees large tiles, the brain automatically associates them with a larger space, so use large tiles in smaller rooms to give the illusion of space. Design-wise, larger tiles can be used in a large space to create a cohesive, minimalist and sophisticated look; it’s not recommended to mix and match large tiles. Using larger tiles for the walls is not just easy on the eye – their large format makes them quicker to lay and grout, and less grouting means less to clean and maintain.
Ceramic vs porcelain
There are many different types of tiles out there, but two of the most popular kinds of tiles to use on a wall are ceramic and porcelain. These tiles can look quite similar and can both be found in a wide range of sizes and designs, but there are a few differences.
Ceramic tiles are somewhat porous and more absorbent than porcelain, so should not be used for outdoor tiling. Porcelain, on the other hand, absorbs less than 0.5% of water. The clay that is used to make porcelain tiles is denser and thus less porous, and its low absorbency rate makes it a great fit for outdoor use and high-moisture areas like showers and bathtubs.
Porcelain is fired at a higher temperature which makes it a denser, hard-wearing tile. It’s also frost-proof – another reason why it’s a better fit for outdoor use. Ceramic tiles are softer and made with red, brown or white clay. The colour of the tile’s body doesn’t usually matter, because you only see the surface design of the tile (unless there is a chip). Porcelain has the option of through-body, where the tile’s colour runs all the way through.
Ceramic tiles tend to be available in more up-to-date designs than porcelain. Due to ceramic tiles’ softness, it’s easier to cut and shape at home if you’re looking to do it yourself. Porcelain can be difficult to cut and is quite brittle, which means you’d better leave it up to the professionals.
To make sure that you install your tiles correctly, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. Firstly, make sure that you know how much weight your wall can hold as this will affect the type of wall tile that you choose.
Secondly, ensure that your wall is completely even and bump-free. An uneven wall could lead to one edge of the tile being higher than the adjacent tile (a term called lippage) which makes the overall appearance unsightly.
Thirdly, use the adhesive that is recommended by the tile manufacturer, especially when laying large format tiles, and make sure that you’re using it correctly.
Lastly, grouting has a big impact on the final look. Make sure that the grouting you choose either matches the tile in colour for a seamless look, or choose a dark or coloured grout for a striking contrast.
While wall tiles are a natural fit for bathrooms and kitchens, they can be used in any room in the house. You can use them to make a living room bigger, or to create a beautiful design element on the wall above your dining table.
How about a striking feature wall behind your bed, or a beautifully textured passageway? The sky’s the limit!
Top tile trend
A growing tiling trend sees the same large-format floor tiles being used on the floor and wall. This works especially well in bathrooms, and with larger tiles and fewer grout seams the tiles instantly create the illusion of space while also creating a clean and dramatic look. For the full effect, make sure that the seams from floor to wall tile run unbroken.