Tiled In

Porcelain tile adds variety and versatility in every room.


Today’s tiles come in many types, including ceramic, glass, natural stone, and concrete—something suitable for every room in the house.

Photos by Ramona d'Viola

Along with the Great Pyramids and the splendors of King Tutankhamen, we can thank the Egyptians for introducing ceramic tile to the world in 4,000 B.C. Fast-forward a few millennia, and the trend in tiles is still going strong. From ceramic, glass, and natural stone to concrete, if you’re looking to add texture, color, dimension, or drama, there’s no shortage of tile types to choose from.

“The biggest trend in ceramic tiles are porcelains,” said Audrey Kral of Berkeley’s Import Tile. “Especially eco-friendly and sustainably manufactured varieties. There’s a growing emphasis on building with ecologically sound materials and practices for healthy interior environments. We’re also seeing a lot of architects using porcelain tiles on the exteriors of buildings.”

The term ceramic and porcelain are often used interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the difference—and why it matters.

Ceramic tiles are produced from natural or recycled clay, then fired to remove most of the moisture. Porcelain tile is made from denser, “purer” clay with a low-water absorption rate and fired longer to remove all moisture. The resulting porcelain tile is harder and denser than ceramic tile; however, both types can be used in a variety of applications, each with their own caveats.

Ceramic tile should only be used indoors—its increased porosity and susceptibility to staining, as well as cracking in freezing temperatures, make it a poor choice for exterior use. However, if you’re a DIYer looking for ease of installation and lower cost, ceramic tile is much less difficult to cut than its harder, costlier porcelain counterpart.

Porcelain tile, especially when produced in ecologically sound, closed-loop facilities, is more expensive than ceramic, but the cost is made up in durability and a healthier interior environment. Kiln-fired porcelains emit no volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and are perfectly suited for indoor, outdoor, and high-traffic areas. While porcelain’s density makes it more stain-resistant and durable, it also makes it difficult to work with, especially when making numerous, complex cuts. Porcelain is not recommended for novice do-it-yourselfers.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, exotic hardwoods should be grateful. Porcelain tiles made to mimic tropical wood flooring (or their domestic counterparts) are undoubtedly saving forests across the planet.

Porcelain tile has moved beyond the bathroom and backsplash to inventive applications throughout the home. The perfect substitute for its arboreal cousin, wood-look tiles combined with matching cabinet or furniture panels (especially in the kitchen and bath) make for a nature-inspired interior-scape. Or enliven your home with highly decorative tiles that command attention with texture, color, and pattern.

“Architects and interior designers, as well as homeowners, are increasingly specifying these types of materials for their projects,” said Kral. “The variety of applications for modern tile products is astounding.”



Import Tile, 611 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, ImportTile.com