So you’ve decided to use period style tiles, but the options are bewilderingly many. Where do you begin? How do you avoid making costly mistakes, and what are those mistakes that you need to avoid?
We’ve put together a comprehensive checklist of the twelve most common mistakes people experience when using period tiles in their renovation. Read the article below to discover how to save yourself time, money, and heartache.
Choosing floor tiles that don’t suit the era & style of your house.
Understanding what patterns and colours are appropriate to the style of your house is fundamental - it's like choosing the right tyres for your car.
If you have a modest Californian Bungalow in Sydney and you select a pattern and colours more suited to a Boom Style mansion in Melbourne the results are bound to:
- Look like they don’t belong
- Be more costly than necessary
- Negatively impact your property’s value
Choose designs that are period and style appropriate. Start by looking at your neighbours’ homes. It will reveal what homes of a similar style originally had on their paths & verandahs. However, selecting the right bathroom tiles will require a Google search if you want to get an accurate idea of what styles are appropriate.
Choosing floor tiles that don’t suit the shape and size of the space.
Traditional houses can have complex or unusual shaped floor areas to be tiled. Victorian Italianate houses often feature a bay window which projects into the verandah creating awkward diagonals. Federation & Victorian Gothic houses often have curved front paths, therefore it’s important to choose a pattern that will work with the shape.
Some tessellated patterns have a large repeat, so getting them to fit neatly within these awkward spaces is challenging. It can lead to messy cutting of the individual tessellated components resulting in a severely mutilated pattern that looks awkward and uninviting. It will also be more expensive to lay due to the difficulties involved.
Patterns with a small scale repeat, such as an octagon & dot or similar, are more appropriate choices, especially for curved paths. Another option, particularly for Federation homes or Inter-war apartment blocks, is to use mosaics, which are appropriate for the bathroom floor also.
Choosing wall tiles that don’t suit the era/style of your house.
Unlike tessellated and mosaic floor tiles, decorative wall tiles are quite era/style specific, because of their pictorial and representational nature, e.g. the style of a William Morris tile is very different to an Art Nouveau or Art Deco tile.
Decorative details are an essential part of the character of the house or apartment. Getting the details wrong creates visual tension and a sense of unease. Homes that have their original details or had them reinstated are easier to sell and command a higher price at auction. Commonsense and a balanced approach are essential when renovating a period bathroom, e.g. period style tiles and tapware combined with modern sanitaryware and electricals.
Choosing wall tiles that don’t suit the space.
Today there is a wide variety of shapes and sizes of wall tiles for the bathroom, kitchen, etc, from traditional subway tiles (150x75mm) and myriad variations on that theme, to traditional square tiles (150x150mm and 100x100mm) and numerous square options.
The belief that small tiles make a space look small, and big tiles make it look bigger, is a misconception. The colour of your walls determines whether a room looks big or small, not the size of the tiles. Dark and warm colours come toward you, cool and pastel colours recede, so if you have a small bathroom avoid hot, dark colours for the walls.
Also, if you have a small bathroom large format tiles may work against you, as it will involve numerous cuts resulting in greater wastage, and an imbalanced look to the room. Cutting large wall tiles because of doors, windows, shower recesses, niches, etc, defeats the purpose of choosing large tiles in the first place. Large wall tiles require perfectly flat, rendered walls to yield a satisfactory result; if the walls are not perfect the large wall tiles will make the imperfection more noticable. Nor should large rectangular wall tiles be laid in a brick bond - traditional method for period bathrooms, as the tiles often have a very slight banana-like bowing to them which creates a conspicuous basket-weave effect when laid in a brick bond.
One of the main reasons people choose large wall tiles is the issue of mouldy grout. To avoid this problem people will often employ charcoal grout for their subway tiles. This strategy is better suited to a kitchen splashback where the wall area is limited, but in a bathroom the result is that the walls have a visually ‘busy’, ‘spider-webby’ appearance. The technical properties of grout have come along way since the 1970s & ‘80s. There are also ingredients that can be added to grouts to reduce their absorbency and inhibit mould, plus sealers that completely prevent absorption.
Choosing tiles with a modern or personal style that is unsympathetic.
What is the most effective way to introduce your own personal style when renovating a period home, a way that honours the style of the building and at the same time expresses your taste? The challenge is to be true to yourself without seriously compromising the period quality of the house, which was the reason you were attracted to it in the first place.
Introducing personal, but unsympathetic elements into the renovation may impact the value of the house. One only has to consider the renovations of the 1950s - ‘70s to see where ill-considered personal choices can lead: replacing timber sash windows with aluminium framed sliding windows, the sacrifice of cast iron lacework on 1st floor balconies which were enclosed with ‘fibro’ cement sheeting, and the removal of tessellated paths to be replaced with the ‘modern’ quarry tiles, or pink ceramic mosaics.
If installing a tessellated floor for example, will you use a traditional colour palette, or the black/white/ grey palette popular now, or one of the currently fashionable flooring materials - glazed porcelain ‘faux encaustics’ or travertine?
Bathrooms are expensive to renovate, and bathroom design fashions change every few years. Not so long ago 300x600mm rectified gloss white wall tiles were all the rage; now they are associated with public toilets and have become far less fashionable with home renovators. So one has to ask, “What is the current fashion in bathroom wall tiles that will be unfashionable in a couple of years, and how do I avoid choosing badly?”
There is no easy answer, but you can reduce the likelihood of making a costly mistake by observing a few simple guidelines, starting with the KISS principle - “Keep It Simple”.
Choose one ‘wow factor’ item, e.g. the vanity or the floor, and have all the other elements enhance it rather than compete with it. Also, keep it classic. This doesn’t mean choosing ‘Victorian’ necessarily, rather something with a proven track record, such as the octagon & dot or checkerboard pattern. Classics are classics because of their enduring appeal. And remember, the more ‘in fashion’ you are today the more ‘out of fashion’ you will be tomorrow.
Choosing poor quality tiles.
This should be obvious and need no explanation, however:
Customers can be mislead as to the true nature of the product in questionCustomers may believe that because two tiles look the same they are the same, and will perform the same. When architects specify a tile for a project they do so based on its technical properties - impact resistance, scratch & slip resistance, porosity, etc. Aesthetic considerations count for something, but the architect wants to know that the tile is completely fit for purpose, not just pretty - and so should you. Ask for the manufacturer’s technical specifications …. and don’t hesitate to ask questions about the data.
Customers fail to appreciate the importance of quality tiles, especially on the floorWhen choosing floor tiles it is necessary that you choose the best quality you can afford. With tessellated floors, the price per metre is largely determined by the complexity of the pattern, so it is possible to select a simple pattern to fit within your budget and know that you are still getting a quality product.
Floor tiles need to be of the highest quality due to the daily wear and tear they’re subjected to - scratching, impact, spills and staining, etc. In the case of wall tiles quality is measured by factors such as flatness, quality of the glaze and absence of pin holes, consistency of the glaze colour and consistency of the modular size - which will affect the spacing and grout width between the tiles.
Customers make a decision based on false criteria regarding qualityChoosing an inferior quality tile because it is cheaper is a false economy. When a painted wall is damaged repainting is relatively easy to do and relatively inexpensive, but when tiles fail to perform it’s an expensive exercise to fix the problem. Removing the floor tiles in a bathroom results in damage to the waterproof membrane - more problems, more expense. Ultimately the cheaper tiles have cost you more.
Customers make decisions based on a false economyThe cost of laying poor quality tiles and laying better quality tiles is the same. The cost of adhesives, grout, etc will be the same. Considering that quality porcelain tiles, laid well, will last for decades, if you amortize the additional cost of quality tiles over the life of the tiles, the extra cost is negligible and may even be cheaper.
Getting the border wrong.
Borders have an important visual and practical function. If you choose not to use one it is recommended you frame the tessellated area in some manner. By not doing so you risk undermining the impact of the tessellated floor, and creating problems for the tiler, which will result in a compromised finished product. The walls of a period house are rarely dead straight, consequently, without some containing element the tiler will be obliged to cut all the small components on an angle, and you will probably finish part way through a pattern, giving the floor an imbalanced look.
The simplest, most effective way to frame your floor without using a patterned border is to run a single or double strip of tiles around the central pattern, then finish with a ‘filler’ tile which sits between the strip(s) and the wall. The filler tile can then be cut to disguise any irregularities in the wall.
Leaving your order to the last minute.
You have chosen something personal and unique. Your floor is customized and will take 2-3 weeks to be fabricated to your specifications. If you are using a decorative border, which is glazed to order, the same time frame applies.
By leaving your purchase until the last minute, you may have to choose something you don’t love but is available immediately. Always check with your sales assistant to confirm availability and production lead times.
Ordering insufficient tiles.
Ordering insufficient tiles is always a problem, but when it comes to tessellated or mosaic floors, or hand glazed decorative borders, that problem becomes magnified. Sometimes customers will be overly precise with their quantities, however, the cost of having a tiler waiting for hours while you try to purchase more tiles, hoping they are still in stock & in the same shade, outweighs the cost of ordering extra tiles in the first instance. And if the tiles need to be produced to order, involving a lead time, well…
Apart from the issue of running out during the installation, there is a common refrain, “I bought these tiles a few years ago. I just need three more. Do you still have them?” Invariably the answer is, “No”. Even in the case of Olde English Tiles porcelain tiles, which have been produced in the same colours since the late 19th century, the tile may be currently out of stock, or a different batch/shade.
The solution - always allow a minimum 10% wastage. If you have some tiles left over, keep them in your garage. It is the cheapest insurance policy you will ever get.
Tessellated floors are a premium product, and the cost is a reflection of the work that goes into their creation. They are difficult to lay, and require skilled, experienced tilers to lay them. The rule of thumb when budgeting for the supply and installation of a tessellated floor is that the cost of laying is approximately the same as the cost of the tiles. Obviously there are other factors that contribute to the installation cost, but it is important to understand that laying a tessellated floor is not the same as laying a 300x300mm porcelain tile.
Choosing tessellated/mosaic tilers that are not experts.
Always ensure that your tiler is a tessellated tile expert. If you're not sure, ask for references and check their work, or engage a firm that specializes in tessellated tiling, such as Olde English Tiles. Here are the key points to consider to avoid engaging the wrong tiler. If your tiler is not planning to do these three basic things then, no matter how beautiful the pattern and colours, your tessellated floor will be seriously compromised.
An installation checklist.
- Setting out the floor: Tessellated floors should always be set out from the middle of the area being tiled, and move towards the perimeter. If your tiler does not start by setting out the floor in this way it is inevitable that there will be problems.
- Correct adhesive: Tessellated floors should always be laid on a sand & cement bed, not using synthetic adhesives.
- Use of spacers: Tessellated floors should never be laid using plastic spacers. These force the tiles apart resulting in conspicuous and ugly grout lines which destroy the integrity of the pattern. Look at original 19th century tessellated floors; the tiles are 'almost' butt jointed, which results in a seamless and continuous flow of the pattern.
Dealing with builders.
People often encounter problems with their installation if the builder insists that you must use his tiler. If you are planning to include a tessellated floor in your renovation, mention it at the beginning of negotiations, at the quotation stage, rather than leave it till later. It is also advisable that you order the tiles with a healthy lead time.
Renovating a period building is fraught with unique problems. One needs to find a practical balance between the aesthetics of the 19th & 21st centuries by preserving those elements that work, and editing out or reimagining those things that don’t. If you understand what the rules are, you will know how to bend or break them to achieve the best results, and how to avoid costly mistakes.
Let us share our decades of experience and knowledge with you to help you avoid the mistakes and achieve the very best result.