Twenty-five years ago, the most fashionable kitchen
on the block was awash in glaring white ceramic tile cut into standard 8 x 8-inch
squares and wrapped around avocado or harvest gold appliances. Although some things
never change-the popularity of ceramic tile in the kitchen and bath, for instance-others,
Tile color doesn’t stop at white and beige anymore,
but extends across a rainbow spectrum offering every hue imaginable. Tile sizes
have grown, too.
“It went from 8 x 8 to 12 x 12 then 13 x 13 and
24 x 24 inches and larger,” says Ralph Stanton of Stanton Tile, a custom
tile designer and installer from Louisville.
Tile has also gone natural. Ceramic has been joined
in popularity by tiles in natural stones like granite and limestone. It is patterned
and hand-painted, sliced into decorative panels, and slivered into pieces to create
“There is no limit to what you can do,” says
Stanton. “If you can think of it, it can more than likely be done.”
Popular Ceramic Tile
Within the tile category, you can choose from
ceramic, glass, porcelain, and natural stones like slate, granite, limestone,
Ceramic tile, probably the best known of the bunch,
is possessed of the kinds of characteristics that shine in the kitchen: it is
strong, hard, fire-resistant, and, perhaps most beloved among proponents, a
snap to clean. Sporting the look and feel of natural stone, ceramic tile comes
as glazed or unglazed, or you can have it hand-painted.
“Over the years and centuries even, ceramic
tile has been a very comfortable, enjoyable, decorative, and classic look for
backsplashes, countertops, floors, and walls,” says Rich Maile of Maile
Remodeling and Design in Crescent Springs. “From a purely decorative standpoint,
it is a consistently popular choice for borders in the kitchen and bath.”
Ceramic tile’s only drawback in terms of aesthetics
is a propensity for grout discoloration due to grime accumulation, but even
this condition has improved dramatically over time.
“Grout gets dirty,” admits Maile. “Lighter-colored
grouts will darken a bit, but you shouldn’t see the type of darkening and discoloration
of years ago when a sealer wasn’t applied or was applied very sparingly. Sealers
are also better these days.”
One solution to the grimy grout syndrome is to select
a darker grout color. Another is to apply two coats of sealer. Of course, the
way grout is mixed is important and should be done by a professional. Ceramic
tilers can also limit the amount of grouting grooves by installing the largest
size tile possible.
Maile sums it up: “Grout is like anything else.
If you look real close at your carpeting and walls, they are not the same shade
as they were the day you carpeted or painted. I guarantee that your brick is
not the same color. Traffic, dust, dirt, moisture-these are all factors in a
process that leads to discoloration.”
The advantages of ceramic tile far outweigh issues
of mottled grout. It resists heat, moisture, and staining, making it an excellent
all-around choice for both kitchen and bath. Also, there are literally hundreds
of options in tile sizes, glazes, textures, and designs for endless design possibilities.
Stone and kitchen countertops are a magnetic
match made in nature. Beautiful, elegant, natural-these are a few of the endearing
attributes of slate, granite, limestone, and marble. Although imperfections
are inevitable (these are products of Mother Nature after all), when sleekly
spread over a countertop or across a backsplash, each of these natural stones
creates a visually stunning, richly textured presence.
A bonus that comes with granite is it is virtually
indestructible. It won’t crack or chip under normal circumstances. And you can
literally remove a hot pot from the oven and place it directly on a granite
countertop without fear of damage. With a distinctive surface quality that looks
both stippled and sleek, terminally tough granite comes in an array of color
families: black, brown, gray, green, gold, and white.
Slate features a finely grained, smooth surface in
all hues of blue, gray, and purple. Rustic limestone is an ideal selection for
a country- or European-influenced kitchen. Its main drawback is that while limestone
is stain-resistant, it is not stain-proof and relies on products like Porous
Plus to keep its pristine sheen.
Although a classic choice for bathroom vanities,
marble on its own is not generally recommended for kitchen countertops because
of its predisposition to spotting or staining. However, when combined with another
material, marble makes a stunning statement in a variety of kitchen applications.
New Trend Tumbles Into Kitchen
Tumbled marble is a renegade material that defies
easy categorization. It is at once roughly surfaced and smoothly textured-a
porous material with a hard facade.
Jim Stegman of Stegman Kitchen Showcase in Newport
explains the process that gives tumbled marble its contradictory characteristics:
“Marble, and in some cases limestone, is put into a tumbler or drum and
rolled around with different aggregates to make the tile look old and worn-out.”
Stegman says tumbled marble is a particularly popular
choice to express, among other design schemes, a southwestern flavor in the
Adds Ralph Stanton: “Tumbled marble is softer
than granite and gives kitchen counters an antique, Old World look. On backsplashes
with undercounter lighting it presents a nice texture.” The tile designer
includes this industrious stone among his favorites for its inherent beauty
Stegman and his wife, kitchen designer Cheryl Stegman,
were so taken with the qualities of tumbled marble that they installed the stone
in the kitchen of their new home. It was one way for Cheryl to achieve an “older
home” integrity in keeping with the mature homes in her established neighborhood.
“We didn’t want the house to look brand-new,
even though we just built it,” says Cheryl. “This tile really helps
toward creating a seasoned appearance.”
Other Tile Trends
As consistently fashionable as ceramic tile is,
sturdy and steadfast granite is tipping the scales in its favor these days-especially
when it comes to kitchen countertops. That’s because the price of granite has
dropped, making the material more affordable to more people.
The reason for the price decrease, according to Stanton,
is buried in the mountains of Eastern Europe.
“Since the Cold War ended, these communist countries
have opened their markets and we’re finding all kinds of new stones and quarrying
them out.” Stanton says that the minerals in each country’s mountains are
unique because of the differing levels of heat and pressure.
“This has meant a real increase in the selection
Generally, ceramic tile is fancied for floors, walls,
and backsplashes in the kitchen, and for floors, walls, and tub skirting in
the bathroom. Granite is a top choice for countertops in the kitchen; marble
is reserved for the same in the bathroom. For focal points, backsplashes shine
in tile and tumbled marble.
“With the backsplash, you see something that
is interesting and textured and colorful amidst all the flat surfaces in the
kitchen,” says Stanton. “Tiling just that little spot can enhance
just about any home, especially an older one.”
“Tile backsplashes are probably the thing that’s
had a rebirth in kitchen design and remodeling,” notes Jim Stegman. “It’s
an area that is pretty and easy to clean and it creates a complementary backdrop
for other components, like cabinets and counters, in the kitchen.”
These days, designers are adding a stylish flourish
to plain-Jane tile patterns in kitchen and bath with mosaic and medallion embellishments.
Panels with raised scenes are inlaid in ceramic tile schemes to add textural
interest in the bathroom.
Mirrors trimmed with a tile mosaic border, one of
the premier designer trends in bathrooms, create dramatic contrast. “That’s
one of Cheryl’s tricks when she’s designing a bathroom,” notes Jim.
Stegman says that one of the hottest looks in kitchen
design right now is tumbled tile coupled with distressed furniture-look cabinetry.
“A new kitchen will have to look old in order
to look new,” he laughs.
Artist Draws on Horsey Background
From painting horse jumps to painting equine
images on tile, artist and equestrian Olympics judge Robin Voorhees Harrison
has followed a happy trail.
Growing up on a 155-acre farm in northern Kentucky,
the avid horse lover took riding lessons as a child and young adult so she could
compete at the Kentucky Horse Park. That led to a 14-year stint as a fence judge,
for which she also painted the horse jumps. The Ft. Wright resident was a jump
judge for the equestrian venue for the three-day competition at the 1996 Olympics
in Atlanta; she also spent a month last year in Sydney, Australia, judging the
equestrian events at the 2000 Olympics.
“All my life, I’ve loved painting and I’ve loved
horses,” she says.
Voorhees Harrison studied art in high school and
college and took classes in New York and Florida to learn how to use different
materials and finishes in her work. About five years ago, she began painting
images other than equestrian-inspired designs on a variety of surfaces. Ceramic
tiles, walls-even shoes-provided ready backdrops for Voorhees Harrison’s seashells,
sea horses, butterflies, fairies, storybook characters, and herbs.
“I’d gone to a home show several years ago.
I saw some ideas, met a few designers, and it’s been busy ever since,”
Recently she painted some sample tiles for a man
who disliked the color of the tile in his bathroom.
“The bathroom tiles are green and white and
don’t go with the home’s decor so, rather than having the tiles taken out and
replaced, we’re going to paint them.”
The job involves cleaning and priming the old tiles
in preparation of Voorhees Harrison’s faux treatment. Applying sealer is the
final step in the redesign process.
“I’m painting the tiles to look like slate,”
she says. “But the options are really kind of endless. You can have any
design you can think of on just about any surface.”
Tile’s Popping Up Everywhere
Ceramic and natural stone tile isn’t limited
to kitchen and bath. Custom-made hearths, steppingstones, framed ceramic tile
art-the timeless beauty and elegance of tile make it an ideal choice in many
Kitchen designer Cheryl Stegman of Stegman Kitchen
Showcase in Newport designed her hearth using ceramic tile. Stegman selected
tile in muted shades of gray, green, purple, and rose, and offset the small,
uniform squares in her fireplace surround with a border of textured tiles set
in a diamond pattern.
Rich Maile of Maile Remodeling and Design in Crescent
Springs says that tile setters routinely tile the stairwell going into the basement.
It is an easy-to-clean and attractive alternative to painted drywall. Recently,
Maile has noticed ceramic tile popping up in shower additions in laundry and
“In the last year, we’ve built five ceramic
tile showers for the family pet. The showers are small-about 3 feet by 3 feet-and
are equipped with a hand spray. We put in an eyelet so the dog’s leash can be
clipped to the wall.”
While pet showers can range from simple to elaborate,
they are all functional. Besides cleaning pets, the showers can be used to spray
off muddy boots and other items while keeping the mess contained.
Ralph Stanton of Stanton Tile, a custom tile designer
and installer from Louisville, has noticed more and more homeowners using natural
stone outdoors: around swimming pools, on patios, or along and between landscaped
Lately, Stanton has been working with metal tile
and a new technology called water-jet cutting that slices tile or marble pieces
out in a precise design. He continues to explore the myriad design possibilities
in tile medallions and mosaics.
“Decorative tile creates interest,” he
says. “It gives a piece of tile a little more character.”
If you’re interested in contacting any of the
designers and craftspeople listed in this feature, you can contact them at:
Rich Maile Remodeling
519 Enterprise Drive, Suite 102
Crescent Springs, KY 41017
Stegman Kitchen Showcase
517 Monmouth Street
Newport, KY 41071
Robin Voorhees Harrison
8815 Dawson Hill Road
Louisville, KY 40229