Fresno 10-by-13-inch wall and 16-by-16-inch floor tile offers a variety of elegant colors for any application. Fresno's diverse colors of Beige, Blanco, Ocre and Verdigris allow you to accentuate any room's decor. A chair rail and two styles of decorative wall listels round out the series. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUFEN/US CERAMIC TILE CO.)

Our image of the bath has changed dramatically in the past twenty years.
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the bath is the soul. In this small space we decompress, seek peace and comfort, transform, refresh, cleanse, pamper and indulge our spirits. Form and function of the bathroom have undergone one of the most dramatic metamorphoses experienced in interior design. The status of this space has been elevated, and images of European boudoirs, spa retreats, and Roman Baths come more quickly to mind than the single cramped family bathroom of twenty years ago.

The philosophy applied to bathroom design shifted dramatically with the addition of multiple baths in residential design. The traditional one-bathroom home of the sixties demanded a rather utilitarian approach. Good design opted for neat, clean interiors that hopefully didn't encourage long visits. In fact, with the entire family sharing the space, bathrooms were impersonal and hardly a place for anyone to capture quiet moments of solitude. Today a second bath is rarely considered a luxury, and in fact, it is becoming more common to include an "ensuite bath" for each bedroom.

Individual baths offer an opportunity to personalize the space uniquely for the user. Whether we are creating the most luxurious powder room for guests, the most charming, whimsical chamber for our children or indulging in a state of the art personal spa suite for ourselves, the bathroom is one area where creativity and extravagant attention to detail appear to have no limit.

As the number of bathrooms in the average home rose and attention to individual design increased, the ceramic tile industry answered with a plethora of new design aesthetics, textures and sizes. No category in ceramic tile manufacturing is as broad as the design of bathroom wall and floor tile. Although many of these tiles are appropriate for other areas of the home, some are specifically intended for the gentle use expected in the various types of new generation bathrooms.

Traditionally, consumers have considered all bathrooms as similar and lumped them under one umbrella regarding selection of finishes such as ceramic tile. In fact, from a functional, practical, aesthetic, and technical view point, bathrooms present three or four distinct types of rooms. Guest powder rooms, main or family baths, master suites and finally master retreats, which are quickly gaining ground and should be described as self-contained living environments rather than single purpose bathrooms.

Ceramic tile is perfectly in tune with bathroom design, and has been a quintessential element since earliest times. The diversity of tile on the market provides consumers with a virtual cornucopia of choice regardless of the room under consideration. However, it may only be in bathroom design that every tile made can find an appropriate use and function. This is an exciting proposition! It is in this one space that tile deemed inappropriate in other locations due to functional restrictions, price or saturation of color, will be the ultimate and perfect choice in one of the four bathroom types. To take advantage of the choices available requires a look at who is using the space, for what and how often.


Traffic is occasional or considered extremely light. It is also a room that is impeccably and easily maintained. The dimensions are diminutive, and therefore this room presents the best chance to include to-die-for finishes even when considering some of the most exquisite ceramic tile décor pieces and specialty trim tiles. It is possible in this small space to transport your guests to a place that anticipates their every need and where they not only feel valued, but also, truly spoiled. Practical considerations in most cases can be set aside as this is not a bathing or a dressing room. Task-oriented lights are out and dimmed flattering lighting such as candles, sconces or chandeliers are de rigueur.

This is the room to use saturated rich dark color tones that create intimacy and intrigue.

Today trim tile is available in ceramic baseboard, wainscot and crown molding.
High-gloss surfaces and intense tones such as dark sea-green, ebony and cherry which, may show scratches in more heavily trafficked rooms or be overpowering, perform effortlessly here and make the statement we're looking for. When contrast is kept to a minimum, any color or size tile can be used successfully regardless of how small the room is. Ceramic tile should cover all walls to at least wainscot height and carry onto the floor for a flawlessly pristine appearance. Trim tiles such as ceramic baseboard, chair rail and crown molding can be layered with spectacular bas-relief décor tile and other lineal trim or accents. This is an introspective space; a room that comes to life once the door is closed. Lights are seldom on, unless in use, therefore the powder room can take on a personality quite different from the rest of the home's décor. It is a room waiting to be privately admired, enjoyed and experienced. Because this one room says so much about our nurturing spirit, it is a joy to create and share.


Quite distinct from a powder room, the main bathroom is all about practicality. This bathroom could more aptly be named the children's bath. It may be designed around a growing young family, adolescent children, or serve as a full bath for a guest suite. Function and safety are high on the priority list, and once suitable tiles have been identified, budget and fashion can determine the choice.

Traffic is much higher depending on the number and age of the users. The potential for moisture and water penetration are also likely to be the highest in this bath. Consider wet towels on the floor, teenagers taking hot showers for what seems like an hour, splashing toddlers in the tub, Fido's monthly bath and overflowing toilets and sinks. The tile must also stand up to gritty dirt tracked in from outside on your son's tennis shoes, stains from chemicals when your teenage daughter streaks her hair with the latest dark burgundy highlights, spills her makeup, nail polish or can of cola or bleaches her jeans in the bathtub. The main bathroom is the children's science lab. Behavior is unpredictable and something short of careful and neat. Ceramic tile is the master of disasters and used by Europeans to cover every bathroom surface for more than just exceptional hygiene.

In this environment a quality glazed floor and wall tile are required, and are virtually indestructible if installed correctly. A glazed tile with water absorption (below 7 percent) with a variegated pattern and color to hide water spots and soiling is a perfect choice for main floor areas of the bath.

Soil-hiding patterns, textures and grout colors should be considered for a family bath.
A glazed or unglazed porcelain tile with water absorption less than 0.5 percent should be used in any area submersed in water such as shower pans. Matte or lightly textured tile will provide adequate slip resistance and will not show surface scratches. Selecting a rough or highly textured surface will increase maintenance unnecessarily, and no surface finish replaces the need for bath mats outside showers and tubs. Tile in showers, tubs and on the main walls of the bath can be virtually any quality glazed tile.

Sizes used have consistently gotten larger over the years with 12-by-12 being the most popular for floors and rectangular 8-by-10 tile for wall applications. Many programs co-ordinate wall and floor tiles, providing a seamless envelope of pattern, texture and color that visually expands the volume of the room. Selecting a monochromatic grout that matches the background of the tile and carrying this grout color onto all walls including the shower area essentially make the joints disappear, and the soft neutral colored grout is far easier to maintain than the traditional white grout often selected for wall installations. The newest fabric-inspired ceramic tile in textures such as linen, denim, jute, sisal and leather appeal to any age group but especially teenagers. Colorful accent tile, fairy tale murals, nautical ropes and border tile complement field tile of every size, shape and price range imaginable.

Simulated woven leather, sisal or jute can accent a teen's bathroom.
Any one of these can provide inspiration for the theme of a main bath that will captivate and delight even the youngest occupant.


This bathroom must traditionally meet the practical needs of two busy unique individuals while simultaneously offering the promise of comfort, relaxation, private down time and even a decompression zone capable of relieving the stresses of our hectic lifestyles. In short, a master bath should work like a charm and shine like a jewel. Although function of the tile remains a priority, the traffic in this bath is lighter than in a main bathroom, and care and maintenance are more predictable and therefore less challenging to the finishes.

More luxurious materials such as natural stone and delicate finishes such as metallics, glass and reflective glossy textures can be incorporated into the master bath, and help to transform it from function into fantasy.

Textured white wall tile is easier to maintain than a solid glossy white tile.
Although natural stone has been a material of choice in very high end design, the benefits of quality, large-format rectified tile is rapidly being embraced by consumers and design professionals alike. The ceramic tile rendition utilizing random screen technology is virtually indistinguishable from its natural stone counterpart.

The rectifying process ensures the precise dimensions and flatness of each tile and allows the ceramic to be set with a tight marble joint. Once installed, this hard-working glazed tile provides protection from moisture, water and staining agents that an absorptive natural stone cannot achieve. Rectified tile is available in a variety of sizes and price ranges but the ultimate achievement of this labor-intensive technology is found in the tile depicting rare, exotic and depleted antique stones. Master ensuites radiate when clad in tiles inspired from lumachella, an iridescent stone containing opal like fossils, or pavonazzetto, with its rich royal purple markings buried deep in veins of pure white marble.

Delicate finishes such as metallics can transform a master bath from function to fantasy.
Although these ceramic tile designs are likely to be in the highest price range and largest size formats, they have made the marbles of emperors as affordable as common reasonably priced marbles.


The final style of bathroom has made its debut across America in multi-million dollar homes. This is a totally private domain where bare and slippered-feet traffic only are likely to tread. There is no tile finish, texture or extravagance that is excluded from consideration. The homeowners' suite of rooms is virtually a self-contained home within a home. The ultimate master retreat may include; exercise room, steam shower, sauna, massage area, and reading alcove complete with a mini kitchen outfitted with wine cooler, cappuccino machine, and a small microwave. These specialty areas spill off from a master bath that features a fireplace, hydro-massage multi-head showers and luxury whirlpool tub equipped with stereo, television and programmable water temperature.

Rectified tile takes its inspiration from irreplaceable antique stones and exotic hardwoods.
Some of these concepts have already percolated down and are being incorporated, albeit on a smaller scale, in mainstream design. Whether the bath is palatial or more down to earth in scale, the technical properties and low water absorption of quality porcelain tile will play a significant role in the construction of self-contained steam and hydro-massage showers. Stainless steel and other metallic accents will gradually be as common in the bath as they now are in the kitchen in order to balance the larger showerhead bars and towers. Intricate ceramic carpettas and insets are finding their place on the floors of cedar-lined dressing rooms.

Metallic accents serve to balance hydo-massage shower bars and towers.
Hand-carved and painted ceramic murals are now viewed as pieces of fine art that tell a story or create a focal point behind a boudoir-serving sink or bar area. A minimalist approach to design and material selection capture the desired Zen-like calm and have made both large format and modular tile programs appealing. Clear translucent tones of blue and green cut glass mosaic tile often accent one-foot by three-foot ceramic tile slabs and reference the cleansing waters of the Bath. Carving out a space dedicated to our well being is not self-indulgent; it is a healthy antidote to the pressures of modern life.

Texture and drama are enhanced when multiple sizes of the same tile are incorporated into a minimalistic design scheme.
Our bathrooms help us create the reality or the illusion that we will take the necessary time to rejuvenate our spirits.

We are spending more disposable income on all of our bathrooms regardless of their size because of the value they add to our lives. In our baths, we cleanse our soul as well as our body. It is a restorative place to rinse away the struggles of the day or the sleep of the night. It is the room where we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.

Separation and Direction are skillfully created using tile patterns. Rivertown Crossings, Grandville, Michigan Client: General Growth Properties Inc. Architect: KA Architecture -Ceramica Casalgrande Padana tile supplied by Tile by Design, Plymouth, Minnesota, and installed by Heuler Tile Co., Waukesha, Wis.
Correction:Winter 2004 Issue, Trends in Commercial Design, page 24