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The One Room Challenge Week 5: the art of mixing tile + slow steady progress

Coming in hot with Week 5 of the ORC and things are starting to come together. Here’s where we’ve been so far

We are still hanging out in the Boring Middle Part of the renovation, but good things are happening behind the walls and in the ceiling, and sheetrock is going up. Next week we should start seeing things coming together. Fingers crossed that tiling will be happening. More on tile in a minute...

Toilet room and shower are all framed out.

Pocket door to the closet is framed.

Rough in plumbing and electrical complete.

Here's a little video tour of the space:

The Art of Mixing Tile

Every once in a blue moon we get a client who says “I like what I like so spend what you want.” In 16 years it’s happened…once. And it was magical. But for the rest of us, we can’t always afford to have our cake and eat it too, which is where mixing high-end and low-cost tiles becomes REALLY important. Done right you can make a space look much more expensive than it actually is. Here’s a few examples of some of our favorite projects where we employed this trick, and then I’ll tell you how to do it.

Here we had a lot of square footage to cover on the walls, so we opted for an affordable Bedrosians tile and nicer marble on the floor. In the shampoo niche we had a much smaller area, so did a fancier hand-glazed tile from Fireclay. This paid off big time – this is one of the 10 most popular baths on Houzz in 2021, so it’s doing something right!

Why it works: the wall tile has a handmade look with lots of color variation, which tricks you into thinking it is glazed by hand like the more expensive Fireclay. But it is definitely not expensive.

The Fireclay shampoo niche is so nice we used it twice but in a different color and size. For the walls, we used a mega-affordable 2x8 elongated subway tile. Then we splurged a teensy bit on the shower floor with a black travertine hexagon to get a tile that feels amazing underfoot, then back again to affordable porcelain for the main floor.

Why it works – this wall tile is very simple and doesn’t have the handmade look, BUT we did a fascinating pattern by running some tiles in a subway pattern and others in a vertical line (called a soldier course) above and below the shampoo niche. It looks super custom, and it’s an unexpected detail.

Here we went even FANCIER with a hand-painted wall tile from fire clay (are you sensing the theme here?!) used as a border. These tiles are sold by the piece, so we were very intentional with how we used them. Then we used affordable subway tile above and below the border in 2 different colors and trimmed the border out with a cornice style trim.

Why it works – The hand-painted tile is clearly the star, and we draw LOTS of attention to it by framing it in trim and by changing the color above and below. The use of 2 colors is unexpected and makes the bathroom feel unique.

This bathroom is a bit different from the others because it’s HUGE. This project had a bit heftier budget, but we still needed to spend wisely. We used a crazy-affordable large format floor tile and then went all out on the walls. The shower walls are marble, and then instead of artwork, we went BIG with a huge sculpted natural stone behind the tub.

Why it works – we went with a focal point and let it be the star, and put the bulk of our budget there. With that amazing sculpted stone wall we didn’t need a floor or shower competing with it, so letting the floor be simple (and affordable) didn’t detract from the main event. That tile could have been 4x as expensive, but you still wouldn’t have noticed it.

BONUS TIP: In this bathroom All the tile is affordable. What makes it look more expensive than it is – volume. We used a basic square white ceramic tile and plastered it everywhere. It’s in the shower, on the shower seat, on the wall behind the tub, and the wall behind the vanity. The offset pattern is a bit unexpected, but it’s the sheer volume of tile that makes this bathroom look higher-end.


Here you go – our top tips for mixing high and low-end tile for an expensive, designer look:

Choose a focal tile. That might be a shampoo niche, a floor tile, or a wall tile. Let all eyes point to that and let everything else be less showy. Find your best actress, and then layer in your best-supporting actress and the extras.

  1. Lay Tile in an Interesting Pattern -- Whether it’s a solider course on a wall tile, or herringbone, or a basket weave, or a simple offset square, take your inexpensive tile and put it in an interesting pattern.

  2. Go for Volume -- Take your inexpensive tile and cover more walls with it. Wrapping a room in tile always feels luxurious.

  3. Use Color - Color blocking on a wall or floor creates visual interest, which can make a space feel unique and high-end.

  4. Trim Pieces - Adding a pencil trim or cornice trim is a great way to add a luxury look. Those pieces are expensive, though, so use them intentionally. Frame out a shampoo box or top a row of wall tiles.

Beware though - not all affordable tiles are created equal. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Ceramic vs. Porcelain - Steer clear of large format ceramic tiles. They are thinner and more prone to cracking and breaking. In a mosaic or subway size it’s fine, but if you want a larger tile, choose porcelain. It’s more durable over the long haul.

  • Rectified Tile - This is a fancy word that means “we’ve checked that all of our tiles are actually the size that we say they are.” In that Volume tile example above, we had originally planned to use a slightly different wall tile, but when we went to install it we realized that not all the tiles were the same size. We cut our losses, returned the uncut tile, and went for the rectified squares you see instead. If a tile is on clearance (like ours was), that might be an indication, so look closely.

  • Variation - If you’re buying discount tile, especially natural stone, the reason that marble might be half the cost of what it is everywhere else – HUGE color variation. The display tile they have set out might be white marble, but you might get a mix of some crazy colors inside each box. Open the boxes if you can and see what you’re working with before you buy. Or plan to buy overage to pick out the bad pieces, but make sure unused tiles are returnable first.

  • Where You Purchase From - If you’re buying at a builder’s surplus store, again, there’s usually a reason that tile ended up here in the first place. Check it closely for size, color, and quality.

So which of these strategies are we using in our ORC bathroom? ALL OF THEM OF COURSE!

Our splurge tile is a marble floor (tip 1). We’re laying it in herringbone for visual interest (tip 2). We are going for volume with our affordable wall tile in the shower and behind the tub (tip 3). Not only that, but we’re using color blocking in our shampoo niche (tip 4). And we’re using a trim piece to cap off our wall tile (tip 5). Jab, jab, jab, jab, punch!

Here’s our weekly check-in on our ORC renovation:

Done / In The Works:

  • Demo

  • Plumbing

  • Electrical Rough

  • Framing

  • Build-back with drywall and cement board (halfway done)

To Do:

  • Install tile

  • Install vanity, finishes, and fixtures

  • Trim out windows, baseboards, install new doors, and order window treatments

  • Art and finishing touches

See you next week when we’ll share more progress and share some tips on how to mix metals for a layered look!

1 Comment

Dec 06, 2021

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