Tile ideas for small bathrooms

Updated February 21, 2017

Small bathrooms can seem crowded and busy if decorated with undersea murals, patterned wallpaper or paint-and-bead board decor. Tile is a decorating choice that can make a small space seem larger and has the advantage of being easy to clean. The type of tile used can turn an undersized bathroom into one of the most interesting and well-designed rooms in the house.

Subway Tile

Subway tile is both a look and a type of tile. The (usually) white ceramic squares were first placed in subway stations in New York City in 1904 and can be found in many high-style bathrooms. Subway tile can be used on the floor and the wall. One popular design choice uses tiles on the bottom half of walls and glossy paint to the ceiling, with tiles all the way to the ceiling in the shower stall. Another incorporates a border of slimmer, coloured ceramic tiles midway up a wall covered in subway tile. Some bathrooms mimic a real subway stop with tiles that spell out Times Square or Canal Street inserted into the design.

Penny Tile

Penny tile is sold in sheets of very small symmetrical tiles, frequently round in shape but sometimes hexagonal or square. The fibreglass-backed sheets can easily be cut to any shape and are quick to install. There is enough space between the tiles for grout so you get uncomplicated application but impressive symmetry in a variety of colours and finishes. Penny tile in white is a classic look but there are metallic and cork versions and a wide choice of colours. There are solid colour sheets and patterns such as chess board, graduated rainbow hues or basket weave designs. Metal penny tiles in stainless steel, copper, zinc, aluminium or silver alloy are fairly pricey but sleek and stunning in a modern bathroom. Cork, a bit more expensive than ceramic penny tile, has a warmer look and is sealed to enhance its natural water- resistance. Covering ceiling, walls and floor in the tile is one way to expand the look of the room.

Glass Tile

Glass tile has a pedigree as highly prized mosaic. Byzantine glass mosaic tile was made in large moulds in which molten glass, mixed with metal oxides to form various colours, was cooled and broken into pieces. The pieces might be garnished with gold leaf and used in churches and nobles' houses. Modern glass tile is more proletarian but still light-reflective, waterproof and beautiful. It is less flexible than ceramic tile and, in buildings that tend to settle, is more prone to cracks and breakage. But it is a green product---all colours and kinds of glass tile are now made from recycled glass. One very original bathroom treatment is to use custom-printed glass tile murals---a photograph or photo-like picture is heat-applied to the back coating of the tile, creating a high-resolution design or image. Be cautious about adding this level of detail if you are attempting to visually compensate for a small space.

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About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .