Bathroom Tile Ideas: How to Choose the Right Tile for Your Space

Successful bathroom design is about creating harmony between form and function. While the ultimate goal is to design a beautiful space, it’s equally important to plan with an eye toward practicality. After all, your bathroom must withstand the likes of shower steam, water splashes — and everyday wear. Among our favorite bathroom tile ideas are stylish yet pragmatic choices for bathroom floors mixed with special and more delicate selections for shower walls.

In this article, Senior Interior Designer Tricia Fortin reveals the essential role that bathroom tile selection plays in creating a space that is both visually stunning and sensibly designed.

Types of Tile

Types of bathroom tile
Primary bathroom from Acampora Interiors’ Nantucket Seaside Home. Photo by Nat Rea.
Guest bathroom from Acampora Interiors’ Brookline Historic Refresh project. Photo by Kindra Clineff.

When it comes to selecting the appropriate types of tile for your space, Fortin recommends you begin your search with functionality in mind. In a formal powder room, for example, you may opt for a more ornate option such as marble. A child’s bathroom, on the other hand, necessitates more pragmatic choices. “In a kids’ bathroom design, you need something that’s more durable. You’re probably not going to put a stone; you’re going to go with something that can be the workhorse,” she says. 

Once you’ve weighed practical matters, you can begin to delve into the visual feast of options represented in both manmade and natural stone bathroom tile options.

Manmade Bathroom Tile

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain is one of the most common bathroom tile materials, well-loved for its durability and versatility. It comes in myriad shapes, colors, and styles, and because it does not easily scratch, flake, or etch it is a wonderful option for any bathroom.

Glass Tile 

Glass tiles are beautiful and often feature ornate shapes and a rainbow of colors. These tiles perform best on a bathroom wall or shower niche. One place you won’t often find glass tile is the bathroom floor. “We don’t recommend glass tile on the floor–it’s slippery, and it scratches easily,” Fortin says.

Mosaic Tile  

Moroccan-style mosaic ceramic tiles can add color, personality, and pattern to a bathroom wall, while metal tiles create an industrial-chic feel in modern or minimalist bathroom spaces.

Natural Stone Tile

Natural stone tile
Primary bathroom from Acampora Interiors’ Brookline Historic Refresh project. Photo by Kindra Clineff.
Natural stone tile
Primary bathroom from Acampora Interiors’ Nantucket Seaside Home project. Photo by Nat Rea.

Natural stone tiles add character to any room. Marble is an elegant tile option, and new techniques allow for marble mosaics with tiles cut in intricate shapes.

Travertine or Limestone Tile 

Soapstone and limestone or travertine are also beautiful, but they are more porous. Cement, a composite made from natural stones, is similarly permeable. Because of their natural properties, these more delicate natural stones often require regular upkeep.

Natural Stone Tile Maintenance

“Natural stone, especially on a floor, may need to be sealed,” Fortin says. “It adds a layer of protection, but it comes with maintenance.” The resealing schedule depends on several factors, including the stone you’ve selected, where you’ve placed it, and how much traffic the bathroom endures. Generally speaking, expect to seal natural stone tile every six months to one year. Fortin notes that ultimately it’s a personal choice, adding, “Some homeowners don’t mind that, but others don’t want to have to deal with the maintenance.”

Even with sealant, expect natural stones to age over time. Etching and patina are inherent in the life of a natural stone, so if you are a homeowner who envisions pristine tiles in your bathroom, a stone tile may not be the appropriate choice for you.

You must also finish natural stone tile properly. Fortin recommends honed natural stone for bathroom floors. “I think of hotel lobbies–they’re beautiful, with polished marble floors–but they can be a little slippery,” she says.

This is not ideal in a room where water is frequently splashed on the floor. Honing stone not only gives it a matte finish, it also reduces slickness and makes it a more practical option for bathrooms.

Selecting Tile for Each Bathroom Surface

As you balance scales and patterns, it’s important to think about the specific role of tile in each area. Each tiled surface has its unique considerations. There are three main areas to consider when selecting bathroom tiles:

  1. Floor
  2. Shower
  3. Bathroom walls

Our design team likes to approach tile selection in the same way we would choose types of fabric for a room. “With tile, we mix scales, colors, and patterns,” Fortin says. “We love to combine larger scales and smaller scales, and maybe contrast a busy pattern with a more simple-shaped tile to balance each other out. It’s generally good to stick to the rule of threes: If you’re doing more than three types of tiles, it may be too much.”

It’s generally good to stick to the rule of threes: If you’re doing more than three types of tiles, it may be too much.

1. Bathroom Floor Tile Ideas

Bathroom floor tile ideas
Mosaic tile detail from the primary bathroom at Acampora Interiors’ Watch Hill Coastal Retreat project.
Bathroom floor tile ideas
Penny tile detail from a guest bathroom at Acampora Interiors’ Watch Hill Coastal Retreat project.

The floor is an ideal, cost-effective space to feature your special tile, and it’s here that we often encourage clients to get creative with patterns and colors. When it comes to bathroom floor tiles, selecting a durable, non-slip tile option is most critical. A honed natural stone or porcelain is often a smart selection for floor tile. But before diving into specific choices and recommendations, let’s first cover a few commonly used terms:

  • Field Tile
    When discussing bathroom floor tile, we often hear the term “field tile.” This simply refers to tile that is used in the room’s primary field or plane; the majority of the floor’s square footage.

  • Border tile
    Similarly, border tile is exactly that: the tile that is used to create a decorative border around the field or the perimeter of a space.

  • Accent Tile
    Accent tiles are typically special, decorative tiles that are used to compile a special pattern or motif for the larger plane of field tile.

“For floor tile in a primary bathroom, we like to do a field tile that could be larger, then lay an inset rug of a really beautiful tile – it becomes the feature,” Fortin says. Using field tile across the floor and running it with a unique pattern is another way to create visual interest. For example, you may choose to create a border with field tile and run the tile in a chevron pattern in the center of the floor.

Creating patterns with a single color field tile is a great option in bathrooms with other eye-catching design features, such as a bold wallpaper. A monochrome field tile laid in a unique pattern adds visual interest without pulling focus from the walls.

If you choose to use a thicker tile on your bathroom floors, such as cement or ceramic mosaics, it’s essential to consider your subfloor. These heavier, thicker tiles place additional strain on your structure, so be sure to consult your contractor about the building beneath your tile.

2. Bathroom Shower Tile Ideas

Bathroom shower tile ideas
Shower tile and floor tile featured in Acampora Interiors’ Brookline Historic Refresh project. Photo by Kindra Clineff.
Bathroom shower tile ideas
Mosaic tile in primary bathroom shower, featured in Acampora Interiors’ Wellesley New Traditional project. Photo by Joyelle West.

Withstanding far less foot-traffic, the shower wall is the ideal place to incorporate more delicate tiles. Without the threat of shoe scuffs or dropped hairdryers, glass or softer natural stones may be the best type of tile for shower walls.

The shower niche is an area where you may wish to feature a more special, show-stopping accent tile. Our favorite bathroom shower tile ideas include iridescent penny rounds, glass tiles in a floral pattern, and high-gloss marble mosaic tiles. Essentially, any manner of creative and beautiful design options are possible in the contained space of the shower niche.

If you wish to create greater cohesion across all tile in your bathroom, consider repeating the same tile used elsewhere, but running it in a new pattern. Perhaps you select a subway tile for your bathroom walls and shower, for example. You may run the subway tile in an offset pattern on the walls, but choose a herringbone layout for the shower.

3. Bathroom Wall Tile Ideas

The finishing touch in any full bathroom is wall tile. But how high should tile be on a bathroom wall? Fortin typically suggests running the tile to chair-rail height, so that any splashes can be easily wiped off the lower walls.

Fortin also recommends carrying the tile from the shower across to the bathroom walls. This is one way to minimize the number of tile styles and avoid visual overload.

While bathroom wall tile is not a traditional choice in a powder room, Fortin notes that tile can form an accent wall. This is another place where it may be appropriate to incorporate any ornate, delicate, or special tile. “Sometimes, we run tile up the entire back wall behind the sink,” she says. “It becomes more of an accent feature and can be used in place of wallpaper.”

The Finishing Touches: Tile Trim & Grout

Tile grout
Tile grout options

Once you’ve selected two to three tiles for your bathroom design, your final look comes down to the finishing touches: tile trim and grout. Grout is an essential element in tile design, and Fortin recommends a tight grout line. “That just means there’s less grout between the spacing of your tile,” she says. “Generally, it is a cleaner look.”

Today’s grout also comes in a wide range of colors. Fortin has seen everything from grey to sparkly pink grout. While she always recommends erring on the side of classic – rather than trendy – in your design, a colored grout can add personality to an otherwise traditional tile. Incorporating a sage green or slate blue grout with penny tile, subway tile, or hex tile, for example, can add personality and a touch of modernity to an otherwise classic tile design.

Once the tiles are laid, they should be capped. To do so, tile trim is applied around the top of the bathroom wall tile, while crown molding is incorporated at the top of your shower walls. Traditional millwork is used in the rest of the room.

The best bathroom tile ideas are those that consider the placement and purpose of the space, carefully balancing form and function in your selection. The staggering number of options in various materials, styles, and colors means you are sure to find a tile to suit your needs and taste.