Living Big With Large Format Tile

By Annette M. Callari, Allied ASID, Chair Holder CMG

WFCA’s FloorTalk had a special request from a reader to address the pros and cons of using large-sized porcelain and ceramic floor tiles.  By the way, we love special requests from readers, so feel free to tell us what you’d like to read about and we’ll definitely try to comply. (Just leave a comment on FloorTalk or on our FaceBook page.)

Once upon a time, most tile sizes historically focused on 12 x 12” sizes.  They were easy to ship, easy to store, and manufacturers loved the consistent SKU’s.  But that was back in the day when manufacturers thought one-size-fit-all.  Well consumers made it known that they LIKE choices and variations, and manufacturers responded well.  Along came 18” x 18” styles and those proved to be a hot commodity.  They fit most room dimensions well and were very practical.  Eventually entering the scene, we saw 20 x 20” and even 24 x 24” options. 

There are design considerations that certainly enter into the equation as you are choosing a tile size for your room(s).  I know you are expecting me to say that small rooms cannot accommodate large sized tiles.  But it is quite possible for a 16 x 16 or 18 x 18 tile to actually  expand a room visually.  The reason why...?  There are fewer grout lines to distract the eye and cut up the space.  But be careful with this.  If the room is fairly small, choosing a 20 x 20 or 24 x 24 tile will overpower the room and look ridiculous.  It’s like putting an oversized suit on a small-framed person.  It just doesn’t fit.  It’s out of proportion to the dimensions of the room and the visual feeling is uncomfortable and unbalanced. 

There are a number of variables you have to consider if using  large format tile in a small room. After you lay it out on paper, if you find that there will be a number of awkward cuts, then you need to scale down the tile size.  Also, using a larger tile to visually expand a room only works when the tile has very little pattern.  A second criteria to making it work is that the grout color needs to match the tile—do not use contrasting colored grout (that results in a checkerboard effect and defeats the whole goal of visual expansion).

I would love to give you a finite formula for determining which sized tile is best for your room, but that’s not possible.  The size, pattern, color, texture, and even gloss level of a tile can affect the feeling of a room.  I would say this:  trust your judgment.  Buy several sized tiles in the style of your choice and take them home to play with.  Lay them out (straight lay or diagonal) and you will probably have your answer as to which size is best.

As for large, luxurious rooms, feel free to choose 24 x 24 and enjoy the spacious, open feeling you will get.  Common sense tells you 12 x 12’s would be lost in bigger spaces, and the same rules of grout apply.  Contrasting grout will give you a checkerboard effect.  If that’s what you want for your grand space—go for it.  But if you want a cohesive, flowing look to the floor, match that grout as closely as you can to the tile color.  I am working on a design right now for a home with a royal-sized foyer. The entire first floor will be done in 24 x 24 imported cream- color marble.  You just know I will be matching the grout to the tile and requesting functional, but minimal sized grout lines. (Be sure not to compromise the integrity of grout joints by insisting on miniscule grout lines.  That can result in broken tiles and stress fractures). Let your professional installer be your guide on that.

Just one more design rule on this subject:  if you are tiling both the floor and adjacent walls (bathrooms especially), please do not specify a larger wall time than the floor tile.  The result will be wrongly proportioned.  I can’t stress this enough.  In this era of design when many traditional rules can be broken, this is one that should not.  The goal of good interior design is to achieve balance through the proper attention to proportion and scale.  When all is said and done, a little knowledge of tile size applications goes a long way.  Any way you look at it, we are the winners, given the full menu of tile choices we now have available to us. 

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Web Page: Living Big With Large Format Porcelain or Ceramic Tile
Overall Rating: 4.3 stars - 6 reviews

Date: April 28, 2014
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Best article on size of tile versus size of space I have read.
Date: April 9, 2014
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Excellent information and suggestions. Thank you :-)
Date: February 13, 2014
Page Rating: (4.5/5)
is great it help some on my decition how ever I wish u given messurments like in a room 15x15 24x24 will look better
Date: April 19, 2013
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Last paragraph, line 2 should word be tile instead of time?
Date: March 3, 2013
Page Rating: (3.0/5)
Disagree with your assessment about sizes of tile vs small rooms. We have 20x20 tile throughout our house including the bathrooms. They actually look especially great in there. I really feel the key to having large tile in smaller rooms is keeping the color on the lighter side and not excessively "swirly" like some designs. Ill take my "large" 20" tiles over any 12"-18" any day of the week. Wish I could post a pic - it really does look great.
Date: October 31, 2012
Page Rating: (3.5/5)
it would be helpful to consumer to have the name and color of tile that is in picture right below the picture for quicker sales. thanks.

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