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Trend Alert: Stacked Versus Staggered Tile? (+ What We’re Doing in the Mountain House)

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The style evolution of the mountain cabin has thrown me, as you know. The original intent of modern Scandi was thwarted by Brian’s all of a sudden need for a cozy cottage. So amongst many other decisions, I poured over whether to stack or stagger the tile in the bathroom designs, which led me to larger questions. Some of which included: Is stacking the new stagger? Is stacking a 2018 style that will be dated in 2028? Is staggering only okay in traditional homes? Is staggering done all together or will it be classic forever? Is staggering a stack even weirder or if it’s done really well, is it creative and artful and genius? Do you need to choose stack or stagger throughout your whole house? Do you have to be pro-stack or pro-stagger for your entire life?? Clearly, I was spiraling, I know, but these are things that go through the mind of insane people that are remodeling and making roughly 52,000 decisions about the DOUBLE design of five bathrooms (double because of the I Design, You Decides).

What did we end up doing? Well, you’ll see at the end. But first, for those of you curious about what all this talk about stacked/staggered/staggered stacked even means, let’s dig into it:

Emily Henderson Frigidaire Kitchen Reveal Waverly English Modern Edited Beams 20
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD | From: Emily’s Modern English Country Kitchen

It’s my personal belief that you shouldn’t put a finish in a house that might not have existed when the house was made. This is a rule that can ABSOLUTELY be broken, but if you aren’t a confident designer and are afraid to make a permanent wrong decision, it’s a good guide. For instance, don’t use a glass mosaic tile in a Victorian home. In general, I’d say to be careful to put something that wasn’t invented yet in an older home. For this reason, I staggered the tile in our 1920s English Tudor. Was this the right thing to do? It’s design, not science so there are few absolute rights and wrongs, but it’s what felt appropriate, beautiful and timeless.

I think you can safely say houses before 1950 were mostly staggered, not stacked. Mine, above, is a basic brick (or running bond), which is usually what you see when you see a standard subway tile. Here are some other examples of the installation:

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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This bathroom by Office of Architecture is pretty traditional with its black-and-white hex floor (and overall palette) paired with a basic brick orientation of the wall tile, but the matte black faucets and sconces usher it more into “modern” territory. So the lesson here is that you can def go more classic with an “expected” subway tile installation if you are nervous about switching things up too much, but you can freshen things up with other finishes.

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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A longer tile in a traditional staggered brick does feel a bit more modern though like in this bathroom by Elena Calabrese. Standard subway tiles are 3″x6″ (these appear to be about 3″x12″) so adjusting that ratio freshens the classic install a bit.

Next up is the hipper, younger sister to the staggered brick—the horizontal stack.

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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Using a simple, flat white subway (or elongated subway like the one in this bathroom) tile is a VERY contemporary look, that is unless…

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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…you use a handmade, artisan tile like this one in a bathroom by Barbie Palomino. I’m pretty sure you could use a rough, organic tile like this in ANY installation and it’ll always feel Old World (in a good way) and classic, so if you like the stacked horizontal look but are afraid of leaning too modern, this is a GREAT tile to use to pull it right back to feeling less trendy and more traditional.

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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This shorter tile is pretty interesting. There’s something about it that doesn’t feel super contemporary like the elongated version two photos up. In this ratio, it actually comes off more like a cool windowpane grid (except, obviously, not square). If it was paired with a super sleek vanity or pedestal sink, it could lean more modern, but the more rugged wood vanity really balances the look. I think that’s mostly key to make sure you’re not creating a space that will feel incredibly dated and feel very “2018” in five years.

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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Ugh there’s so much to like about this bathroom by the super talented Amber Interiors. Those mirrors. The satin brass wall-mount faucet. The floating wood vanity with notched out hand pulls. That matte tile. IT’S ALL SO GOOD. This horizontal stack works particularly well here because it speaks to the warm modern vibe of the space. It’s not a perfect, clean install (probably because the tiles are handmade and purposefully a little wobbly), so that automatically strips back some of the precise contemporary feel and makes it more approachable (i.e. the “warm” part of the “warm modern”) while the overmount sink, faucet, mirrors and cabinet design are obviously the “modern” part of that equation.

Black And White Subway Tiles Kitchen Designs 57 Home Design Stacked Tile 5 F 739
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Okay, now I’m convinced that a rugged subway-esque tile is the key to nailing the horizontal stack without feeling overtly “modern.” Otherwise, it comes off a little “hotel” or “commercial.” (This actually happens to be commercial—it’s the test kitchen for Bon Appetit but it def feels like it could be in someone’s home.)

Next up is talking about the vertical stack, which we’ve used a few times in the mountain house already (in different variations…stick around for the end of this post to see what we mean). It definitely still feels more modern as compared to a classic staggered brick, but there’s something about it that feels fresh and modern without being starkly contemporary.

Woollahra House By Decus Interiors Studio Yellowtrace 041
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This is one of those images that makes hearts pound. OMG IS IT GOOD. We’ll let you catch your breath from the excitement rush. Okay, good? Let’s keep going. We’ve shared this bathroom by Decus Interiors in Australian a few times already for different blog purposes and while it would have probably been stunning with a staggered brick install of the tile (or even a horizontal stack), the vertical stack feels a little more unexpected and refreshing. Plus, it also draws the eye right up to that yummy brass showerhead (and then right back down to that equally yummy stone).

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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It’s basically a design crime to not draw attention to tall ceilings, which is what the vertical stack tile does in this bathroom (by Australian firm Architects EAT).

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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Also from Amber Interiors, something that jumps out about this image (and others like it) is if you have a slender vertical wall to tile, the vertical stack is a home run. It fills the space and makes everything look taller. If you only have a squat backsplash to tile (like imagine in a standard kitchen with cabinet uppers), unless your tile is really small/short, you don’t really get the best visual bang for your buck because you will probably have, at most, two rows of tiles. This look works best in, like we said, a taller space or nook where you can fit in multiple rows.

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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Of note here: the orientation change in the nooks. It helps to distinguish those little areas (but if you don’t want to call attention to them, you could easily keep the vertical stack going through them as well…it’s all about what you want!).

Subway Tile Bathroom Trends
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See how different it looks depending on the tile? This, by Lotta Agaton Interiors, is a very pristine install with a sleeker tile than the previous and absolutely feels more modern. Using a tall and skinny tile (which we’re loving right now) also makes it feel more special and high-end than a traditional 3″x6″. Also of note is taking the same tile and switching up the install on the floors (smaller tile with more grout also = less slippery…though more upkeep in making sure grout stays clean).

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If you just LOVE the classic, familiar feel of a staggered subway but want to shake it up, you can also totally stagger a vertical (or double stack and stagger like we did in the mountain house upstairs guest bath…scroll down to see what we mean). That little shift automatically makes it a little more traditional and in a hand-glazed tile like this one from Equipe, it’s really not THAT far of a cry from staggered brick, just with a bit of an updated twist.

And finally…the lovechild of vertical and horizontal stacks…the crosshatch/parquet pattern…

Home Design Subway Tile Patterns Take The Ever Lovely Economical And Turn It On S Head Literally Here Basketweave Pattern Shines F 59
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Like the staggered brick, the crosshatch can look both super traditional (like classic parquet wood floors) and “newer,” depending on how you pair it. Caitlin Wilson’s bathroom here absolutely leans more elegant but it shakes up the typical white marble + white cabinet + white subway tile look that we’ve all seen time and again. It’s also a great way to add pattern to a neutral, simple bath without going overboard with textiles or a stone with a ton of movement.

Emily Henderson Mountain Fixer Trend Color Block 29
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Here’s a take on crosshatch, but with a running stacked vertical. Oh, and it’s staggered. It’s basically EVERYTHING all in one place, perfect for the indecisive! (Except, we have to imagine you’d have to be pretty decisive/confident to pull the trigger on this pattern. It’s cool, but it’s not for the faint of heart.)

©margaretaustinphoto1041
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If you’re into the skinnier tile, you’ll have to triple or quadruple stack it to get the alternating square shapes consistent with parquet like Katie Monkhouse did here. It’s a bit of a busier look, but it still feels fresh and timeless all at once. As long as you don’t add a printed wallpaper and a print-heavy floor or other tile/textile prints, it does a lot of the stylistic heavy lifting.

Okay, so now for what we’ve done in the mountain house. We used “subway” tile in three bathrooms—the powder, master bath (which we haven’t shown the design process yet for but it’s in progress and coming atcha soon), and the upstairs guest bath. We didn’t go the route of staggered brick in any, instead opting for something that felt a little more in line with the modern-Scandi-mountain look we’re going for (the “rustic” part that Brian so badly craves comes in in other elements like the floors and other parts of the home, so don’t worry, he hasn’t been forgotten). We thought it would be fun to remind you of what we’ve done but show it side-by-side with a traditional subway tile pattern so you can see the difference the installation makes to the look and feel of a room.

Here’s the master bath:

Side By Side Master Bath

The vertical stack definitely feels cleaner, sleeker and less busy, which lets the killer lighting and brass accessories really shine. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the staggered brick, but with such a skinny tile, it creates so many lines that can be distracting to the eye.

Here’s the powder bath. We’re still possibly tweaking this design after you guys were gung-ho about us swapping out the pendants, floating vanity and oval mirror from the other option from the I Design, You Decide, but the tile itself won out. Just like in the master bath above, the vertical stack just feels cleaner and sleeker.

Side By Side Powder Bath

And in the upstairs guest bath, yup, you guessed it…cleaner and sleeker. Because the tile was super skinny (it’s one inch wide), Julie thought to take it and double stack it (and stagger it) and we LOVE IT. You guys seemed pretty pumped about it, too, when we revealed this design plan on the blog a few days ago.

Side By Side Upstairs Guest Bath

With this tile, the staggered brick would be A LOT of look, and keeps it all more traditional. The vanity is already pretty transitional, so the directional change we went with keeps everything more in that “modern mountain” space we’re going for.

There are a ton of different installations you can do with subway tiles (more than just vertical stacked, horizontal stacked, crosshatch), so we put together this quick cheat sheet of some terminology/ideas in case you’re struggling with thinking outside the box for a project you’ve got going on. Which is your favorite?

Emily Henderson Subway Tile Patterns

Now that you know all about crosshatch, diagonal herringbone, off-set running bonds and double stacked vertical staggers…it’s time for some tile. We rounded up some of our favorites from the brands we’ve been pulling regularly for the mountain house and the Portland project, as well as some more budget versions from a big box store like Floor & Decor that is more accessible.

1. RC1 Crackle | 2. Architect’s Palette Blueprint | 3. Bright White Ice Beveled Ceramic Wall Tile | 4. Pyrite | 5. Dolomite Bianca Mosaic | 6. Rice Paper | 7. Arcilla Trim Bullnose in Azul | 8. Vintage Rose Subway | 9. Salluto Field Tile in Nero | 10. Solid Rectangle in Stone | 11. Rack Mosaic in Linen | 12. Ocean Honed Marble Tile | 13. Gypsum | 14. Finesse Bright White Ceramic Wall Tile | 15. Solid Rectangle in Federal Blue | 16. Tusk | 17. Weathered White Subway | 18. S14 Satin | 19. Solid Rectangle in Black | 20. Bright White Ice Ceramic Bullnose | 21. Architects Palette Blotter

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Janet

I actually really liked this post and learned a lot, but I almost didn’t read it because of the title (the “What we’re doing at the Mountain House” part). If I’m being honest, I feel a little bit sick of hearing about the Mountain House. I’m looking forward to the reveal(s), and think the rooms will be very pretty and Pin-able. I love a good mood board or a crowd vote or a floor plan discussion from time to time. But, a lot of these Mountain House posts are kind of like finding out how the sausage is made. And… Read more »

ha. I felt that it personalizes it and makes it less of a arbitrary tile post, but more how we are actually using this information to learn and apply to our own project. But thats interesting feedback. A lot of blogs show pinnable reveals, so we try to show process to learn/teach in real situations but certainly its more work so if its not what people are interested in then by all means let us know 🙂

Vicki Williams

Definitely interested! Keep it up! This is what makes your blog so unique, interesting, informational and super valuable! Don’t ever stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheryl

You hooked me with your ‘modern transitional’ blog and I’ve been reading ever since. I hope you’ll design a home with ‘modern transitional’ interior design soon. We are building next year and I’d love to see the process and choices that make this design so unique.

Maria

Currently working on our own full house reno and finding your posts very helpful and interesting and timely… really appreciate the work of sharing so much with us!

Kirby

I’ve never commented on your posts before either and wanted to say PLEASE keep posts like this coming! I learned so much and am so thankful for the way you broke this down visually+used language I could understand. It was so valuable and makes me want to scour through ALL your posts!

Sarah

Never commented on your blog EH, but I had to on this: yes – Janet’s feedback was fair and interesting, but I love reading your posts (rather religiously) because I look at is a design school. Maybe one day I’ll have enough money to hire you, but until then, each email is a new “class” where I keep learning. Keep it up!

Jess

I concur

Sarah

I have been waiting for this post!! Stacking vs. traditional brick layout has kept me up at night….literally. We just renovated our 1930’s center hall colonial and while my own taste leans more modern, I resisted my urge to go too far in that direction. I went with an all white kitchen with shaker cabinets, clean but timeless. I wanted a backsplash that was visually beautiful but didn’t compete with other colors and patterns. I had seen some stacked tile in hotels and magazines and loved the look – it’s the one thing that kept jumping out at me whenever… Read more »

Maria

Your experience was very helpful to me – thank you!

Liz Johnson

Loved this post and I think it opens up people not in the design world to ALL of the decisions that have to be made as well as the millions of choices. Using simple clean and not too expensive tiles can still be fresh and new by choosing a different pattern layout. I think most people who read this blog love the how and why and overall comparisons like this. Great post and very informative! I always prefer the cleaner more minimal look to highlight elements like lighting and hardware. but I think for certain applications if you don’t have… Read more »

Atowle

I love how you included the side by side comparisons at the end. That helps to really illustrate the difference. Atowle|https://formationvacations.com/

I do, too. It definitely helped even me feel more confidant that I wanted stacked in this house.

Cici Haus

I cannot believe you’ve gotten me to love stacked tile. (This was an amazing, educational post by the way!). I love the vertical stacked and vertical offset bond. So good!

Julie S

The side by sides are a good visual to flesh out your explanations! We have a hall bathroom that needs a total remodel as we update this house from the 80’s to California flavored simplified classic (I too need several words to describe the style of my house), and I’ve been gathering ideas and thinking about it. I’m slow to process/decide and we won’t be remodeling for at least a year so it all works out. I want something white and quiet, and we can only afford a very basic sort of tile, so some kind of subway is in… Read more »

Mae

Stacked seems dated already. I know that doesn’t exactly make sense, just feels that way, faddish somehow. Plus looking at it makes me feel like I’m trapped inside a math problem. Or a straitjacket.

ha. I don’t think it will be dated. I think when its appropriate it will always be in style. Again, be careful in say Victorian homes – you’ll take less of a risk if you stagger. but in a midcentury or new-build that is transitional in style I think its timeless when done right (which hopefully we showed you how to do that).

Centrd

Oh my goodness, you summed up exactly how I feel. It DOES feel SO dated already. Stacked tile reminds me of those old Sunset Design books that look so out of date in every possible way. Rigid, geometric tile all over the place. NOT a warm or organic look and as far as I’m concerned, that will always end up feeling dated before long. It’s funny, one of the rookie mistakes DIYers sometimes make with both wood flooring and shiplap on walls is lining the boards up too evenly so that the seams match. I had a floor installer do… Read more »

Sue

Your rule about not putting a finish into a home that didn’t exist when it was built is a tough one for me. I live in a 1850s house that only got heat upstairs less than 15 years ago. When it was built there was no bathroom let alone tile. I suppose I could redo my bathroom to look like what might have been the first attempt at adding bathroom (claw foot tub, crazy pull chain toilet) or hide a toilet in a wooden bench to look like a faux outhouse (a childhood friend had one!) Personally I don’t want… Read more »

Tanja

Interesting post. I have to say I don’t like that stacked look (not horisontal or vertical). It looks like it is a trend that is going to be outdated in a few years, but I hope it doesn’t and I’ll grow to like it too. It’s kind of nice when the tiles look handmade, otherwise it’s too harsh and looks too contemporary (especially in an older house).

Allison

Love this detail! Posts like this one are what distinguishes your team and the depth. Random content idea – You mentioned in a prior post that the labor cost of the beautiful herringbone pattern on the porch could have been spent elsewhere. I don’t know how you would do it, but would love a post or two on how you would prioritize cost and still make things special. — For the house overall – let’s say you have 5 bathrooms. How do you breakdown the cost? How would you design the least expensive bathroom to keep it fresh and cool… Read more »

Vicki Williams

Love, love, love the first picture! gorgeous! and the offset staggered vertical stack looks amazing! thanks for all your good ideas and work-in life and your design-and this amazing blog!

Jennifer

I really liked this post, but most of what I was thinking the whole way through was “Ugh, more impractical design decisions that LOOK great and LIVE badly.” The ones with the uneven textures and grout are going to be a son of a b to clean. Which I get if you have a maid or housekeeping help.

kristen

What do you think of stacking a large format marble tile? Would you stay traditional brick lay in order to maintain realistic movement?

Emily

I think the stacked tiles can look cool. But is that harder to do? It seems in some of the examples the bricks/rows get a little wonky. Or is that by design? I can’t tell. It does seem like it would be harder to maintain perfectly straight lines when they are stacked, not staggered.

Karen

That uneven “old world” tile is only cool in concept. It is a hot mess. Hot/trendy now but in actuality a mess. I truly believe everyone will regret this tile within 5 years if not sooner. The only place I think it would look great is in a fabulous garden shed or brick-floored screen porch, where rustic and somewhat dirty is totally acceptable and looks charming. I’m not usually so adamant about stuff, but this tile just seems like a horrible mistake. As for stacked versus staggered, both look great when done well. Sorry, the news has me riled up… Read more »

Elaine

Loved this post and how informative it is. Renovated a bathroom last year and sort of made up the tile pattern for the walls. Vertical stack 3” x 12” with horizontal in the corners. It’s hard to explain but I love it very very much. Especially in my mid-century condo building. (Because of the thickness of the walls, I couldn’t have the planned for pocket door OR shower niche so I still wanted something “special”.)

Robin

Thank you – these educational posts with detail and photos are my absolute favorite and what makes me a dedicated reader. Your blog helps make design and renovation accessible to all of us non-professionals so please never stop!

Christen

Wow this was a great post! I always thought of stacked tile as modern, and modern ONLY. This actually breaks it down into categories that make sense to me (I personally need someone to shove my nose into it before I “get it”…..so thanks!) Being a lover of all things classic, I would never have even considered it before this.

Paula Carr

I always prefer running bond (as the professionals call “staggered” 🙂 ). Stacked always looks like MCM to me and out of place in other decors. It’s also overly “precise” looking to me. A little anal-retentive? No, not that strong, but approaching that feeling.

Deb

Do you ever come to chicago? I need a little help and i lives in portland so happy thwre then moved to SF and now back home in chicago. Bought a row house snd issues for the entire time so far floor 2 a mess. Need a powder room and fireplace help. I am going to use your fireclay! Jst had neck surgery and i could use just a bit of direction. If you know of domeone simple and kind u would love to work with them. Thank you gor all your inspiration. Watched you wee back when you were… Read more »

Jane

Thank you for this wonderfully entertaining and educational post, Emily. You answered so many questions I have about tile and showed me the effect of different tiles displayed in different ways. Thank you.

Anon

Wow–LOVE the way Caitlyn Wilson did her cross-hatch! Somehow it’s warm, fun, new and classic feeling all at the same time. Part of that is due to the tile being limited to a small space and part to the fixtures. But the pattern is so pretty.

Appreciate these posts that showcase new ideas, and where the industry is headed, even when the styles aren’t my faves.

Terri Boone

I get a little anxious sometimes reading how you agonize over these things, but then I remember how you love your projects at the end and it relaxes me a little. It’ll be wonderful, whatever you decide, I have EH faith.

(and also, it’s ‘pored’, not ‘poured’)

🙂

Anon

Also appreciate how you flush out the new concepts with more than a “what’s hot” pic. I don’t see this kind of content in mags, even. It does set y’all apart, fs. The posts are full-on articles. I never feel like I’m clicking on a glorified ad for products. APPRECIATED.

Tiff

So informative as always! I’m learning so much. Thank you.

Kim

I love your work and find the details in your posts absolutely enlightening, as I learn quite a bit. Well, a lot!

Ian

1st time commenter here! I dunno, stacked tile looks good now, but in a few years might look very dated. I’d stick with a classic tile arrangement. Personally i think trendy stuff should be things that are easily changed: paint colors, art, pillows, curtains, rugs, other decor etc., even furniture. Tile isn’t so easily changed out when one grows sick of it, plus if one is thinking of resale in the future a more traditional tile job might be an easier sell.

Stephanie

Baaaah. I can’t stand stacked tile. It reminds me of a prison, or the bathrooms in my elementary school in the 80s.

I love the side-by-side design comparisons. Thanks for all of the work you put into these posts, team! It’s always incredibly informative. This is truly the site for design junkies.

Lisa

I was pealed to the news today and I was so happy to get some relief looking at your beautiful blog. Thank you for creating great content. It really helps me escape. Our politics are often in alignment and I wasn’t sure if you would have something to say publicly about Dr. Ford. It’s absolutely fine that you did not bring it up on the blog because I was happy to have somewhere to rest and focus on something else. I love your blog all the more for the times when you have spoken up because I know that when… Read more »

marnie

Thanks so much for this post. I love the chance to get into a designer’s head to learn the process. Also I feel less crazy obsessed with my own mountain home major reno. No matter what some people may comment, please keep posting this content! The detailed posts and all of the work and time that have gone into pulling them together, which it is a lot, is appreciated by many.

Sarah

VERY helpful content! Great pictures, too. I’m in the tile-picking phase of my bathroom renovation. I’m surprising myself by loving the stacked tile look and was considering it for my shower (especially with the old-world tiles). But my house was built in 1910, everything else leans more traditional, and we need to sell the house again in a few years. I’m thinking staggered is the better choice for me after reading this. BUT– I love the look and think it feels fresh, not dated!

Kristy Taylor

Cool post! It was really helpful seeing the difference in the rooms with staked versus staggered tiles and I hate to say it, but I really, really dislike each and every room with the staked tile. The ones that are double stacked and staggered are fine, but there is something so cold, stark, and geometric in a headache inducing way about the stacked tile. So many of those rooms featured could use the more homey/casual touch of the staggered tile to bring down the iciness of the room a touch (n I love Amber interiors work, but I so wish… Read more »

Amanda

I love this post! My favorite part of remodeling our home was choosing tile, and this is a fantastic resource for tile selection. Also THANK YOU to style by Emily Henderson for a spot you did on Floor and Decor. One opened in our area soon after so we took your recommendation and went in. It turned out that their prices and selection made it possible for us to stretch our budget and reno more spaces that 1st planned👍

Susan Eichman

Your blog posts are so informative. I’m a latecomer to interior design (also from Portland) and have found that I absolutely love all things tile. You can’t drag me out of a tile showroom… Thank you for going into such detail, educating and discussing your design decisions. Nerding out here!

Addie

This post/discussion has helped me to clarify how I react to certain types and designs of tile. I noticed that with white stacked tile (horizontal or vertical) I immediately get a cold industrial feeling, unless the tiles are handmade with an uneven finish. If the white handmade tiles are too narrow/small they look messy. With any other color besides white, I get a much more positive feeling, regardless of the stagger/stack, and particularly enjoy the vertical orientation that emphasizes the height of the room. I also prefer the tiles with some surface finish that gives a more natural/varied look because… Read more »

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