Transform any shower wall into an eye-catching centerpiece
By Jennifer Beck Goldblatt
Produced by Julioa Abbonizio
Choosing the right design and color scheme for a bathroom remodel can be tricky if you don’t have any shower tile ideas to guide you. Mosaic, ceramic, porcelain, glass tiles can dictate whether the tone of the space is energizing or calming, vibrant or toned down. “Tile is the chameleon of surface materials,” says Cean Irminger, creative director of New Ravenna based in Exmore, Virginia. “Depending on the color palette, the reflective qualities of the materials (glass and metallics), the size of the individual pieces (tiny hand chopped mosaic tesserae to large format porcelain), and textures can create an environment that is as varied as our imagination.”
You can also lean on the architecture of a home to inspire design ideas that play off bathroom tile. “When deciding [on] hard finishes like tile, staying true to the era of the home always yields the best results,” explains Tulsa-based interior designer Emily David. “For example, black and white ceramic in a ’20s and ’30s home, terrazzo for a midcentury—looking to what would have been installed when the home was built is always a great place to start.”
Much like deciding on a kitchen backsplash, choosing a shower tile design is a chance to make a statement, Davis says, and you’re not alone in wanting to be adventurous. “Clients are wanting to have fun with tile design more than ever before,” she continues. “We are all so saturated with imagery that people are shying away from choices they’ve seen time and time again. Originality and highly personal design is winning out over what was installed in the house next door.” For example, “A herringbone design is an elegant classic that will never go out of style,” designer Janna Robinson says. “It provides beautiful but simple fluidity, especially when using a white or natural stone. The herringbone pattern design creates visual interest and can aid in making a room look more spacious.”
Whatever your design aesthetic, consider these universal questions most homeowners ponder before tackling a bathroom remodel or locking in a shower tile design.
What is the most popular tile for showers?
Square tiles are trending up, says Jen Meska, director of merchandise for LL Flooring. Options include classic ceramic squares that can feel retro or midcentury or newly popular zellige squares, which give a handmade feel and will look like a more modern take on a vintage shape. Subway is always a classic, and for a reason: You’ll find it everywhere from subway stations to homes across the globe—it never goes out of style, Meska says. For a more modern take on subway, stack the tiles directly on top of each other, vertically or horizontally in a grid pattern, instead of offset in the more traditional running bond pattern.
White subway tile on the walls and penny tile on the floor is a classic look for a reason. It’s easy to care for, easy on the eyes, and can be done on a modest budget. You’ve seen the look everywhere from restaurants and cafés to luxury hotels, and it always looks great. Porcelain tile and ceramic tile are the most durable options and wise choices for a shower that gets heavy use. They’re also easy to keep clean and don’t require sealing that is needed for more porous options like marble or other natural stones. In addition to being less subject to daily wear and tear, the density of porcelain tile makes it more durable than ceramic tile. Porcelain tile is stronger and available in a variety of incredible textures, says Zuni Madera, VP of the NYC-based design firm Foley & Cox. Some options can resemble linen, sisal, or wood. “It gets you bang for your buck.”
On the other hand, if your bathroom remodel can be a bit of a splurge, marble is timeless. “Marble never goes out of style,” says Laurie Davis, cofounder of Eralyn Interiors in Palm Beach, who says that carrera or Calacatta marble are popular options. “Every trend can be incorporated to compliment marble,” she adds. For a look at a fraction of the price, porcelain slabs can also be purchased in a large format for a similar wow factor.
What is the best color of tile for a shower?
The color tile you choose largely comes down to personal preference, but common design principals still hold true. White walls and other neutral tones can help make a space feel brighter and more airy, while darker colors, like gray tiles or vivid greens, may make a space feel more cozy. “When a shower appears smaller it’s okay. Showers aren’t generally thought of as large spaces, so making a shower feel spacious shouldn’t be the first priority in design,” explains Chicago-based Heather Mastrangeli of innovatus Design, which offers virtual design services.
Other places to experiment with shower tile is in guest and kids’ bathrooms. “These are great places to interject personality and really have fun with color and pattern,” Mastrangeli says. You can take the idea to heart by choosing floor tiles, wall tiles, and more that have an unexpected or whimsical tile design or unexpected pops of color with blue tile, green tile, or a combo of colors.
Do small or large tiles make a shower look bigger?
Tile size can be one of the most important decisions homeowners make when designing their space. Small tiles with dark grout will visually make a shower feel smaller, but small tiles with lighter grout may make a shower feel larger, Mastrangeli says. “When more pattern is introduced onto a surface, it will visually make that area appear smaller.” Smaller tiles on the floor are a popular option that can help with slip resistance and create an opportunity for self expression through color.
How a tile looks really depends on the space you have. Homeowners are leaning into the more modern look by using bigger tiles that allow for fewer grout lines. Larger tiles, like a 24″ x 48″ tile, work well in spacious bathrooms because they usually have more square footage and that allows them to show off the tile design, says Kendal Cavalieri of Kendal Cavalieri Design in Buffalo, New York. “Using the same tile in a smaller bathroom will only allow you to use ten or so tiles and will likely make the space feel cramped.”
Though you may want to stick to rectangular or square tiles in a small shower space, consider other shapes to create a sense of grandeur. A hexagon tile is a bold choice, but if you yearn for something a little bit more unique and out-of-the-box, unexpected tile shapes are the way to go. Triangle tiles can add visual interest with a pattern that isn’t too harsh on the eyes, and oval tiles can evoke calmness with their soft edges.
What tile finish is best for shower walls?
The majority of tiles and natural stone slabs are offered in two finishes: honed and polished. Honed tiles have a matte or satin-like finish that makes it less shiny because light is not fully reflected off of it. On the other hand, polished surfaces can appear to be glossy and will reflect light in a more glamourous fashion. Though polished surfaces can have a luxe look on walls, you should avoid polished surfaces for the floor, which can be dangerously slippery when wet.
You can also make a statement with grout. Though it’s often one of the last design choices you’ll make when choosing a bathroom tile, grout shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re going with a traditional white subway tile, opting for a black grout can help make it look more modern, says interior designer Grey Joyner. She also recommends considering a colored grout for a pop of fun but cautions against ever using white grout. “It’s the hardest color for hiding dirt and unwanted mildew,” she says.
To help you with shower tile ideas, AD found 33 stellar bathroom designs that range from gorgeous mosaic tile accent walls to an eye-catching marble shower to whimsical color palettes. Whether you’re ready to DIY it or call in a contractor, we guarantee you’ll be floored by these shower walls.
Stretch wall tile to the floor
Though the size of the tile can make a difference on how large or small your space feels, you’re likely to make a larger impact by thinking outside of the shower box, so to speak. Extend the floor tile up the shower wall, especially in a small-size bathroom. Doing so in an uninterrupted way creates the feeling of a larger space, explains Regan Baker of Regan Baker Design in San Francisco. Select bold tile, both in color and design, can further push the limits of the space. A designed pattern will inspire a feeling of fun and playfulness and provide an artistic embellishment, as well as a dose of visual inspiration, Baker adds.
A guest bathroom sheathed in black-and-white ceramic tiles by Bisazza packs a serious punch in this Manhattan residence designed by Delphone Krakoff. For a DIY on a budget, alternate black and white subway tiles in creating this timeless pattern.
Add a window on a shower wall
To give a kids’ bathroom some personality, Los Angeles designer Sarah Sherman Samuel installed the window on the shower wall to have an abstract take on a sunset above the horizon line on the striped tile. “The cement tile has a beautiful matte finish that feels earthy and warm,” she says.
Accent with unexpected color combo
“I like to call this my Kermit & Miss Piggy bath,” says Sara Simon of Handsome Salt Interior Design in Los Angeles. “This bathroom is at our new boutique lodge, Noble + Proper in Big Bear Lake, California. Each cabin is themed after one of mine and my husband’s grandparents. It lives in Elfriede’s Haus where I kept the tones a little more muted throughout but wanted to pop in some wow factors like this bathroom which is a fun, unexpected surprise. [It’s] a little retro with a modern twist.”
A bathroom is the ideal place to experiment with colors you fancy but may not want to see every time you walk in the door. “Pastels can seem daunting, especially when using them in a permanent feature like tile,” admits Charlotte-based interior designer Ashley DeLapp. “The key to using them successfully and preventing your space from feeling juvenile is to pair pastels with sophisticated elements like bold wallpaper and brass fixtures.” Look for an elevated finish, such as this metallic fabric-backed tile, to add more dimension than a standard ceramic or porcelain. The end result is visually soothing but still makes a statement.
Instill earthy elegance
A small bathroom space can still have style as long as you utilize pattern. “This faux wood tile by Artistic Tile adds an earthy elegance and warmth to the room,” says Chandos Dodson Epley of Chandos Interiors in Houston.
Use natural, earthy colors and materials in bathroom designs, because they feel warm and calming, says founder of San Francisco-based design firm Field Theory, Leah Harmatz. “Neutrals also have a more timeless quality,” she says. “Tile isn’t something you want to have to change or replace quickly.”