A Heated Internal Debate – Are There Some Tiles That Are More “Bathroom” Than “Kitchen” And Are There Rules?

A few years ago as I was designing the mountain and portland house I was knee-deep in tile samples. As I was looking at some Julie said, that one feels like it doesn’t belong in the kitchen, it’s more ‘bathroom’. At that point, I wouldn’t say I was a seasoned designer, but certainly had some experience and this has never occurred to me. Ever. I kinda thought that any tile could go anywhere (as long as it works functionally and practically, of course). This notion that ‘this belongs in a bathroom, not kitchen’ blew my mind. So as I continued to design, I did in fact see what she was talking about and I had also mentally (subconsciously) categorized some tile. Here we go.

Can Penny Tile Go In A Kitchen?

design by amber interiors | photo by tessa neustadt

This feels like an ‘only floor’ tile to me and more specifically, in a bathroom, not a kitchen. But why??? One reason is that it’s highly grouted (and therefore harder to slip on when stepping out of the shower) and marinara spills in the kitchen would be hard to clean out of all those grout lines. But then as I was researching for this post I saw it in kitchens and it looked cool. Would I still do it? I’m scared, but it clearly looks good.

design by joan schindler | photo by lucas allen | via house beautiful
design by splinter society | photo by sharyn cairns | via est living

Why Is Subway/Square Or Brick Tile Or Brick-Shaped Tile Almost Always The Kitchen Backsplash?

photo by tessa neustadt | from: emily’s kitchen and dining room reveal

For whatever reason, brick tile is my strong go-to for kitchens in a multitude of finishes and configurations of course, but any other shape always surprises me. Here’s my theory – there are a lot of ‘starts and stops’ in a kitchen – shelving, cabinetry, outlets, window frames, etc, and having the tile be linear allows for less awkward cuts of the tile shape. If it’s square/rectangle it’s a cleaner break – does that make sense? But then I look at these examples below and I’m like, yah, those look awesome.

photo by zeke ruelas | from: the casa soria kitchen reveal (+ 5 things i would have done differently if it were my kitchen)
design by dee murphy | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Both of those examples (by friends of mine and rooms I love) had to then order a bull-nose (the thin top row of tiles that caps it off) which complicates the cutting, install and ordering process for sure. But it looks awesome.

design by kate arends of wit & delight | photo by 2nd truth photography

Albie asked me to look at her kitchen design board (coming soon!) where she has a large scale hex tile as her backsplash and my only comment was ‘I just feel like a ‘hex’ is more ‘bathroom’, but I don’t know why (thus the idea to write about it). See the kitchen above!!! I typically don’t like ‘rules’ unless they are for function. Rules limit creativity (it’s what my whole next book is about – knowing the function so you can have more fun).

Is ‘Scallop’ Tile More ‘Bathroom’ Than ‘Kitchen’?

photo by jess isaac | from: master bathroom reveal

I’ve used scallop twice, both in bathrooms and really liked it – but my gut would be it feels more ‘bathroom’ than ‘kitchen’ because, well, scallops are on ‘fish’ and fish swim in water and bathtubs are full of water. It’s a logical conclusion.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: modern old-world master bathroom

And yet!!! look at this floor below in this KITCHEN.

design and photo by bri ussery | via domino

Other Designers Weigh-In

So I texted a bunch of my designer friends and former team members and asked them what THEY think.

From Justina Blakeney: I’m a real ‘no rules’ person, so I think all different kinds of tiles can work for different things. It’s all circumstantial.

From Cleo from Project M Plus: Hi! Definitely do not use penny tile on a backsplash! I’m not a fan of dark grout and white tile in the bathroom, for some reason – the dark grout hides the dirt yes, but feels more for the kitchen. I also never spec. Running Bond for bath, I prefer something custom or very simple stacked.

From Orlando: Like I actually can see penny tile working as a backsplash but I also think there are probs some tiles that seem more “kitchen” than others… (he was driving so that’s all he could give)

From Albie: In theory, I can see how certain tiles can give off a vibe that says “kitchen” or “bathroom” — something I’ve been guilty of subscribing to myself — I think the overall look of the tile is contingent on the other elements in the design. How they play off of one another can alter how we assess how & where to use a tile in a way that’s unexpected but absolutely gorgeous. I could absolutely make a case for penny tiles in a kitchen application. Depending on the design style & color palette, a penny tile could be the perfect finishing touch to the design. 

From Velinda: I would definitely be open to penny tile in a kitchen, but I’d probably lean more toward using it as a floor (but never say never. I may fall in love with a backsplash concept tomorrow). Penny tile is obviously classic (great for older homes/rustic vibes etc) but it’s also ‘cool’… I’m thinking New York eateries and loft spaces. Plus, there’s such potential for endless possibilities of pattern, color so it can be a fun touch in even a ‘contemporary/post modern/poppy-funky home). I see no problems here:

design by blakes london | photo by malcolm menzies

From Shavonda: Hi friend!! Oh, this is a great one! I personally don’t like glass tile in kitchens. Bathrooms, yes. Mudrooms or laundry rooms yes, but I don’t particularly care for them in kitchens.

From Rosa: I feel like penny tile is more bath than kitchen. Yes, I’d put it on a floor but I’m not a fan of it for a backsplash. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and figure that some design elements have stood the test of time for a reason. Classic penny tile has been used on floors for 100 years so it’s all good in my book! I like medium to larger scale tile for kitchen backsplashes better than small format tile, which feels much more bathroom-y to me.

From Rashida: My husband and I were shopping for kitchen tile, and I showed him a geometric marble mosaic style that had shades of grays and whites, and he said “That looks like it belongs in the bathroom.” After rolling my eyes (haha I really liked that tile) I had to agree that there are some tiles that are very “bathroomy”. But norms can be broken as long as you’re willing to deal with the maintenance that may come with it. For example, penny tile is typically seen in a bathroom, but can be done in a kitchen if you use a darker color stone with matching grout lines, or if it’s used in a pattern. I see restaurants do it all the time, and I know they have frequent spills. So if you’re thinking about it, I say go for it.

From Brady: When it comes to tiles in your kitchen and bathroom, while there is quite a bit of crossover, there are a few that I would probably never bring from one space to the other. 

Penny Tiles – stick to the bathroom floors or walls with these guys – cleaning up a kitchen mess from these sounds like too much work for my taste and visually they feel a bit busy for a kitchen backsplash. 

Hex Tiles – in large format they work in the kitchen but I prefer them in a smaller format and used on bathroom floors.

3D or Textured Tiles – you can sometimes get away with a very textured tile for a kitchen backsplash but I’d avoid using anything too textured in a bathroom setting as all those crevices can catch mold and debris.

Well, there you have it. A LOT of opinions but ultimately the only one that matters is the person living in the home. So think through how you live, the maintenance required of your dream tile (and grout), and GO FOR IT. Life’s too short to not design your house the way you want. There’s about to be a lot of bathrooms and kitchens in my future so maybe breaking some ‘rules’ will be in the cards for 2021:)

But now I want to hear from you! Any thoughts? Experiences? Let’s talk tile, folks. xx

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: All the What’s, Why’s & How Much’s of the Portland Kitchen (+ Big Reveal)

Fin Mark

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