Location, desired look affect tile selection

DEAR GAIL: We’re removing the carpet in our family room and hallway and want to run tile throughout including the kitchen and nook. We’ve been out shopping but are so confused with all the different types of tiles available from stone to ceramic. Help! — Mary and Justin.

DEAR MARY and JUSTIN: It can be very confusing. It’s no longer just beige ceramic tile; there are a lot of choices to pick from. On the other hand, I like it when I have choices, but then again I’m a designer, a woman and a shopper; sometimes I can drive my poor husband crazy.

So, what is the difference between natural stones and man-made tiles, their basic make-up and the different types?

Natural stone is just that, made by nature; it comes from the Earth. With natural stone you can have a large variation in color and pattern in each batch. I always like to say, “It depends upon what Mother Nature’s mood was the day the stone was created.” If you decide on a natural stone, ask to see a couple of pieces out of each box.

What are the different types of stones? The most popular is travertine; it is a type of crystalline or microcrystalline limestone with layers. The layers contain pores and cavities giving it a texture, which can be filled or unfilled. Travertines are mainly in warm earth tones, which is why they are so popular.

Another natural stone that looks similar to travertine is limestone. It is a sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate and magnesium. It is softer than some of the other stones, but it does have a more consistent appearance.

Slate, a very popular stone, is beautiful. It is a metamorphic rock composed of mica, chlorite and quartz and has lots of color. When I want a natural stone and color on the floor, I go right to slate. But I’ll tell you, there are some wonderful simulated-slate ceramic tiles being made.

Granite, although mainly used on countertops, is great for floors as it is the hardest stone, but watch it as it can be slippery. It is a granular, igneous rock, and consists primarily of quartz, mica and feldspar formed by volcanic activity. Granite has a wide range of patterns, from being very consistent from one batch to another to ones with incredible movement. It also has a broad range in color, from almost white to brown, black, gray, gold, pink, orange, green and even blue. A couple of my favorites, which are amazing to see in large slabs, are Rain Forest, a rainbow of colors, and Michelangelo, one of the most stunning brown, black and cream combinations I’ve seen.

The last stone I’ll talk about is marble. It is also a metamorphic rock composed mainly of the carbonate minerals calcite and dolomite. Marbles are softer than granite and more porous, so they are not something I would recommend in a kitchen. I had a client who had to have marble in his dining room, then at his first party, someone broke a bottle of red wine; it was not pretty.

Natural stones are stunning, but they do take more care and maintenance than man-made tiles. They all need to be sealed at least once a year since they are porous and will absorb liquids and stain. Yes, even the granite on your countertops. Sealing is easy and takes very little time. Simply wipe the sealer on, wait and then wipe it off.

You’ll also find that natural stones are more expensive to install, normally about $2-$4 more per square foot than a man-made tile. But, I have to say, I love them.

Now on to ceramic tiles. Although there are many different types, the most common are unglazed, glazed and porcelain. The tiles are made from various clays, feldspar and silica and then fired.

Unglazed tiles must be sealed to prevent staining. Glazed tiles are more durable than unglazed since they have the glazed coating on top. Most of the colored tiles that you see are glazed; however, the glazed color does not go through the whole body of the tile so realize that the color can chip and even wear off.

Porcelain tiles are my favorite for high-traffic and wear areas, like kitchens. They are fired at a higher temperature than other ceramic tiles so they are extremely durable, stain resistant and nonporous. The face color of the tile goes all the way through the body, making any scratches or chips less noticeable. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, many which look like natural stone. One manufacturer just introduced polished porcelain that looks like marble; it’s beautiful.

So, there’s your short tile lesson and I hope I’ve made your tile decision less confusing.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: gail@gmjinteriors.com. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.

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