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Custom Looks with Standard Tile

Nothing compares to tile for adding personality and practicality to a home. The results are immediate, the effects can be dramatic, and it is often inexpensive. But as with all home improvements, care must be taken to assure that each project turns out to be an asset to the property.

Since price and quality of tile, grout, design, and installation can vary so much, homeowners often feel too confused to make a decision from tile estimates alone. Understanding the basics can help consumers decide how much expert help they need with the selection, design, and labor to get the best return for the time and money spent.

“You can do so many special things with tile to add pizzazz to a room, but most people miss the opportunity by choosing what I call ‘plain vanilla’ or neutral tile because they think a designer look has to be expensive,” says Teri Clark of PlanCraft, a California design company. “You can mix colors and sizes of basic tile to form graphic patterns or include just a few special tiles without increasing the cost much at all.”

Providing detailed specification lists for contractors to bid from is part of Clark’s service when she designs or improves plans for new construction or remodeling. The following are some of the ways she suggests clients use tile to customize their homes:

* Use tile as a trim and/or backsplash with other materials such as plastic

laminate (i.e. Formica), Corian, granite or marble.
* Set tiles on a diagonal.
* Use 12-inch glazed “pavers” (usually used on floors) on countertops.
* Set a few tiles flush with a plastic laminate countertop near the stove and oven to set hot pans down without trivets.
* Set tile on window seats and ledges, buffet counters and other places to create

waterproof areas to set plants.
* Choose a color for the edge trim and backsplash to contrast with the countertop; then reverse the scheme elsewhere in the room, such as on a kitchen island or in the shower.
* Create a focal point by setting a mural of tiles behind the cooktop in a kitchen, and surround it by finger tiles of a contrasting color. Continue the line of color as a stripe through the backsplash and around the sink.
* Choose two complementary colors that work with a third neutral background color. Create stripes and patterns running through the vanities, tubs, and showers in bathrooms.

“There are also hand-painted tiles, places that will glaze your own custom artwork onto tile, three dimensional decorated glass tiles, murals that can be fired onto any background tile you choose, and an incredible variety of colors, sizes and shapes available,” says Clark.

Though she can help her clients save money by using standard materials creatively, Clark stresses that the last place to economize is with the tile installation.

“A bad tile job is awful. Water runs down into low spots, tiles crack easily, improperly mixed grout can seep residue, the whole surface can actually look wavy if the base is not perfectly level,” she says.

When comparing bids, Clark strongly suggests seeing samples of each tile setter’s work. “There’s a lot of variation among tile setters, and a lot of talent involved in laying it out right to get a balance,” she adds.

Consumers are often puzzled by the wide range of estimates they can receive from contractors bidding on the same job. Because tile setters charge according to how long they think it will take to do the job, these price variations reflect different methods for installing the tile as well as the amount of the time they take to set the tile.

Be sure the installation method and the type of tile are included in the written bids, in order to compare estimates accurately, and later in the written contract to be sure you are getting your money’s worth.

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