Floor tiles are the most common interior décor item, and yet the most misunderstood. Here’s a primer.

Tiles are the most sought-after finish for walls and floors. They have a natural, handcrafted look and are durable and easy to maintain.

There’s a huge variety in the market, making shopping interesting but also confusing. Broadly, tiles can be classified into mosaic, ceramic, terracotta, as well as natural stones such as marble, slate, granite and more.

Pick the right one

The kind of tile you select will depend on where in the house you plan to use it. Some tiles are rated for indoor or outdoor use only, while others can be used anywhere.

Thus, the entrance or foyer areas will need a hard, abrasion- and moisture-proof tile, while the bathroom will need moisture-proof and non-slip tiles. A tile with glossy finish can be dangerous in a wet area or staircase. On the other hand, a highly textured tile can be hard to clean even if it is non-skid.

Unglazed ceramic tiles give a rustic look but are more difficult to clean while glazed ceramic tiles are stronger and more easily cleaned. Terracotta tiles are low on price and lend an old-world charm but are porous and not suited for bathrooms.

Avoid using marble tiles in kitchens where they can be stained by grease or spices, or in high-traffic rooms where a shoe or chair could scratch the surface. Slate is very porous and is best avoided in bathrooms or kitchens. It works better as, say, a show wall.

Lay it right

Recently, I went to inspect an apartment and was taken aback by the poor quality of tile installation. No care had been taken to position them, and there were many mismatched tiles.

No two batches of tiles look the same, with differences in shade or tone unavoidable. Thus, it’s important to buy from the same batch. Also, always buy 10-15 per cent more than your need. This ensures you have a back-up in case of damage or miscalculation. If you still get a few mismatched pieces, position them in spaces where you know furniture or rugs will cover them.

For marble or granite, the grain flow needs to be monitored. Marble look-alikes make sense because you get the look of marble at low cost and low maintenance, but don’t let bad installation ruin the effort.

Consistent spacing between tiles is vital for visual impact. Inter-tile spaces are usually filled with grouting, now available in all colours. The USP of vitrified tiles is the almost zero joinery, which is good, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where dirt and grime can gather in the gaps. Everybody talks of larger tile sizes for seamless flooring, but the chances of chipping are higher. Pick a size that makes sense for you. Tiles are graded. There are no flawless tiles but the percentage of blemishes is higher in a lower grade tile. These are cheaper but the chances of breakage are higher.