Tile design patterns are a great way to add personality to a remodeling project whether via temporary materials (think fabric and wall coverings) or permanent ones such as tile or even hardwood flooring. Patterns have the ability to elevate simple materials. Take subway tile for example. You can’t get much more basic than white 3 x 6″ ceramic tile. Set in a running bond pattern, subway tile backsplash will look traditional and understated, but take that same tile and set it in a herringbone pattern and suddenly it has more visual weight and movement.
When it comes to tile design, straight or grid patterns are often the default for home builders. They’re the easiest to install because there are fewer cuts. Fewer cuts mean less material waste and a quicker installation. Quite simply – it’s cheaper. But if you’re preparing to remodel your home, chances are you want something other than what the original home builder installed. Your kitchen or bathroom designer will make pattern recommendations appropriate for the materials chosen, the location, and your desired aesthetic. Also, remember that you always have the option between vertical shower and kitchen tile and horizontal shower and kitchen tile.
Popular Tile Design Patterns and Where to Use Them
Running Bond or Brick Bond
This tile works best for field tiles and mosaics smaller than 12″ x 24″. You can use this tile design with rectangular or square tiles, but traditionally it’s done with rectangular bricks, hence the name. Running this pattern horizontally will emphasize the width of a space, while vertical installations emphasize height.
The running bond pattern is popular for kitchen backsplashes, flooring, shower walls, and bathroom wainscoting. It offers a classic look when using traditional tile materials such as subway tile or marble, but it looks just as good with more contemporary porcelain or glass tile as well.
A variation on the running bond is the flemish bond, which also derives from masonry. A flemish bond usually consists of alternating square and rectangular tiles in the same course. While uncommon, it can make for a pretty and unexpected backsplash or shower enclosure. When mixing tiles, it is critical they are the same height and thickness, so you would only do this if the particular tile you chose was offered in two sizes. Otherwise, the grout lines would have to be much larger to make up for the difference, and the installation wouldn’t look as clean.
As wood-look porcelain and large format tile have increased in popularity in recent years, we’ve started seeing a lot more of this pattern and for an efficient reason. When porcelain tiles are longer than 18″, they tend to bow ever so slightly in the middle; it’s just due to the material’s properties and the manufacturing process. When staggered in a traditional running bond (above), the center of the tile may stick up slightly higher than the edges, causing what we refer to as “lippage.” Because of that, it’s industry standard to install anything over 18″ long in a ⅓ offset if not set straight.
Beware – When using three courses of this pattern on a wall, it can look like stair steps, but it’s less noticeable (and more desirable for a wood-look). If stair steps aren’t your thing, but you’re dead set on longer tile, try setting it in two courses instead. It’ll look like a tighter running bond, and there won’t be a lip. We also use this pattern with smaller tiles on backsplash applications.
Straight or Grid
This straight pattern, which we typically design from square tiles, looks like graph paper. This pattern is simple to install and uses very little waste, much like its design. When installing rectangular tiles in a grid, that’s often referred to as a soldier stack (standing vertically) or a horizontal soldier stack. Soldier stacking rectangular tiles can add a contemporary touch to your backsplash or shower wall tile design. We’ve also used this pattern for tile flooring in a larger format.
“On-point” is just a fancy way of saying we want the grid to look like a diamond at an exact 45-degree angle. While less popular now, it was all the rage in the earlier 2000s. Anytime a tile is set on point, it makes the space feel larger, so it’s excellent for small powder rooms. You can even dress it up with a running bond or mosaic border around the baseboard.
While the basketweave pattern works in masonry for patios, it also makes a great mudroom floor or backsplash. It’s a more artistic version of the stacked stile backsplash. Consider a basketweave using two materials of varying sizes to get more of a woven look. Basketweave stone mosaics are famous for traditional shower floors and bathroom accents, but they don’t look as appropriate in kitchens.
This classic pattern works well as both an accent and as the primary, uninterrupted tile pattern in a living space. It does require lots of cuts, making it more wasteful and expensive to supply/install. Herringbone can add flair in a small mosaic format of your kitchen backsplash or as part of a larger tile design across an entire floor. You can even try herringbone shower tile. Keep in mind that the longer the tile is, the more exaggerated the pattern. While you can install herringbone tiles straight — which would result in that same stair-step pattern — it’s most commonly installed “on point,” which resembles a W.
The term “tile mosaic” refers to a collection of pieces smaller than 4″ x 4″ joined together using a fiberglass mesh backing or paper. Attaching these smaller pieces in pre-made sheets makes installation quicker and easier than installing thousands of smaller tiles; however, installing mosaic tiles takes a great deal of experience and skill. If an expert remodeler creates the tile design, you shouldn’t be able to pick out the seems between sheets after grouting tile.
You can design mosaics from glass, stone, ceramic, porcelain, metal (see below), or even wood. Generally speaking, the smaller the individual pieces making up the mosaic, the more expensive. Because of this, mosaics make great accents. If you want an impact, take a mosaic and use it as the field tile. When used in large quantities, mosaics take on a wallpaper effect creating that “wow” factor. Mosaics work on shower floors due to the sheets’ ability to curve with the shower pan to allow proper drainage.
Whatever your tile design predilection, whether it be a vertical tile shower or mosaic backsplash in your kitchen, we are here to help you!