Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Designing with Tile

Minnesota Tile Festival September 15, 2012

It’s September and that means it’s time for one of my favorite events – the Minnesota Tile Festival, the best and one of the largest handmade tile festivals in the country. This year’s festival is being held at American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, in the beautiful outdoor courtyard created by the addition of the new Nelson Cultural Center. Meet over 30 tile and mosaic artists. Participate in “See It, Make It” demonstrations and creation opportunities.

I’m excited to be one of the sponsors of the Tile Bucks Drawings, an opportunity to win $125 to spend with participating artists on the day of the festival. Drawings will be held at noon and 2 p.m.  Check my Facebook page for a Tile Bucks entry form you can download, and bring to the festival to enter the drawing.

Other highlights of the day include:

  • Handmade Tile Art Fashion Show / Competition (1 p.m.): A unique collaboration of 15 local fashion designers and the talented handmade tile artists. The show is emceed and judged by Melinda Nelson, Senior Editor of Mpls. St. Paul Magazine.
  • Art Car Creation: Using tiles donated by members of the Handmade Tile Association, Lori Greene of Mosaic on a Stick invites one and all to help “tile” an art car.
  • Silent Auction of art tiles
  • Guest speakers
  • Artists’ Award Presentations 

This year’s festival is better than ever. Don’t miss out on this fun-filled day!

Creative Ways to Use Ceramic Subway Tile

1904 New York City subway station: This Old House
Recently I read a fantastic article called, “ All About Ceramic Subway Tile” in the August issue of This Old House Magazine. The author, Laura Fisher Kaiser, explains that Subway tile, true to its name, was originally designed for New York City’s subterranean train stations in the early 1900’s. The tile quickly became popular with homeowners and moved into prewar bathrooms and kitchens. The epitome of sanitary; it is easy to clean, stain resistant and reflects light. The most common size was 3” x 6”. Today it is available in many rectangular sizes. The rule of thumb is that the length is twice its height. Traditionally the tiles were set horizontally, but many contemporary designs are being installed vertically to achieve interesting effects. Materials now vary too, including glass tiles.

In 1995 Josh Blanc, currently of  Clay Squared to Infinity and the president of the Handmade Tile Association, worked with other artisans of North Prairie Tileworks to create reproductions of Guastavino 6" x 12" grooved tiles (in colors ranging from turquoise green to a turquoise blue) for the tunnel under the main staircase of the Minnesota state capitol building. So classic - so beautiful!

In my own kitchen and bath designs I have used handmade subway tile from three local tile artists: North Prairie Tileworks, Mercury Mosaics, SoMi Tileworks. See samples of our collaborations below — then plan to meet the artists and see more of their work at the Minnesota Tile Festival.

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design
with North Prairie Tileworks

North Prairie Tileworks

I worked with the artisans of North Prairie Tileworks to create this kitchen backsplash featuring subway tile with a beautiful Morris inspired medallion insert. The switch plate covers were also made to match. The installation uses a 50% stager pattern with the tiles lining up in at the mid-point of the tiles above them. This is a very traditional installation pattern.

Mercury Mosaics

This kitchen backsplash was created by Mercury Mosaics for one of my Kitchen Spiff-Up projects. By using a non-staggered (or stacked) installation method—where all the tiles line up evenly at the outside edges—we gave the old cabinets a more contemporary look.

Spiff Up project designed by Christine Nelson Design 
with Mercury Mosaics

SoMi Tileworks

Here the color of the subway tile melts into the color of the countertops, allowing the eye-catching poppy medallion and flower tile accents created by SoMi Tileworks to really pop. The medallion is removable for cleaning ease, or to move to a new home. 

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design 
with SoMi Tileworks

Grout Matters

Bathroom designed by Christine Nelson Design
shows contrasting grout 
Grout color makes a huge difference in the visual outcome of every tile installation. It is available in a wide range of colors. Sometimes it is nice to match the color of the tile. When more contrast is desired for interesting effects I like to experiment with lighter or darker grout choices. Make sure to have the grout sealed so stains cannot collect on the grout.

In this bathroom design I chose a darker grey grout to offset the white subway tile—making the checkerboard pattern stand out more. The matte glass subway tile in the tub area has a lighter grout for the same contrasting effect.

Here is an example of a bathroom design where I used the same white subway tile as in the example above but chose a near-match grout for a more unified, subtle effect.

Bathroom designed by Christine Nelson Designs
showing a unified look with matching grout

Creating Patterns With Subway Tile

Running board or 50% stagger
This pattern is noted in several of the photos above. With this type of installation it is necessary to make multiple cuts at the ends of the tiled walls. This works best with walls that are slightly out of square.

See the Mercury Mosaics / Spiff-Up kitchen backsplash above. This method creates a more contemporary look.

Installing subway tiles vertically creates an even more contemporary look and works well in small spaces to give the illusion of taller ceilings. The vertical installation can use either the staggered or stacked method. The tiles shown in the photo to the left are glass tiles. 

Kitchen designed by Christine Nelson Design with vertical staggered tiles

In this example, vertically set tiles create aqua and black stripes on a bathroom wall. Also in this bathroom wall you can see how different sizes were used; the tiny subway tile on the bottom with the horizontal staggered installation, and the much larger subway tile above the sink with the vertical stacked installation. These variations add a nice contrast in size, colors and direction.

Vertical stripes installation: 
This Old House magazine

Either a focal point or an entire backsplash can be installed in a herringbone pattern for a very intricate and interesting effect. Allow at least 15% extra tile to account for the numerous cuts with this pattern.

Herringbone stove backsplash:
This Old House

Other Design Details

Framed focal point - as in the SoMi Tileworks poppy medallion (see above) or as in this example, where subway tile is set in a different direction inside the medallion area.

Famed tile pattern: This Old House 

Contrasting base and cap often includes a border tile with a design to add a great deal of contrast and color punch! 

Decorative inset tiles by North Prairie Tileworkx
Similar color base and cap usually means that the caps are glazed around the entire top for a finished look. 

Borders are a fun way to bring in more color and pattern into the space. Both of my bathroom designs shown above include tile borders.

Scattered accents are a great way to display very special handmade tiles surrounded by subway tile. 

Obviously, I love handmade tile! I hope that seeing the enduring beauty and versatility of handmade tile has inspired you to attend the Minnesota Tile Festival and to start planning your next kitchen and bath project. Let’s do it together!

1 comment:

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