Waterjet technology makes intricate designs in tile relatively easy to accomplish. Photo courtesy of Villeroy & Boch.

Design trends in the United States have gone through a period of white, and more white, and then off-white. But today’s consumer is ready for color. As it happens, color is one of the most powerful tools in decorating. Just the simple combination of different-sized tiles and colored grout can make a significant difference. But the effective use of decorative tile can make all the difference in the world.

From my very first days in the ceramic tile business, it became very clear to me that the whole aspect of selling ceramic tile needed to be rethought. Instead of selling plain field tiles and adding some decorative inserts, we needed to start thinking about using ceramic tile as a personalized installation, whereby the room is built around the decorative tiles and filled in with the plain stuff.

Show your customers how ceramic tile can add that little bit of flair to their installations, and you can add some profits to your business. Luckily, the tile industry has done its part to help you meet this challenge. The plethora of tile products now available will astound you. Virtually any style, motif or visual that you’ve ever dreamed of can be found in decorative tile.

Hand-painted tiles. Perhaps the greatest asset of hand-painted tiles is the fact that they allow for custom designs. Many consumers look for an artist to paint tiles to coordinate with existing wall coverings, fabrics or any other motif in the room. In such cases, the costs depend on the complexity of the design.

Almost any idea can be executed in a hand-painted tile, such as attractive murals designed for the cooking and backsplash areas, or ivy garlands that “grow” along the edge of the countertop or in the toe-kick area at the base of the cabinets. Practically any idea is yours for the asking!

Relief! Relief! A very popular type of tile today is one with and embossed relief design. The raised decoration can be subtle or bold, depending on how much the raised elements extend out from the background of the tile. At this year’s Coverings show, relief was the name of the game. In fact, I’ve never seen so much bold relief. These beautiful and imaginative pieces seemed to defy gravity.

Colorful tropical fish are a hot image for decorative tile. Photo courtesy for Villeroy & Boch.
Muralshave long been executed in tile. They can be as large or small as you like. They can be custom designed or chosen from stock patterns. All those shapes and sizes can be made into murals too! Bars and triangles can be joined together in an arts & crafts design that blends in with the popular designs in kitchen cabinetry. Mosaics, because of the small size of their component pieces, give you ample capacity for exceptional color rendition. Close-up details of a mosaic mural show the intricacy of the design and coloration.

Waterjet fabrication is another technique that’s growing in popularity today. Extremely complex designs can be achieved through use of the waterjet, and most of these can be executed off of a computer rendering. It’s also possible to create mixed-media installations by incorporating materials such as granite and metals into the design.

Logos and plaques are an often-overlooked application for decorative tile. They can personalize any installation, identify your street address, and serve as a historical marker on public buildings and landmarks. I think logos and plaques represent a great niche market for any purveyor of tile. Almost any business — large or small — has a logo. You’ve undoubtedly seen them at establishments such as Bennigan’s, American Eagle and many others. While the mural business of these large companies is usually gobbled up directly by the large manufacturers, many small firms in your community represent untapped business.

Art tiles are the ultimate in decorative tile installations for interiors or exteriors. While the U.S. ceramic industry was predominately geared for art tile prior to World War II, the population of tile artisans was quite small until a few years ago. Typically, these tiles are beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art. However, some manufacturers do produce art tile items as stock products. Many complex designs — such as quilt patterns or stain-glass window designs — can be rendered in art tiles. Relief murals that become architectural elements in the room are possible. If you can dream it, it’s probably possible in art tile.

Traditional border designs, copied from wood moldings, set off high relief designs in tile.
In many areas of the country, tile exteriors are an area of opportunity for the specialty floor covering retailer. Facades of small commercial businesses, pools, patios, terraces, and many outdoor areas just beg for that touch of tile. All of these exteriors can be enhanced with the beauty of ceramic tile. Porcelain tiles are impervious to weather conditions and add a lot of character to a building. They also set the stage for the interior embellishments.

Once you are in the business of creating personalized installations, you need to keep the ball rolling to keep the customers rolling in your door. Word of mouth will help, but be sure to keep up to date with design trends. Read and seek out all avenues of information. Always watch for new sources of product and new ideas.

Look for new and unusual places to install tile, such as tile cornices. Backsplashes are not required to always be clad in small tiles. Consider large sizes and new shapes. Tired of straightening that hall runner? Create a beautiful “rug” with tile. Set off that entry with a wonderful accent.

And it’s not even necessary to permanently install tiles. You can treat them as the works of art that they are and frame them to be hung over the fireplace.

In summary, when it comes to selling and installing decorative tiles, don’t forget to do the following:

  • think in terms of personalized installation.
  • market your services.
  • plan ahead on the project so that you can execute it without creating annoying or numerous problems for the customer. Work with your installation mechanic. Match the mechanic with the job.
  • don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most manufacturers offer design services, and they’re usually available for free. Just ask!
  • sit back and enjoy the profits you’ll reap by selling personalized installations.