White triangles dance across a black backdrop, striped squares march over a shower threshold, and Escheresque cubes bring optical allure to kitchen floors. Black and white always make for a dashing combination, and the pair’s sudden graphic appearance in tile is anything but subtle. Black-and-white tile made a big splash at the recent Cersaie design show in Italy and is now wending its way across kitchens and baths everywhere.
A Current Classic
“The way we’re using it now is mod and contemporary, but it also has historical learnings,” says designer Rande Leaman, whose eponymous firm is in the Los Angeles area. “There was s a lot of black-and-white tile in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s a trend that’s come back.” Designer Erica Nicole Illions of Kitchen Design Concepts in Dallas Agrees: “The look is a little glam, a little art Deco.”
Black-and-white tile’s lack of color lets it slot right into present styles. “It has so much punch and engergy to I, but it still lives in a neutral world, “ Leaman says. She adds warmth with wood cabinetry or matte brass accents. Architect Ann Sellars Lathrop of her namesake firm in Westport, CT, Keeps a small bathroom simple, complemnenting the tile with sparkly white perfomrance fabric on the wall and black stone on the floor.
Making Shapes Sing
“I like to use black-and-white tile as the wow factor,” Illions says. She adds details like small hexagonal tiles on a shower floor to subtly extend accent tile elsewhere in the room. Lathrop similarly pulls the tile through the overall design. For the bathroom seen above, she chose “a thin vertical mirror to stay with the vertical expression of the tile,” she says. “The wide single sink was separated from the black cabinet base so more of the wall tile could be seen.”
Leaman tailors the design to the client’s personality. “If someone’s shy with black and white, I’ll go a little softer with pattern,” she says. “If they’re adventurous, I’ll grab old graphic designs that can still be considered classics.” Illions draws inspiration from the home’s aesthetic. “For a traditional house, I’ll look for tile with curves, maybe even a floral design,” she says. “If it’s a modern home, I’ll do something less intricate.”
Details Make a Difference
Think about what will go on the tile, Lathrop says. “Make sure no outlets, switches, grilles or other elements interfere with the pattern.” She often omits towel bars, hooks and wall-mounted faucets on tiled surfaces. Illions considers scale too. “If the pattern is too large for the space, you get partial pieces due to cutting,” she says. “For example, in a 12-by-12-inch shower wall niche, I would use a 2-by-2-inch mosaic.”
Communication Is Key
“For a lot of tile installers, this kind of tile ventures into new territory; it’s not just laying subway in a staggered pattern,” Leaman says. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. As designers, it’s up to us to convey that to them, with drawings and job site visits.” Lathrop adds, “Decide clearly where to start the pattern and take it through on paper so there are no surprises at corners, edges or endpoints when the final install occurs.”