Small space, small tile; big space, big tile... right?
Seems to make sense. But, matching room size to tile size is a myth--and a design mistake we often see. Scale does matter. Taking into account the size of your projects’ space is a good thing. But, tile shoppers who select a smaller tile simply because their space is small are working off of bad intel.
above: cindered olive 2x6 stacked horizontally in a backsplash
Go Big or Go Home
It’s really all about optical illusion. Fashionistas understand there’s a reason why horizontal stripes are (generally) a no-no. Tile designers feel the same way about small tile in small spaces. Using 2x2 or 4x4 (inch) in a five-foot-squared space may seem appropriate. But small tile requires more grout joints—so that becomes the focus. It produces the undesirable effect of making the room look even smaller.
Alternatively, bigger tiles (8x8) expand the illusion of a larger space. It’s not magic, just optics.
How does that work, though?
A larger tile installation requires fewer/less frequent grout lines, making the space appear more open and streamlined. You can go as large as your space will allow. The bigger you go, the bigger the space looks.
above left: white scallops create a visual backdrop. above right: the intricate pattern of this jacobsen cement tile provides a textured look in this small bathroom
Small Tiles Aren’t Out of Style
All of this is not to say you should never use smaller tiles in small spaces. Certain tiles can make a small floor plan flow better. For example, consider this approach if the spacing between a sink, toilet, or other room feature is compact.
Should you decide to go with a smaller tile for these small floor plans, it’s best to choose a tile that creates a textural impact--and that doesn’t correspond to a grid. A small mosaic tile, such as penny rounds, is a good option. There will be more grout lines, but because these tiles work better around corners and fixtures, it creates a smooth flow to the room. Small mosaic tiles also require fewer cuts, thus offering a more streamlined look.
To widen a long or narrow rectangular space, plank style, large tiles help create depth. This sets the appearance of a wider and more spacious room. We suggest something like a 2x8 plank set in a herringbone pattern. This allows the eye to scan the surface texture with no visible grout grid.
One other quick note on using small tile… your wall tile should never be larger than its complementary floor tile. This creates another optical illusion of disproportion. When mixing tile in this way, one design approach is to incorporate different shapes to optimize the optical flow. For example, using square tiles on the wall and rectangular tiles for the floor.
Define Your Design
Large or small, the most important thing to keep in mind is your desired design look—and not get hung up on tile size dos and don’ts. After all, it’s your home.
above left: tempered steel in horizontal planks creates depth. above right: 2 x2 weathered white zellige creates a textured surface with its variegated edges and pitted surface.