Whiteworks – Exploring Color

by clé tile | published: May 28, 2021

White Isn’t a Color. It’s Every Color.

What is white? It seems like a straightforward question, but in the world of tile, it turns out, the answer is anything but simple.

In every discussion of white, you’ll find “experts” who opine that it’s not a color at all, but rather the absence of color. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, every color we see is a product of light – the part of the spectrum an object’s surface most reflects determines what color we perceive it to be.

And white? Well, white reflects the entire spectrum. So in a sense, white is ALL the colors. Depending on the material in question, certain parts of the rainbow may be just slightly more prominent than others, giving rise to whites that feel warmer or cooler, clearer or creamier, more sterile or more inviting.

Image by: Michaela Sherrer

In Search of the Perfect White tile

It’s often said that the Inuit people have 50 words for snow, each reflecting a different state of the white stuff that surrounds them — fresh, falling, deep, icy. There’s more to the story than that, as linguists will tell you, but for our purposes, the analogy holds: In the world of interior design, white is never just “white.”

From Linen to Mist to Gardenia to, yes, Snowfall, there are more variations on white than exhausted paint-color namers can keep up with, with new options appearing every day.

Home design publications try to make sense of the dizzying array with Top-Ten lists and How-Tos, exploring the many tinges and undertones, and illuminating the ways that wall texture, paint finishes and lighting can affect how a given choice will look in your home.

The only sure-fire way to find the perfect shade of white for your space is to sample, sample, sample.

Image by: Mel Walbridge for Remodelista

As With Paint, So With Tile. (Only More So.)

Tile takes those considerations to a whole new level, with layered materials that refract, reflect and even absorb light in different ways, dimensional forms and textures that cast patterns of illumination and shadow and a whole gamut of grout choices that make white tile look dramatically different in various settings.

Classic ceramic Subway tile, for instance, has a uniform, glossy surface that reflects light for a bright white appearance that matches its dirt-repelling qualities. Choose a light-absorbing matte finish, and the effect is more muted (and more modern), but equally clean and classic.

Change the base material from porcelain to terracotta, as with our gleaming Fornace Brioni Glazed Cotto or satiny Architect’s Palette tiles, and the effect is warmer and more rustic.

Choose Carrara marble, and the crystalline layers of the natural stone will cause light to play differently across every inch of each tile.

two views of clé tile zellige bejmat tiles in weathered white installed in a kitchen backsplash.
(left) weathered white bejmat zellige; (right) design: Becki Owens, photo: Rebekah Westover

Where to Begin

Those are just a few of the many variations on the theme of white at clé. So how do you find the white tile that’s perfect for your project?

First, think about the space you’re working with, the kind of impact you want tile to make on the space, and how it will be used. One tool that can help is Primer, a proprietary augmented reality (AR) technology that allows you to instantly preview tile in your space via a mobile app.

What makes the app play so well with our tile is that it allows you to see the play of light on tile. This is so important in the design process because the quality and character of light in every space is different, whether it’s the natural light coming into the room, the light introduced into it, or even the furnishings in the room. Primer’s technology lets you take all of this into account, giving you a much better idea of how the tile will look in your setting.

Primer works with the lighting conditions in any given space, and uses advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors to work around furniture, plants, and even pets. Bonus: you can even get an accurate real-world measurement of the length, width, and square footage so you can know how much tile to order.

Using Primer is easy: download the app from the Apple app store. Then view any of the following white tiles featured on the app in your space:

Next, once you get a sense of how tiles might look in your space under different lighting conditions (if you have Primer), narrow the field to your favorites, and (just as with paint), sample, sample, sample. As good as photos, descriptions and online tools may be, there’s no substitute for seeing the material where it will ultimately live, in every light, both natural and artificial.

In fact, we are so convinced of the importance of sampling, all first-time customers receive three complimentary with the code 3CLESAMPLES. Order yours here.

Next up: What’s your tile personality? Find out where our whiteworks series continues…

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