In addition to the backsplash design, the floor features 1- x 1-inch clear glass tiles with inserts of four 1- x 1-inch black tiles forming a diamond shape. According to designer Gail Green, the iridescent tile reflects the blues and greens very much in the same way that the ocean reflects the colors.

For some time now, the options for decorative tile have been on the rise - for architects and designers as well as homeowners. Tile producers around the world have been devising new options in hand-painted tile, textured surfaces, mosaic pieces, glass and metal products and more. Perhaps more importantly, these products are being creatively utilized by architects, designers and homeowners for a broad range of spaces - in ways that the manufacturers themselves may have not even envisioned.

Obviously, one of the most prevalent applications for these products would be kitchen and bathroom design. Backsplashes provide a natural environment for these products, as they serve as an intriguing contrast to granite countertops. Designs have included metal tile pieces for a minimalist look (complementing stainless steel appliances in the process), iridescent glass tile to create a more vibrant aesthetic or crafted textured pieces for a country kitchen setting.

In bathroom spaces, decorative tile has been showcased in a wealth of applications, creating a one-of-a-kind haven for homeowners. Designers are using decorative tile for shower stalls, tub surrounds and, of course, walls and floors. These materials not only serve to create a unique setting, but they can also define the user of a bathroom - as in the case of decorative tile products created specifically for children's bathroom spaces.

Of course, the use of decorative tile has moved well beyond kitchen and bathroom design. It can be found in living areas - particularly in mosaic form - and decorative tile is even being used for exterior residential environments, offering a truly unique look for homeowners. And in the commercial environment, decorative tile is not only being used to attract people to a space, but also to contribute to a memorable visual experience.

Residential Interior Designer Gail Green of Green & Company, Inc. believes that decorative and glass tiles are “ingeniously” used to add interest and imagination to a space. “They can be used in almost any application you can think of - from walls to floors,” she said. “The look of these materials completely changes the whole complexion of a space.”

When Green first entered the industry in 1980, she found that people were frequently using slabs or other materials such as marble tiles. Today, however, she has noticed that glass and decorative tile are much more of a focus. “People want a more decorative look - these materials have become more innovative and there are so many varieties available,” said the designer. “We are no longer using the standard American tiles that were around when I started working in the venue.”

Over the years, Green has noticed that these types of applications are appearing more and more in residential areas, including bathrooms, bedrooms, foyers and kitchens - partly because it is such an easy material to maintain. In addition, she has also used decorative and glass tile for more unique applications such as drapery valences, fireplace mantels and ceilings. “A lot of people like more unusual tile applications nowadays, and you can be really imaginative in your use of it,” she said.

Green also feels that people frequently select glass and decorative tiles for borders. “It's a great material because you can get a lot more for your money by just using it as a border instead of covering an entire area,” she said. “Plus, you can mix and match materials such as marble mosaics with glass mosaics and get a lot more out of a border design.”

For a kitchen in a Manhattan townhouse, Green selected 1- x 1-inch pieces of Clear tessera field tile - manufactured by Oceanside Glasstile and distributed by Artistic Tile - for the floor and backsplash because it reflected the translucent light. According to the designer, the iridescent glass tile was used to simulate the old vessel galley floors in its wall and floor patterns as well as to evoke a feeling of moving water. “During different times of the day, the glass tile reflects the blues and greens very much in the same way that the ocean reflects the colors,” added Green.

An amber decorative border referred to by Oceanside Glasstile as “Rincon” in 2 1/4- x 7 3/4-inch strips was used on the backsplash. Offsetting these liners are 4- x 4-inch black inserts. In addition, a black “Pearl” 1 3/8- x 7 3/4-inch liner runs parallel to the Rincon liner. The floor features 1- x 1-inch clear glass tile with four 1- x 1-inch black inserts set in a diamond shape. In addition, black granite was used for the countertops to reflect the deep, dark depths of the ocean bottom and the hard, impervious surface of stone, according to the designer.

When recently designing another kitchen referred to as “The Keeping Room,” Green looked to traditional marble tiles in a harlequin pattern for the backsplash and flooring. The tiles from Hastings Tile and Bath were selected in warm earth tones of sienna, ivory and straw in smooth and rough textures.

Lately, Green has started to work with new products, including leather tile and metal tile, which she feels add an element of surprise to the end result of how a space will look. “You aren't really sure what is happening with the mediums or what you can expect,” she said. For the design of a modernist bathroom, Green incorporated leather tiles from Ann Sacks. Dark brown glass mosaic tiles are infused with spotted reflective silver ones, creating a random tile pattern, while white leather tiles in a geometric pattern add variety to the space. The mosaic tiles are featured on the waterwalls, while the leather tiles are placed on the mirroring corners. In addition, the shower is clad in the same array of mosaics.

“Smaller glass tiles are definitely very popular now, as are iridescent ones,” Green continued. “These materials are available in such a variety of colors.” The designer typically looks to art, jewelry and paintings for inspiration of new ideas.

A Spa-Like Feel

In addition to modern designs, decorative tile can be used in a more classical setting. For a residential bathroom setting in New Jersey, the design goal was to provide the feeling of a spa for the homeowner. This goal was achieved by adding elements such as columns and crown molding, but it also relied heavily on the creative selection of stonework. Materials supplied by Floor and Décor of Tenafly, NJ, included large-format tiles, which opened up the space. Moreover, the materials are defined by a green khaki color, thus creating a soothing environment, with a variety of textures and sizes.

The bathroom floor is comprised of 16- x 16-inch distressed Olive stone tiles, which were laid out in a diagonal pattern. To add variety to the floor pattern, each large-format tile was clipped twice, and the floor pattern includes “Small Blossom” decorative accents bordered by 3/4- x 3/4-inch mosaic pieces of Botticino marble. Mosaic pieces were also used as decorative borders throughout the space - for the walls as well as the floors.

The centerpiece of the floor design is an intricate medallion that includes four decorative accents on the corners, mosaic fields of Olive stone and an ornate centerpiece.

The walls feature 8- x 8-inch tiles of Olive stone laid on the diagonal, mosaic pieces in both stone materials and decorative accents, capped with a 2- x 12-inch polished Botticino chair rail. The decorative accents are referred to as “Flourish with Pearls,” according to Anna-Marie Fanelli of Floor and Décor.

And while a stone-clad bathtub provides one haven for the homeowners, another can be found in the shower stall, which features the same wall pattern as the main space, but with Olive stone in a brickwork pattern above the chair rail. The shower ceiling and floor also utilize natural stone, as does the bench seat, which features a large single slab.

Reflecting the Wildlife Within

Decorative tile has also found a home in diverse commercial applications. At the San Antonio Zoo in Texas, the overall goal has been to create an interactive, lively atmosphere that also reflects the nature within the park. When considering the built environment and the structures within the zoo, this means that material types are carefully evaluated before being specified.

Of course, materials such as natural stone, wood and abundant plant life are used throughout the San Antonio Zoo's many environs, but they also include a collection of decorative tile work, which was used in an exterior application at one of the building entryways. The decorative tile pieces were crafted by Dunis Studios of Bulverde, TX, and include ceramic pieces from the company's Bird and Animal Collection as well as the Field Tile Collection. Artisan Sienna Dunis Ginn explained that the 4- x 4-inch pieces depicting wildlife were hand cast and painted, and include varieties such as Black Bear, Hummingbird, Horned Lizard, Fox, Gold Finch, Monarch Butterfly, Cardinal, Robin, Carolina Wren, Bay Horse and Roadrunner.

Additionally, the textured field tiles were supplied in sizes of 4 x 4 and 4 x 2 inches, with wide grout joints contributing to the overall look. Colors include Deep Wicker, Wheat Field, Spanish Copper, Aphrodite and Bamboo. The tile is vitrified and frost-proof, making it ideal for an exterior application.