Kitchen Tile Art

People especially like designing backsplashes or island fronts with tile because they become the focus of the kitchen.
By: Dorothy Foltz Gray

Looking for a creative outlet beyond your culinary expertise? If so, sign up for Kitchen Tile 101. Scores of DIYers have become interested in designing and installing kitchen tile or working closely with a designer who can, says Laurel True, founder and director of the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland, Calif. "People are moving away from prefabricated designs at home improvement stores. They don't want to be one of 50 people with the same backsplash or counter type. And they are becoming less afraid of expressing creativity at home."

Enlarging the trend, of course, are shows, websites and magazines about decorating that demystify creativity and make it seem more accessible, says True, who also offers tile classes with hefty waiting lists at her studio, True Mosaics. "And they like duplicating something they've seen in a restaurant like a free-standing wall hanging of mosaic tile, a piece of furniture, a service piece, or shelving with glass mosaics. I've even done a glass mosaic on a kitchen door, the outside light shining through the design."

Deanne VanHaaren, a designer at tile specialty store Ginivito Flooring in Petosky, Mich., has noticed the trend as well. "I have never duplicated a backsplash," she says. "Each is unique. I like to take two or three visits to design one so that I can show clients every possibility within their style."

One client who owns a circus that focuses on cosmic themes asked for a planetarium backsplash, arguing that the universe never goes out of style. True created nine planets and a comet out of glass mosaic tiles and antique gems that now hover over the sink. The client, whose house is registered as a museum, also asked for a service cart sparkling with mosaic glass dragonflies.

Another client asked Laurel for a backsplash made from heirloom dishes: "She wanted to save them but had no use for them." So Laurel clipped the pottery into petal shapes, piecing together flowers — and her client's family history — in a mosaic field.

On floors, home designers are also creating faux rugs woven together with tile mosaics of different patterns and colors. Says True, "They can be a geometric design, look as detailed as an oriental carpet, or be as simple as a few colors and shapes in a rectangle."

But not all the designs people create or ask for are intricate. One client who lives in a house designed by the late Los Angeles architect Rudolf Schindler asked for something simple to fit Schindler's avant-garde style. "I randomly set large pieces of matte black tile that have brown dash marks running through them," says Laurel. The subtlety keeps the design from competing with the kitchen display of Japanese pottery.

Just as Zen, perhaps, is VanHaaren's advice: Go slowly. "Tile needs to be a piece of art."

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