This is the very first article in what I hope will be an informative and enjoyable series of posts, which will be published about once a month. With each article, I’ll explore ‘How to Design With” a specific type of material, finish, furnishing, or accessory for your home. I’ll be sure to include my thoughts on how each item can work in a family-friendly home, and sources for obtaining said item.
So are you ready?
Painted terra cotta tile!
You know a tile has ‘made it’ when you start seeing ceramic and porcelain renditions of it pop up everywhere. But nothing quite looks or feels like the real deal.
It’s all over Instagram and Pinterest, and I’m not talking about Spanish/Mediterranean medallions and such. Painted terra cotta tile designs cover an eclectic range of styles from traditional to modern, and therefore can work well in interior spaces in a variety of styles. They’re rocking that ‘perfectly imperfect,’ handcrafted, organic look lots of us are coveting right now. It’s like a custom art installation in your home.
Let’s actually start with where you can’t use painted terra cotta tile. You cannot install it anywhere water can collect and accumulate on it. This would include, exterior applications and shower floors, primarily. You can technically use painted terra cotta tile on shower walls, but you have to get a little creative to make it work (keep reading to find out how)
Also, please don’t use it as a countertop surface. Actually, please don’t use tile at all on a countertop surface. I am far from a clean freak, but I truly cannot imagine having to scrub and sanitize grout on my countertops after cooking a meal – yuck!
You should also avoid using painted terra cotta tile where it could be exposed to extreme heat. It can be used behind ranges, depending upon the cooking habits of the homeowner. But applications like a wood burning fireplace or, say, a pizza oven, would be a little risky.
OK, enough with the no-nos, let’s see what we CAN do with painted terra cotta tile!
1.) Kitchen Backsplash
A painted terra cotta tile backsplash is so gorgeous in the kitchen. I especially love it in a white kitchen to amp up the interest and color, as well as adding pattern and a textural look in a space that often lacks it, because there are so many hard surfaces.
The above kitchen was not lacking color (obsessed with the blue La Cornue range, and the island!), but the painted terra cotta tile really effectively creates a bridge between the blue surfaces and the white.
Painted terra cotta tile makes for a striking, texture-rich background for open and floating shelves in the kitchen in a full-height application.
2.) Kitchen Feature Backsplash
Either for design or budget reasons, it might make sense to be more judicious about the use of painted terra cotta tile in the kitchen. It’s also great used in conjunction with a more basic tile, such as white subway, or simply used in smaller doses as a way to define or give focus to a certain area or zone with a specialized function – such as behind the range, at the coffee bar, or in the butler’s pantry.
Here are a couple of gorgeous kitchens with painted terra cotta feature backsplashes behind the range…
I would happily cook 89,435 quarantine meals for unappreciative children here. And I love the star and cross variation here, rather than the standard squares – it helps break up all the right angles inherent in a kitchen. I find the repeat of this pattern to be very comforting!
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me post projects and schemes featuring my friend Mally Skok’s fabrics. She is also a fabulous interior designer, and this kitchen she designed for a client has always been a favorite. I adore the alcove for the ginormous professional range, and the use of painted terra cotta tile here adds even more depth and dimension to this focal point.
Speaking of schemes featuring Mally Skok – here’s another one! We are using painted terra cotta tile from Tabarka Studio as a feature backsplash in the kitchen of a new construction project in the Berkshires.
The painted terra cotta portion of the backsplash will die into a marble oil and spice shelf (matching the countertop below), and the remainder of the full-height backsplash is simple white handmade 2×4 subway tile. Disregard the tile design in the rendering – it was discontinued after our initial selection, so we pivoted to the design you see in the scheme, and custom colored it as shown.
3.) Laundry Room Backsplash
What laundry room couldn’t use an infusion of fun and whimsy? Anything to take the sting out of my least favorite household chore (is it yours too?). A painted terra cotta tile backsplash in the laundry room is always a good idea – and if your laundry room is on the smaller side, you don’t need a ton of square footage to make it happen.
4.) Shower Walls
Although it may be a little tricky to execute, shower walls can look so amazing bedecked in painted terra cotta tile!
I tried really hard to find the designer behind the above image! I thought it was illustrative to include here, as an example of how you could do a full shower in painted terra cotta tile. You can meet the 6” requirement by bringing up the floor tile onto the walls, or by including a base moulding tile around the shower walls (and maybe around the whole bathroom…).
Painted terra cotta tile in a shower niche is one of my favorite ways to use it! It can add a fun accent of color and pattern in an otherwise ordinary shower (i.e. white subway tile), in a very cost-effective and ‘safe’ way. Extra props to the stone slab shelf, too! Always my preferred way to build out a shower niche.
Another idea for painted terra cotta tile shower walls that keeps it up off the floor is to run it along a wall with a built-in/tiled-in and stone-topped bench underneath. Just please see below for the next category which is…
5.) Accent Wall
Some rooms or areas of your home may be well-suited for a painted terra cotta tile accent wall. Please just remember the golden rule of accent walls! Which is that they – be they painted, wallpapered, tiled, or whatever – are used to accent something, not to just put randomly in a space. There needs to be a reason decoratively or architecturally to do this – creating a focal point, differentiating a space, etc. (I feel better now that we’ve had this talk…)
I love this ‘niche within a niche’ that adds depth and architectural interest to a toilet alcove with two different geometric patterned painted terracotta tiles. Not to mention, it effectively distracts from the always useful, yet never beautiful Toto Washlet toilet.
The accent wall approach would also be interesting in other types of rooms, such as a foyer, sun room, or hallway – again, an alternative to wallpaper.
6.) Bathroom Vanity Backsplash
A bathroom vanity backsplash is a great way to use painted terra cotta tile. I really like full-height tile backsplashes in bathrooms, but in this case, you can make a tile installation look more like wallpaper…with all of the practicality of tile. Extra props to the designer, House of Jade Interiors, on the spatial planning and laying out the pattern – look how perfectly the repeat works out! And it really has to in the case of this radial pattern that is created across four adjacent tiles. Very nice. 🙂
7.) Bathroom Floors
Walls have received a lot of love so far, but painted terra cotta tile can also be beautiful and practical under foot, when installed thoughtfully. I would suggest sticking to lighter traffic floors to minimize wear, and bathrooms are the perfect place to do this.
A bathroom with painted terra cotta tile floors can be very simple. Let the floor be the star! Why not? I love this idea. Just prepare for a bigger investment, depending upon the square footage you’re working with. But again, keep it simple with the other elements, so you could certainly balance a budget that way.
8.) Stair Risers
Want to get really creative with painted terra cotta tile? A very Mediterranean / Mission / California way to use it in your home is on stair risers.
Not only does this installation look amazing and add some much-needed visual interest to a typically boring architectural element – it also imparts additional durability to the stair risers, and eliminates the need for a carpet stair runner.
**PLEASE KEEP READING** after this, even though it’s usually the last thing I include in my blog posts! Today it’s not, and there is an important reason for that…
If you enjoyed this post and would like to bookmark it for future reference, or share with others who might find it inspiring, you can pin the image below!
**PLEASE READ** – a personal note from me – I’ve been researching this blog post for a couple of weeks, and have been targeting today (Tuesday, June 2, 2020) to publish it. Given the current troubled and shocking state of the U.S., I considered going ‘silent’ and pausing on the blog, as many others are doing right now in solidarity with the anti-racist movement.
I made the decision to continue to publish here, with the goal of continuing to help young families of all kinds make their homes more functional, livable, and beautiful. If you’ve made it this far, and you found this post helpful or inspiring, I would ask you to consider looking inside your heart and joining me in making a donation to the NAACP.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to make your voice heard in whatever way feels most appropriate to you.