What defines a tile is its human scale. Over a certain size, a tile becomes a slab, or a panel or a sheet. Under a certain size it becomes mosaic. In the middle is the familiar convenient format that allows rigid, heavy or otherwise unwieldy materials to be applied to a range of different surfaces without too much difficulty.
Nowadays in the world of tiles, digital printing has revolutionised decorative patterning and opened up exciting possibilities. And there have been brilliant sideways leaps, too, such as the Dutch design group Droog’s witty “functional” tiles, or tiles embedded with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that blur the boundary between lighting and surface covering.
“Architectural” tiles in materials such as glass, porcelain and metal deliver a strong contemporary look with a minimum of fuss.
Photoceramics and digital tiles
Unlike novelty products (mugs digitally printed with family snapshots, for example) that fade with time and use, new digital tiles have good tonal values, colour saturation, detail and durability.
The technology can be applied in different ways — a photographic image may be used as a single motif, or blown up and abstracted to make an updated version of Moorish patterning.
Another possibility is the creation of large-scale trompe l’oeil tiled murals. With a photoceramic mural you can turn your shower into a rainforest clearing, walk on water or gaze across the kitchen counter at a blue sky and fluffy clouds.
While digital-tile producers generally work from standard images or ones from a photo library, they can also create tiles from your photographs if they are good enough quality.
Tiles are priced according to quantity, size and image, and tile murals are numbered individually and supplied with a reference map for installation. Minimum orders often apply and production time can be up to six weeks.
Dominic Crinson is one of the leading producers of digital tiles and photoceramics. Visit the showroom at 27 Camden Passage, N1 (020 7704 6538; www.crinson.com).
Tiles are produced in a range of sizes from 10cm x 10cm upwards. Prices start at £170 per square metre for the new collection. For custom images, tiles cost from £270 a square metre, along with a set-up fee of £75, which includes the cost of producing a sample.
The Dutch group Droog has been the source of many witty lateral leaps over the years, not least their range of “functional” tiles, which play around with the tile format. Tiling fitted rooms such as bathrooms can be fiddly and generally involves cutting tiles to slot around fixtures and pipework, or drilling them to fix details such as hooks and toilet-roll holders. Even in experienced hands, the result can often be less than seamless.
Droog’s inspiration is to combine the basic format of the tile with an element of three-dimensional functionality — tiles that are louvered to form a ventilation grille, or incorporate hooks for towels. The range includes convex and concave tiles for corners, edges and trim. Designs are based around the standard 15cm x 15cm format, so you can combine basic plain tiles with special functional ones for a custom result. All these tiles are still prototypes at present, but for more information visit Droog’s site on www.droogdesign.nl.
Light that can literally be built into the fabric of your home opens up intriguing new possibilities. LED tiles can create sparkly patterns underfoot or accentuate detail and form with a luminous glow.
LEDs, tiny light-emitting diodes that give off very little heat, consume a mere three watts and last between 80,000 and 100,000 hours, are generally considered to be the future of lighting. The simplest form of LED tile on the market consists of single-colour LED modules inset into ceramic tiles. As you might expect, they require specialist installation but the effect is stunning.
Steuler Fliesen in Germany produces single LED tiles as well as LED-lit tiled borders. Visit www.steuler-fliesen.de.
The contemporary vogue for installing industrial-style materials in the home has generated a market for what might be called “architectural” tiles, where material quality is to the forefront, creating evocative surfaces both on walls and underfoot. In many cases, the material consists of a thin veneer or facing over a composite wood base, making installation straightforward and helping to keep costs down.
Architectural Ceramics, a Midlands-based company, is the sole distributor of Zenith, a range of contemporary tiles available in a host of materials, including stone and ceramic. Call 0121 706 6456 or visit the www.ACtiles.co.uk.
World’s End Tiles, established for 30 years, has a stunning range of contemporary tiles, including metallic and glass. Visit its London showroom at 216 Great Portland Street, call 020 7554 9700, or visit www.worldsendtiles.co.uk.
* Elizabeth Wilhide’s Surface & Finish, a directory of materials for interiors (Quadrille, £25) is available to Homes & Property readers at the special price of £20 with free p & p. To order, call 01256 302699 quoting reference S40.