When renovating a bathroom, it’s crucial to consider the significant cost. Unless we have the financial flexibility for frequent redesigns, opting for a timeless aesthetic that survives evolving trends makes sense.

In this article, I’ve put together eight tile designs with both a rich historical heritage and a contemporary twist, offering a captivating glimpse into the past while seamlessly aligning with today’s aesthetic standards.

None of the tiles I’ve chosen are heavily patterned, as (I feel) intricate patterns tend to fluctuate in popularity over time. In my bathroom renovation, I went for a classic approach, selecting marble-effect tiles with a sleek, contemporary glossy finish to achieve a harmonious balance between timelessness and modernity.

1 – Subway Tiles:

Subway tiles have deep historical roots, tracing their origins back to the early 1900s when they were first used in the construction of New York City’s subway system. London’s underground transportation system swiftly adopted the distinctive 3”x6″ tile format, spreading this trend across the Atlantic.

In a relatively short period, subway tiles captured the imagination of architects and homeowners alike. They graced the walls of homes, workplaces, and hospitals, celebrated for their hygienic properties and aesthetic appeal.

Fast forward to the present day, and subway tiles have evolved into a diverse range of materials, including ceramic, porcelain, metal, glass, and natural stones like marble. This expansion has broadened the available choices, offering a variety of sizes, designs, finishes, and colours to cater to different tastes and preferences.

Subway tiles offer creative freedom, allowing for vertical, horizontal, or intricate pattern arrangements such as herringbone or zigzag formations, providing a canvas for artistic expression.

2 – Cabochon Tiles:

The cabochon is a small square piece of tile, typically inserted into a tiled floor, adding ornamentation, and enhancing the appearance of plain tiles.

The origins of cabochon tiling can be traced back to the 18th century when it adorned the floors of majestic French châteaux. Meticulous arrangements of octagonal slabs interspersed with lustrous black marble cabochons create a distinctive and luxurious aesthetic.

To achieve an authentic cabochon look, the foundation lies in the use of natural stone slabs paired with cabochons, typically in a deep ebony hue. However, for those seeking a more contemporary interpretation of this classic style, cost-effective alternatives such as ceramic tiles in various colours are also available.

3 – Moroccan Zellige Tiles:

Naturally, I hold a deep appreciation for these tiles due to my Moroccan heritage. Zellige tiles have their roots firmly embedded in Morocco’s rich history and tradition. They represent a distinct form of mosaic tilework, where each geometric tile is intricately chiseled and set into a plaster base. This art form serves as a defining feature of Moroccan architecture, renowned for its captivating geometric patterns that adorn a myriad of surfaces, including walls, ceilings, fountains, floors, pools, and tables.

In its contemporary evolution, designers have embraced a more modern approach, opting for monochromatic designs that feature shimmering surfaces achieved by applying a single glazed hue to various spaces, including kitchens and bathrooms. It’s worth noting that each Zellige tile possesses its unique character, adding to the intrigue and personal touch of their installation.

4 – English Delft Tiles:

In their characteristic blue and white hues, adorned with elaborately painted portraits and depictions of everyday life, English Delft tiles, whether they are antique or modern, bear an instantly recognizable charm. Their unique appeal lies in their capacity for individuality, as nearly anything can find representation on a Delft tile. Presently, a new generation of craftsmen is creating hand-painted Delft-style tiles, often featuring irreverent and witty depictions of contemporary life.

I see these tiles as ideal for a statement panel or even as a kitchen splashback. Delicate, artistic, and minimalistic, these tiles are deeply rooted in history encapsulating the essence of country charm at its finest.

5 – Marble Effect Tiles:

We all know how marble has served decorative purposes for thousands of years. Its timeless appeal endures, as marble effortlessly conveys a sense of luxurious living in a simple and effective manner. However, not everyone can afford authentic marble tiles. Additionally, real marble is susceptible to staining and etching when exposed to acidic substances.

On the other hand, marble-effect tiles offer a more cost-effective solution. Crafted from exceptionally durable materials, they replicate marble’s distinctive veining patterns in a more understated and modern fashion. These tiles boast exceptional resistance to water damage, stains, and fading. I particularly favour those with a glossy finish, which adds a touch of sophistication. Some are even suitable for both wall and floor installations, creating a flawlessly clean and pristine ambiance.

Marble-effect tiles are available in various sizes, including square, rectangular, hexagonal, and even in subway and mosaic formats, providing a wide range of options to suit any taste.

Lisa-Lee Hickman Design

6 – Terracotta Hexagone Tiles (Tomettes):

Terracotta tiles are among the oldest manufactured flooring materials in history. Their usage dates back to Ancient Egypt and subsequently spread across the Mediterranean regions, gaining prominence in the Roman Empire. By the 12th century, they had made their way to Europe. However, it was truly during the 19th century that terracotta flooring experienced a resurgence, thanks to the introduction of mechanical tiles through intensive industrial production starting in 1850.

What I find particularly fascinating are the hexagonal floor tiles known as “tomettes,” originally hailing from Provence, France. Typically crafted from red clay and occasionally glazed, these tiles come in various shades of red, lending a captivating uniqueness to their installation. Since the early 20th century, they have gained popularity in both new construction and renovation projects.

For a modern bathroom, I believe it’s essential to maintain clean and minimalist white walls and fixtures. This approach ensures a timeless design, preventing it from appearing outdated.

7 – Wood Effect tiles:

Most wood-effect tiles are crafted from glazed porcelain, making them considerably harder and more durable than traditional ceramic tiles. These tiles are created using state-of-the-art printing technology that replicates the grains and knots of natural wood in high definition.

These remarkably realistic tiles have surged in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. They possess exceptional characteristics, including high durability, water resistance, and resistance to scratching. Wood-effect tiles effortlessly blend the charm and warmth of natural wood while remaining unaffected by damp or humid conditions. They are available in a rich array of shades, colours, and finishes. Personally, I prefer the herringbone effect, as I find it particularly elegant.


8 – Mosaic Tiles (but not any mosaic):

This is another tile solution with deep historical roots. Mosaic tiles can be traced back at least 4,000 years to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and have been an integral part of architectural history for as long as architecture itself, captivating and inspiring art lovers.

I believe a minimalistic black and white palette is always a winning choice. It exudes cleanliness and classic elegance, especially when used to create delicate patterns. Avoiding overly busy designs can add interest to a bathroom. When paired with pristine walls, this combination looks perfect.

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