From Carthaginians to Virginians: Tile is one of the world’s oldest, most flexible building materials

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SariSand designed and installed this master bathroom for a Charlottesville resident who was looking for a more contemporary space while also maintaining the traditional style of his home. Photo: SariSand Tile SariSand designed and installed this master bathroom for a Charlottesville resident who was looking for a more contemporary space while also maintaining the traditional style of his home. Photo: SariSand Tile

Your bathroom is cool, comfortable, and clean. Your kitchen is stain-resistant, sleek, and stylish. Why? Tile, of course. “Tile is a good choice because it’s timeless, can complement any look, and has unmatched durability,” SariSand Tile’s Dawn Catlett said. According to Wayne Murphy of Wainwright Tile and Stone on Preston Avenue, tile is typically used as a less expensive alternative to slab materials like concrete, granite, or marble, but the seams between pieces limit its applications and make the grout almost as important as the tile itself. Murphy said selecting the right tile comes down to aesthetics and function—what do you want it to look like, and how much wear are you going to put on it? “A lot of people like tile because it is easy to keep clean, but they may not want it in their living room,” Murphy said. According to Murphy, tile goes up in quality and price the less porous it is. Less porous tile stains and wears less and requires less sealing than lower quality tile, though, justifying the expense for many applications. Modern porcelain tile and glass tile are the least porous products on the market, Murphy said. Good grout should also lack porosity; if the material is as airtight as a sieve, you’ll have just as many problems maintaining your floor. In the grout game, epoxy is the top of the line. Catlett said SariSand recently completed a project for a local customer who wanted to “update his bathroom and give it a more contemporary look while at the same time maintaining the traditional style of his home.” But tile can reach outside the bathroom. Pete Fenlon, CEO of Mayfair Games, which produces the popular board game Settlers of Catan, is using tile throughout the Belmont home he’s rehabbing, not only in its four bathrooms and kitchen, but also around its exterior windows and doorways. He’s using ceramic tile, glass tile, stone tile, tabarka tile, multi-colored tile, tile of all shapes and sizes. “You should think of tile as an alternative to virtually every type of building material,” Fenlon said. “I was inspired by looking at Gaudi’s house in Barcelona. He used an organic approach that you saw in that area of the world going all the way back to the Carthaginians.” Carthage, eh? Wonder how tile is doing in Catan. The price of tile Pricing tile isn’t easy. Because it comes in a range of sizes, shapes, and styles, the material can go from very inexpensive to exorbitant, according to Wayne Murphy of Wainwright Tile and Stone. “There is probably no limit to the cost of some types of tile,” he said. Other than highly designed art tiles that would be used sparingly, tile is for the most part a low cost material. Here’s a look at a few common tile forms, roughly ranked from least expensive to most expensive. Stone: Stone tile can be expensive, but the hugely popular travertine is a great low-end option for both its price and ease of installation. Ceramic: The most common class of tile, Murphy said most ceramic pieces will be in the $3-12 per square foot range. Porcelain: Porcelain tile, like other ceramics, starts around $3 per square foot. The dense tiles increase in price quickly, though, as Murphy said he’s seen backsplash pieces go for as much as $235 per square foot. Glass: Even more dense than porcelain, glass tile can range from $20-75 per square foot. Handmade tile: This is a class that includes terracotta, one of the oldest known forms of tile. Terracotta and similar types of tile require extensive sealing for many applications. Other: Tile is also available in cork, faux wood, metal, and other alternatives.—S.G.

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