A 10 Year Review of Accent Tile; Should you Install the Current Fad?

I started writing this post a few weeks ago and recently received this question which fits right in:

Hello! I have a question that I would like to submit for consideration for ‘Ask Maria’ on the blog. We’re dreaming of a new build right now. Though we have already purchased two edesign consultations and have been absolutely THRILLED and do not intend to embark on a new build on our own (yikes!), it’s still fun to begin envisioning the possibilities.

What I am curious about is – what tile besides white subway tile may be considered classic in a shower? Or is that really the right answer for, say, 4/4 planned bathrooms? Thanks for the consideration!

So first, let’s be clear;  a lot of tile, especially accent tile, falls into the category of a fad and here’s the definition:

An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.

Here’s the definition of a trend:

A general direction in which something is developing or changing.

Trends are longer lived than fads and they drive change. Especially in design. But they do pass, and that is why we need to be aware of where the trends have been and where they are going. Especially when we are making important selections for finishes in our homes.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about tile trends. I’ve written so many posts about it over the years, sometimes I think that conversation is done and dusted.

But it’s not, is it?

If I don’t continue to update you on the short-lived nature of accent tiles you might run out and install one in the wrong place and then be filled with regret.

So first, let’s discuss when choosing a trendy tile could be a good idea.

You are selling a house immediately and want everyone to be in love with it

Even though, I would personally be unhappy to walk into a newly built or renovated house and see a geometric tile on the backsplash of the of the black kitchen, the not-design savvy house hunter might feel it’s updated, exciting and (gasp) current.

Grace Blu Design Photo via Ryan Garvin

My one hot tip here is make sure you install the most current tile.  Wait, I just realized, if you’re reading this blog, you WILL make the right decision there at least. Whew.

I felt bad when I saw this comment show up on my encaustic tile post:

Hi Maria, I recently start a business to fabricate encaustic tile in Mexico, and I feel disappointed when I read a negative comment about this beautiful product, I assume that they didn’t get the right place to buy their product, in Mexico there are many of places were you can buy this product, however I have to say that most of them don’t have quality. PS, I truly believe in the beauty of this product.

What he doesn’t know is that accent tile has a shelf life just like any fad, or trend. Encaustic tile may be hot right now but the design world is fickle. The kitchen I’m showing (above) is more trendy now than Encaustic tile was just last year. This is not to say there isn’t a place for encaustic tile, it’s just that its moment in the spotlight has passed, it no longer has our attention. And that means, if you install it in your kitchen or bathroom, it won’t look totally current, and unless the context is perfect, it won’t hit the mark for timeless and classic either.

Just try and look for area rugs or lighting (the worst culprits).  You can really go down a rabbit hole scrolling very bad and dated items in both categories!  That’s because they still have products that they are trying to sell that NO ONE WANTS, way back from the 80s!! It’s no wonder so many people are paralyzed trying to choose, there’s simply too much bad lighting and area rugs to wade through.

Fortunately, lighting and area rugs are easier to switch out than tile.

Which brings me back to my lovely readers question about tile.

What should you start thinking about with your new build?

The reason trends in tile are so important to grasp is that they move fast. And tile is not something that is easy to change. We call it a FIXED ELEMENT for a reason. You can’t pick it up and toss it in the bin. It’s expensive to rip out and replace.

So this is why it always amazes me that people always seem to want to get really creative about tile. The latest tile trend will hold you in a love locked gaze and make you do foolish things.

First, let’s have a quick review of the trends we all fell for in only the last decade.

Pencil Mosaic Tile


At the beginning of the decade, everyone was installing mosaic and pencil tile backsplashes. The seductive call of this style was  variety of colour. In store kitchen designers everywhere pulled out a magic (they hoped) mosaic tile for every and any old combination of countertop, flooring and cabinets hoping the mix of colours in the mosaic would “pull it all together”.

The elongated pencil tile version has a linear thing going on that most people associate with contemporary and now. (Except that although I’m positive this tile is being installed somewhere this very minute, I think it’s easy to agree that it is most certainly not looking totally NOW anymore).

Laser Cut Mosaic Tile

Then fads moved to laser cut mosaic marble which, when done right, was really pretty:

Haskel Interiors

However, installed with a busy granite countertop, this expensive backsplash was too much:

The Grey Backsplash

The grey backsplash is something we have seen a whole lot of in recent years. The problem with a grey backsplash? It locks you into the grey trend. Now you always need to have grey with the correct undertone to match your grey backsplash in your decor until you renovate it. More about that here.

This grey arabesque pattern (below) is also not looking very fresh in 2020. If you installed it in white or cream with white grout, then you won’t be bossed around by the colour. But in grey, or with contrasting grout that pops out the pattern, you might tire of it. Especially now the black and white trend is here.

Home Depot

The Encaustic Tile Trend

The encaustic trend brought a new and fresh kind of interest with pattern. I love pattern, but the problem with it is, that we live in a world where new prints and patterns come in (and out) every season in fashion. We have attention spans for a specific pattern of only a few years max. This is why, although this kitchen below is perfectly pretty, it will not look NOW, very shortly.


Now before you all mistake my intention and call me callous and fickle and accuse me of trying to enslave you all to the trends, please know I am trying to do the exact opposite. I want to save you from installing a trendy tile in your home that you will regret in 5 or 10 years.

And I’m here to say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with installing white subway surround in all four of your bathrooms.

Have fun with fabrics, area rugs, artwork even wallpaper, but don’t install the trendy tile of the moment in your new house.

In 2012, I wrote a post about what to start thinking about when you’re planning a bathroom renovation. The same principles apply now.

So what are the new tile trends that are emerging?

The market loves to respond to our appetite for novel patterns. I’ve been seeing a lot of mod geometrics in tile everywhere. Like the kitchen at the top of this post.

And here is a bathroom that looks really exciting and new (below). You have to admire the boldness of it. But will you still love it in 5 years? 10?

Bob Vila

If you fall in love with a specific trendy pattern, it’s much wiser to have some pillows made, or get your fix with a great outfit.


More Mod Geometric Tile Via Design Milk

All this modern geometric tile belongs only in the most modern of kitchen and bathroom designs. Stick it into an average builder kitchen and it will definitely look wrong.

Hand Glazed or Zellige Tile

Another big trend right now, in 2020, is tiles that look hand glazed. Specifically Zellige tiles which are a centuries old Moroccan terracotta tile technique with glossy glass based glazes. Their appeal is imperfection, and the fact that they look OLD.

Cle Tile via Textures and Tones

How do I feel about this hand glazed tile trend? Well it certainly is sexy. Anything handmade has a bespoke look that everyone wants. The variation in tone and texture is lovely. And if you install this in your shower in your favourite colour, I’ll bet you will love it for awhile to come.

Only time will tell if we will all get tired of looking at it by 2025 or 2030. What’s your prediction?

In white tones, it’s definitely a reasonable substitute for subway tile because it’s not bossy, just a subtle, pretty texture on the walls with some shine.


So if you really want to try something new in a bathroom, this tile would still be versatile enough to work with lots of other colours when you change it up down the road. Note that it does have a more countrified feel so it would not belong in a slick, contemporary bathroom.

Details. We’re back to that again and I’m talking about that more in the video below where I’m also unpacking ‘What is in my classic and timeless tile bag’:


Which tile trends are you living with and how do you feel about them? What will you do next?

If you would like to make sure that your bathroom or kitchen renovation turns out beautifully timeless, I would love to help. You can find my Create a Classic Bathroom eDesign package here. And Create a Classic Kitchen here.

If you have a question for an Ask Maria post, please take photos with good natural light and email me here. Please note, it’s rare that I can create an Ask Maria post WITHOUT photos.

Related posts:

Is your Bath Perfect or Perfectly Nice?

One More Reason you Should Skip Accent Tiles Altogether

10 Steps for Planning your New Build



leave aREPLY

  1. Me too, Kristen. Real wood beadboard, suits the style and age of the house. While I wouldn’t want it everywhere in the house, in here it looks good. I have square blue 4″ tiles (already installed when we bought 25 years ago) in the tub area so I ripped out the “accent” tile and everything above, replaced it with one small line of glass tile, then one row of white 4″ above. Would have had just plain white, to go with the beadboard, but needed something to tie it all together, so small random glass tile, one row did the trick. I love love love the beadboard in the rest of the sizeable room, drywall above in a lovely aqua colour.

  2. I am still blinded by some of the crazy tile choices shown in the pictures! Let’s just all keep it simple and timeless and rather play with the things that are easy to change… Thanks so much, Maria! Excellent post! I
    bought your book the other day and have found my perfect neutral with the help of this book!! Hooray… peace (on my walls) at last.

  3. I love these short videos, they are so perfect. Just what we need for little reminders. I also like that you are posting them not just on Instagram but also on your blog. Keep them coming!
    Thank you!

  4. Whenever I see these large, bold tile patters, all I can think of is what was around in the late sixties and early 70’s. When I see those types of patterns today, all I can do is say, “what we’re we thinking back then”, only now they are here again. People will regret those choices I’m afraid.

  5. As a installer I always ask if it’s there forever home, if so do what you like they see it every day. I do tend to lead them to splash of color to tie things in and stay away from bold. Simplistic is always best and accent with other media, towels,pics, paint, wallpaper ect. Most of my clients agree.

    • Yes, this absolutely is my personal opinion and I’m certainly not attached to my opinion nor am I attached to being right. I wish I WAS MOSTLY wrong but if you had seen as many homes as I have in my 20 years of being in this business, you would say the same.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Maria

  6. I think context is everything. There are tile installations in old buildings that no one ever wants to rip out because it’s an integral part of the design. People fall in love with something they see in old buildings in Europe and want to install it in their suburban tract house. It will probably look out of place. I do love colorful tiles, but they have to somehow look like they belong and the house would be worse without them.

  7. I agree with everything you said, Maria, but I want to add that in some parts of the world, encaustic or other colorful tile is a classic element in vestibules/foyers, restaurants, kitchens, etc.–think Mexico, France, Spain…

  8. Maria… I just love you. You’ve said all of this before, many times, but it does bare repeating. If not just to solidify it in our minds!
    Having just helped a client with a whole house remodel (Tuscan trend) and now working on their 3 bathrooms, I am doing my best to help them steer clear of trendy tiles. Unfortunately, she is enamored with some that just make me cringe and she is willingly going against my advice/suggestions. Sometimes, all you can do is give them the information and consequences and clearly as possible, but ultimately, it’s their house.

  9. Great post. While I agree that you shouldn’t let the most trendy tile influence your decision, I also think we have to empower people to make choices other than white subway tile. As a designer doing large scale renovations, people ask me this a lot. A tile shower, for example, is a pricey addition. In our region you would tile it for wow factor, not function or practicality. So when people feel obligated to choose white subway tile because it is safe and timeless, it takes the fun out of the remodel.

  10. Cultural context- after traveling to Peru, Columbia, Mexico and Guatemala, I noticed that some of the trendy tile we see in the US, is considered “classic” in other countries. Ive seen lots of coffee shops, restaurants and old houses with encaustic tile, and, growing up in Israel, I have seen this kind of tile in old houses in the middle east. My point is- for some of my clients, the trendy encaustic tile actually feels connected to their culture, history and memories of places they grew up in. I agree with Maria that we need to he careful not to over use tile that is trendy, but I also think that if I can help my immigrant clients feel more connected to their homes by using materials that remind them of their childhood homes, I have done something right..

  11. I have never liked backsplashes and have never had them in any kitchen or bathroom where I had control of the design. Never really knew why, just always told the contractor I was still thinking about it! 🤣

    I’m not very minimalistic and don’t shy away from color. After reading this I think I could tolerate subway tile, with similar colored grout. For my next personal project. In the mean time, I’ll think about it! Thanks Maria!

  12. Love your article on trending tile.We purchased a 1970’s ‘ranch’ style house back in the nineties. The kitchen had white tile, not exactly subway, but pure white 4X4 square tiles covering the counters and the back splash! I didn’t replace the counters until mid 2000,(after years of cleaning/bleaching grout) with granite, but had left the white tile back splash since it went with everything. Now the cabinets were originally a very yellowish pine (custom made by the original homeowner) and of very good quality. Through out the years, I have painted them brown and now they are a very dark grey/charcoal color (Benjamin Moore’s Almost black, pearl finish). You are so right that the white tiles have been absolutely timeless and now the early 2000’s granite looks perfectly fine! I did remove the upper cabinets several years ago and added more white tile (natural marble, subway style with a grey veining) behind the stove and above the original white tile back splash, all the way up to the ceiling! We installed a white pencil tile for the separation. It’s pretty and classic and I’m thrilled to still have some of the original design in my home from 1977 when the house was built! I never really thought about it too much until reading your blog this morning, thank you !!

  13. I love the white tile, but am wondering about grout color? Especially in tub with mold/mildew issues and kitchen with grease or splashing incidents. Also, what is ideal spacing in these areas? Im not a designer, just someone learning from your so helpful blog for when Im ready to build my house!