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How to Decorate with Black Tile

By 02/17/2015June 25th, 202044 Comments

If you’re considering black tile in your bathroom or kitchen, there are a few things you should know. Here are some great design tips for how to decorate with black tile and even a few alternatives to help you achieve the same look – in case you aren’t ready to commit.

The dangerous part about any new trend is when you start incorporating the old with the new and the black tile trend is no different. If you want to decorate with black, the key is not to overdo it.

How to Decorate with Black Tile

Here are some guidelines to think about if you are considering black tile in a bathroom or kitchen:

1. Paint your walls black instead of tiling.

You’ll get a similar look and feel as you might with black tile. However, the paint colour will be much easier to change when you want the room to be a different colour – instead of ripping out all the tile.

Just make sure the black is repeated somewhere like in this bathroom floor pattern (below).

black walls bathroom

Alison Giese Interiors

If you are also thinking of black shower doors, you should read my post about whether they are the best choice for your bathroom here.

Black shower door bathroom

2. Balance the dark black tile backsplash with dark wood flooring.

In the room below, note that the heavy, dark bar stools also provide contrast against the white island and relate to the backsplash.

A word of caution about black subway tile: Don’t install this much black backsplash tile with black tile floors as well! Otherwise you’ll just be cleaning all day and all night since every spec of dust will show.

Read more: What everyone should know about black.

Do's & Don'ts for Decorating with Black Tile

(via BHG)

3. Don’t mix granite or a heavy patterned countertop with black Arabesque backsplash tile.

Even though the pattern below is somewhat subtle, the granite pattern countertop competes with the backsplash, so you’re not sure which to look at. This black backsplash tile belongs with a solid countertop colour.

Also, notice that black tile here is not so fabulous with these pale yellow wood-stained kitchen cabinets.

black arabesque backsplash tile


4. Choose shiny or glossy black tile over flat or matte black tile.

A shiny black tile bounces more light around the room and looks more high-end.

Do's & Don'ts for Decorating with Black Tile | Maria Killam

Art Deco Bathroom

Plus, glossy black tile pairs so nicely with metals.

Glossy Black Subway Tile


5. Don’t combine lots of heavy black tile with earthy granite.

The look of heavy black tile mixed with earthy granite is just not as spectacular as white.

And, this means that adding it to a dated bathroom with earthy granite finishes (or combining it with new earthy stone finishes) won’t be as great either.

Do's & Don'ts for Decorating with Black Tile | Maria Killam

Earthy/Tuscan stone finishes just don’t play well with solid black hard finishes. The look just won’t be as fresh. See below how the white subway tile pops against the black soapstone countertops in this kitchen. The black is then repeated in the window frames above the sink. The black isn’t too heavy or overly done.

black soapstone countertop

Lauren Liess

6. If you decide to install black tile floors, keep the walls classic with white subway tile and black grout.

If you’re really going to install black floors, please know they will show EVERYTHING! See this bathroom below—it’s been photoshopped to look that perfect 😉 – I promise you! Keep the walls classic with white subway tile and repeat the black in the grout.

Now, you don’t have to repeat black it in the grout.

And it might be too busy, depending on what you’re doing. But repeat black at least once somewhere else in your design. One option would be to add black framed art or a black framed mirror or even some black sconce lighting.

Do's & Don'ts for Decorating with Black Tile | Maria Killam


7. Don’t choose all-black fixtures in a white tiled shower if it’s the first thing you see when you walk in.

If the black hardware is going to be the first thing you see in your white bathroom, it usually looks too busy. The eye bounces from the hinges on your glass doors to the shower fixtures. And frankly, it’s just too much black. Remember, all black hardware and fixtures can look harsh, flat and predictable really fast.


8. Choose brass faucets and hardware with your black subway tile.

Choose brass faucets and hardware. If you’re going to install a kitchen or bathroom this trendy, might as well go big and warm it up with trendy brass hardware as well.

Keep the countertop lighter for more contrast against the black subway tile backsplash.

Note, this is a VERY TRENDY look. A little black and white makes a timeless bathroom. This much black, can easily take your design right back into the 80s. This look is often easier to achieve when an interior designer is involved. Magazine worthy kitchens are not easily copied.

Do's & Don'ts for Decorating with Black Tile | Maria KillamSource

9. Choose white grout to break up the black tile in a mostly white kitchen.

Notice that most of the photos I’m showing in this post have white grout with black tiled walls. White grout is a great way to lighten up the heaviness of all black tile.

Here’s what IKEA knows about black and white kitchens that (maybe) you don’t.

Black tile white grout white kitchen

Kitchen Studio

I hope these guidelines help you make smarter and easier decorating decisions if you’re considering incorporating black tile into your home.

What would Maria do? If you ask me what I would do, I kept my bathrooms pretty white in my latest renovations because that’s the most classic look. I have seen too many black powder rooms from the 80’s to repeat that in my house – and I’m just not ready for that yet.

Over to you… are you loving the black trend and thinking about black tile for your home?

Related posts:

Maria Killam’s Trend Forecast for 2015 

The Best White Bathrooms

 How Black is Your House?

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  • Jo Galbraith says:

    Just not loving the black tile look. I agree with your advice to paint a wall black if you want this look – much cheaper and easier! It reminds me of my last home bought in the late 90s which had an all black bathroom, black floor and wall tiles and black fixtures. I HATED it. Also hard to keep all that shiny black tile looking clean, every drop of water showed up.

  • Jacquelyn says:

    I don’t think the above photo with the arabesque is even black; it’s dark brown. this and the fact that it is beveled makes it not work with the wood cabinets.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Black/Brown, it’s all the same advice really. Except that brown goes better with earthy finishes than black. Thanks for your comment!

    • Loribeth says:

      If you click on the source and get to the actual blog post, those tiles are gray. I think the reason they don’t work is because of the countertop and not because of the wood cabinets. The granite of the countertop is too busy and green. If the countertop had been a solid black color, it would have played better with the tile and the wood. The juxtaposition backsplash and countertop with the wood would have looked intentional. Right now, none of the surfaces relate to each other, so it looks off.

  • Cindy says:

    I think if one is already a fan of black ( i am), and the black tile is used with appropriate and complimenting cabinets, hardware, flooring, faucets, counter tops – this can be a very compelling design & decor statement. I find it a nice departure from decades of white subway tile, but its not for most – I doubt it will be much of a across the board big trend – better for those of us who really love it!

  • Timely post Maria. As you know, my client saw a show home house with black backsplash and instantly wanted it for her kitchen. After many conversations, many samples, and forwarding a few of your blogs, she now sees how black is not a great choice (not only will it not work with her fixed finishes), it’s not practical for her situation nor will it look good in the style of home she has and what she’s willing to do to modernize. I’ll be forwarding her this one too!


    • KA says:

      When I moved back to California from New York, I lived for 3 months in a bungalow that had a black and white kitchen floor as well as laundry room. When I was using the laundry room for the first time while unpacking, unbeknownst to me the drain came out of the laundry tub and flooded the two rooms. I ended up cleaning that floor thoroughly to get all the water out. Every time after that you would see all the dark stains on the white tile and light stains on the dark tile, and I decided then never to have a black and white floor.

      For the nine years I lived in New York, the bathroom and kitchen was tiled in white with black accent “dots”. That was ceramic tile, but the water wasn’t as hard as where I live now.

      Even with a housekeeper, who wants to send that much time cleaning? Life’s too short. Even black paint will show water spots.

  • Paula ryan says:

    So excited you will be coming to the US! Chicago is a great town! Can’t wait to hear more!

    • Mary-Illinois says:

      Wait! What? You’re coming to Chicago?
      How did I not know about this?
      Maria, please let me know the details.

  • Georgene says:

    Maria, the Atlanta Furniture Mart show is in July. Access to people, fabrics, and furnishings….seems like a good mix. Maybe incorporate a day of the Mart with the class to discuss what to look for when shopping for ideas.

  • Cherie says:

    Agree with it all – I love black, but cleaning water spots off shower/kitchen tile? No thanks.

    And that black kitchen with the all-white subway tile? It would look stunning if the grout were black! However, since it’s not, I’d advise a large chalkboard hanging in the blank space, or maybe even a large mirror with an ornate frame as contrast.

  • Nancy says:

    I like black , but not to that degree.
    I honestly think for long longevity I would not want all that black.
    I had a black Island in my last house and it was work to keep up and I don’t have any children at home.
    If you like to dust every day then it might work..
    I agree with you Maria , paint a wall black add a black pillow and let that black balance out some of your white .
    Nothing like balance and contrast.

  • Lisa Moon says:

    This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read in a long time! Thanks for the practical, nuts-and-bolts information. You’re the greatest!


  • Gilda says:

    again, another invaluable post…cannot wait to sign p for a US class!

  • This is amazing! Oh goodness the competition with backsplash and counter tops plus cabinets! YES! Your advice is so RIGHT ON! I am overly excited but so happy to have found your post!

  • anne says:

    a long time ago, i bought a solid english tudor-ish home, built in 1939, from the original owners. it had shiny black bathroom tile with white grout, up to wainscoting height. the bathtub was in a recess and untiled. i decided, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. and i had more tile custom made for the bathing alcove, up the walls and on the ceiling. i added stripe wallpaper (subtle) — brown and black or something. and a plain window shade made of the same wallpaper. it was a wonderful room. i didn’t know what i was doing, but i kept variety of colors/finishes to a minimum and honored what was there. black towels, too! it was a traditional room and not hard to keep clean. i still miss that bathroom!!

  • anne says:

    one more thought about grout. tile setters like wide grout lines because it’s easier. with black tile (or any tile except mexican and saltillo) it’s best to keep grout lines very thin, very precise. the dark/light rhythm of grout vs tile drives me nuts (personal opinion, i guess). the tile should be the hero, not the grout.

    • KA says:

      Sometimes, the grout accentuates the pattern, but brick is just a standard pattern.

      When I first moved to New York, they were redoing the tile in the ACTUAL subways. It was hideous going underground. It looked better after it was redone, and they kept the mosaic signage, but that first impression left me scarred for life. I’m not joking, either. It. Was. Hideous. This was after I saw a little old man peeing in the subway grates across from the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side when I hadn’t even found an apartment.

  • SH says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you KA for your post. My career has been in healthcare. While everyone is raving about the timeless subway tiles, all I see is the inside of Psych hospitals and wards. They use white subway tiles everywhere so they can hose down the pee, poop, vomit, blood, semen, and spittle. Disgusting and big htmarish memories from training. A group of healthcare providers were laughing just last week about those timeless (aka institutional) tiles. It is hard for most of us to choke down a meal that comes out of a subway tile kitchen. We say nothing because we realize that people paid tens of thousands of dollars for that kitchen.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I can get that! But I still say keep it white or cream anyway. . . coordinating busy backsplashes RARELY actually coordinate or look good.

  • Elaine Schmidt says:

    What a great post. I’d never consider black tile in my home, but even if I did, your terrific guidelines wouldn’t have occurred to me. Thanks for sharing your expert tips with us!

  • sherry says:

    This is a great post! As I go through decorating each room in my house there is a definite black and white theme emerging.

    I don’t care for dark backsplashes or wall tile for the most part.

    Yesterday I picked my floor tile and it’s black marble! It has a lot of white veining throughout so maybe it won’t be quite as bad as solid black. The wall tile will be white.

  • Elizabeth says:

    My Dad chose shiny black subway tiles with white grout for the kitchen backsplash back in the early 90’s. He was color blind. My mother was not thrilled. Who knew my Dad was so cutting edge.

  • Jill says:

    My husband and I bought our first home from a builder in 1971. I chose a black shiny bathroom tile and a pink bathroom suite. I thought I was the hight of sophistication, that was until I realised I had to clean the darn thing after every shower. O boy did we have a hard time selling that place. Black tiles done it once and that was enough!!!

  • Stacy Wiegman says:

    Worse than black tile is a black commode and pedestal sink. Or dark brown is just as bad. One house my parents bought had been “professionally decorated.” I walked into the powder room, saw a dark brown commode and sink, and announced “how can you tell if it’s dirty? It’s poop brown already!” The next time I visited, they had replaced them with cream.

  • Janice says:

    Congrats Karen!

  • Betsy OShea says:

    Not a fan of too much black…frames or wrought iron and glass fireplace screens, lighting are as far as I will go. The world has so many beautiful colors and white/ grays enhance them….black is too heavy and depressing

  • Farha Syed says:

    Awesome post and advice as always.
    Love reading your post

  • mrsben says:

    An excellent and informative post, Maria! That said, as for black tiles (or large appliances) ‘different strokes for different folks’. For myself (regardless that I am retired) and I do like a clean home; I prefer not to be a slave to housework as black surfaces require constant maintenance. ☺ -Brenda-

  • POP O'COLOR says:

    My first condo had black tile counters and backsplash in the kitchen. It was impossible to keep clean; every water drop showed. Don’t let the pretty pictures tempt you because you will regret it.

  • Teresa McHaney says:

    Maria, You are spot on regarding this B&W article! Black-and-white has always grabbed my attention. So in 2001 I renovated my hall bath with white subway tile around tub and octagon white tiles on floor (which at the time I had to special order) Very nice upgraded stainless fixtures with Kohler memoir pedestal sink & matching toilet (you kinda get the picture) some accents with black. Well Its 18 years later and I still get “you did this bathroom 18 yrs ago”. It just doesn’t look dated.
    Pssst: just keep the grout clean ?
    Again very helpful advice,

    Teresa McHaney

  • Laurie says:

    Hi, I’m considering black herringbone subway tiled walls for a shower, I’m not sure what color to paint the rest of the walls in the bathroom? Has a white toilet and white pedestal sink. Planning on white with some black penny hexagon tile floor… its an interior bathroom with no windows. Shiny brass fixtures. Thoughts on paint color? Going for bold/retro/gatsby look for a rarely used bathroom.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Any bright/clean or dramatic colour will work with black and white. Colours to stay away from would be deeper, earthy tones like taupe and gold beige for example. Take a look at what is in an adjoining room and take your colour inspiration from there.
      Hope that helps, Maria

  • Cynthia says:

    I think you are wrong about the black. The only thing I agree with is that too much black isn’t good. Black does not have to look 1980s either. I am doing a backsplash of honed black hexagon Nero Marquina marble with anthracite grout against pure white quartz countertops and white modern cabinets and am thrilled about it. There are sealers for the marble that make it easier to clean.

    While I agree that black doesn’t look good with earth tones I disagree in the case of certain woods. Teak and certain light woods look good with black. The cherries and mahoganies not so much.

    We all need to rock our personal styles, and if you think you will still love your kitchen in 20 years I say go with it. I love northern Spain and the Nero Marquina reminds me of sidewalks there and transports me to a place I love.

  • Val says:

    Maria, we have black matt tile on the floor, copper back splash (on 2 walls), and tend toward galvanized steel accessories. Walls are painted a greige , textiles are in the colors of greens, blues and creams. I am kind of a minimilst/ naturalalist. Our lighting needs replaced very mush so! Could you recommend possible lighting options ( colors and or design)?

  • Torre says:

    Personally, I’m a HUGE fan of black and prefer Matte black to shiny. I disagree that matte looks cheap, I think the opposite, personally.

    After having a white subway tile shower and white tile floors with white grout in our main bath, I’d rather have my toenails ripped off slowly than to ever do white again. I personally think it’s boring but then again, I prefer dark, dramatic, bold finishes. Whoever thought white grout was a good idea in a 4 bedroom home that will undoubtedly house children was nuts.

  • Suzanne says:

    You’re the first decorator who seems to offer practical & discerning advice. I love black, especially house exteriors. We installed 12×12 natural cleft black slate flooring & honed black slate solid counters in our kitchen. Our walls & ceiling are white, stainless appliances & a white farmhouse sink. We have white oak contemporary cabinets & huge windows (with a Mountain View). That was 30+ years ago. We still love it EXCEPT, you are so right, the black floor looks clean for one day at the most. The counters are great. I will replace the sink with stainless some day, because it’s too high maintenance. I wish I had picked a different wood for our custom built cabinets, but they’re still pretty nice. Anyhow, great advice! Thank you!

    • Angie Gossett says:

      We are in the process of updating our kitchen, We have maple cabinets, we are keeping. We know we want white subway tile and black granite. We are torn between polished, leathered or honed granite. Its hard to find black polished granite in our area. We found honed black mist, but I have been doing research on honed and everyone says it is hard to maintain and easily stains. I guess we are going to continue our search for polished or leathered finish. What do you think?

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