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A New Way to Design Accent tile: Ceramic Architecture

By 06/28/2014March 9th, 201919 Comments

I first learned the term ‘ceramic architecture’ when the VP of Waterworks gave a presentation and I wrote this post afterwards about perfect vs. perfectly nice bathrooms.

When I searched ‘ceramic architecture’ on google, I was fascinated that absolutely nothing comes up with regard to tile layouts.

As many of you know, accent tile has a bad rap on this blog and for good reason. I have been in thousands upon thousands of homes in the past 15 years and I can probably count on two hands (maybe) how many truly beautiful bathrooms I’ve seen with well done tile installations including ‘accent tile’.

So, in case you haven’t heard the term yet, remember, you heard it here first.

White Border Tile

Ceramic Architecture

Blue Accent Tile

Accent Tile

Chevron Tile Floor

Ceramic Architecture

Blue Chevron Tile Floor

Accent tile

flower tiled backsplash

Accent tile x 1000

Herringbone Pattern

Ceramic Architecture

You might disagree with me on what should be considered ‘ceramic architecture’ and which should be ‘accent tile’ but the thing to notice about the images I’m calling accent tile vs. ceramic architecture. You’re married to the colours in the accent tile FOREVER. Okay, not the black and white floral patterned backsplash but seriously, my eyes hurt just looking at it for a few seconds!

Which is fine if you’re selling your house tomorrow and you’ve just installed it. Not so good if YOU plan to live in your house FOREVER or you’re not selling for a LONG TIME.

Because I want your bathroom or kitchen to be perfect. Not just perfectly nice.

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  • Brooke says:

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do anything other than subway! It’s nice to see that there are some other options and your photos make it very clear. Love the first photo. Thanks!

  • Katie says:


    Would you still consider this type of architecture timeless?

  • Mary-Illinios says:

    Hi Maria,
    “Ceramic Architecture”…sounds so fancy.
    Who came up with the accent tile concept anyways? Someone trying to sell more tile I suppose.

    • Barbara says:

      Wow. Hard to believe this is a serious statement.

      Have you never been in a building 400 (and much more) years old, with beautiful tile work? If not, google some photos, so many beautiful places to see.
      I often take photos of the (very old) tile work because it is so gorgeous!

      • Maria Killam says:

        Yes I have and that’s exactly the concept I want to talk about, NOT the obligatory strip that everyone feels the needs to install in their kitchen or bath.

  • Candace says:

    Although I love Maria’s blog and even hired her as a color consultant, I did go against the grain (at least on this blog) with my kitchen backsplash. I love Carrara marble and would have liked to have Carrara countertops, but they were way above the budget and not practical for my family. So I decided to have a Carrara backsplash. I had tiles cut to an arabesque shape–this is often incorrectly referred to as “Moroccan” tile. As an Islamic art specialist, I love this shape. It reflects part of who I am and what I love. It happens to be a coincidence that laser cut marble tile is trendy right now, but when the trend passes I still have a fairly classic kitchen with white cabinets, white quartz countertops, and a Carrara backsplash. It just reflects my personality and uniqueness.

    • Kathi says:

      Your kitchen sounds gorgeous,Candace,when we were in Spain, we saw countless”Moorish” tiles that were so old, but yet, timeless, because they were still gorgeous after centuries-I think people should be brave and if you really love something, its not the end of the world to chisel it off in 10 years-my subway tile only cost $250 to install, and $50 for the tile-that is not such a huge investment, that after a certain length of time,just call it “upkeep repair” and don’t feel guilty for wanting to change it-life is short-be happy with your choices for now!

  • Chris Pyle says:

    WHAT you mean we can not go wild on accent backsplash any more?? :^)

  • Cynthia says:

    Oh Maria you are so right!!
    How many times have I seen a bathroom, public or private, that has great white or cream subway type tile and then accent tile that totally dates it, either by color or design. Sarah Richardson does some beautiful ” ceramic architecture” in her bathrooms. Maybe you need to let her know what it is called LOL.
    Thanks for all you do!!!!!
    The groupie

  • sandyc says:

    I think the problem may be that tons of homeowners out there, a lot of designers and so many tile showroom salespeople see the terms exactly reverse to you, Maria. To them, “ceramic architecture” is just a fancy-schmancy new term for “accent tile”. They would likely categorize your second example of blue and gold tile above as a great example of ceramic architecture and (OMG) maybe even the black & white flowers. The gorgeous first example and the beautiful third would be considered blah and uninspiring and, of course, subway tile is so “dated”. The Carrera marble example above is boring to me personally; however, I suspect Candace’s kitchen came out quite nicely, even though she went against the grain, because she thought through and carefully planned it.

    So looking forward to discussing this further along with so many other issues in summer school.

  • teresa says:

    As a potter, this isn’t a new term to to me and I actually have at least one book so titled. I’m glad to see you don’t consider this accent tile! My 100 yr old house has it in spades around windows, mirrors and topping wainscotting.
    I see much old accent tile that I really love, although in my BF’s house it has really limited the choice with even simple decor: 1930s pale gray with burgundy accent. The gray alone would have been SO easy to work with. Thanks for another great post.

  • Debbie says:

    Has anyone painted their accent tile? I got tired of mine like Maria said would happen. I just painted it off white and boom, classic again. Painting tile is very easy and not expensive to do. Many web sites out there that cover the process.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Debbbie, I think painting your backsplash works if you have a kitchen that just needs to live long enough for a renovation to start. Painted backsplash tile in a relatively new kitchen wouldn’t look so fab. Maria

  • Debbie says:

    Yes I agree with you, it works for me until I can afford a renovation.

  • Lisa says:

    I almost, almost did accent tile in my bathroom renovation, just because everyone (i.e. my mother) thought it was odd not to.
    Thankfully, my husband insisted on no accent tile. We did large 12×24″ gray tiles with white mini subway tiles in the shower niches.
    Everyday, I walk in and LOVE my bathroom. So clean and fresh!

  • Susan says:

    We built our house 5 years ago. In 2009, white tile was not a choice at our builder’s ‘design center’: Closest thing was travertine! Then, the tile we chose was ‘neutral and timeless’; now it feels tired. We narrowly avoided an ‘even then’ dated & bad backsplash ‘design’ (presented by a tile salesman.) It was a masterpiece with roughly 4 accent tiles. In the 80s’, we lived in a house from 1908 that was full of white subway and hex tile and it was viewed as dated. No kidding. The point is, I’m not convinced that any design choice is truly timeless. Some are just easier to live with….

  • megeranski says:

    Chris Pyle:

    LOVE THAT!!!

    THAT will be timeless. Decades from now, it will look as whimsical and fun as it does now.

    (I am a mosaicist and therefore slightly prejudice…)

    for more inspiration:

    THIS is timeless

    BUT, as others have said repeatedly, depends on whether you are doing your house for you or for John C. and Suzie Q. Public.

    Thank you for the post!!!

  • Ronnd says:

    We built our house a year ago and the builder kept insisting I put in a “racing stripe” in our kitchen backsplash. I was adamant on not doing it! All I wanted was white subway tile. He kept bringing it up, and I finally told him, “Look, it’s NOT your house, it’s mine. I am the one paying for it and l am the one going to be living in it, so put the issue to rest, and stop bugging me about it!” He never mentioned it again. I talked him to letting me install the backsplash myself. I am very picky, and I looked at a few of our neighbor’s tile work done through the same builder and I wasn’t impressed. So my husband showed me what to do and I did it! (Side note: I let my husband do all the cutting. I don’t like power tools that can cut off my fingers, or hands!) I also used epoxy sealing of the grout…EVER! Our bathroom floors are also hex tile. Installed by both my husband and I…definitely a job for two. Thanks for your inspiration for creating beautiful homes! 🙂

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