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One More Reason to Skip Accent Tiles Altogether

By 11/02/2011December 11th, 202056 Comments

When building a new house or starting a major renovation, the thing I hear most from my clients is… I don’t want it to look boring. But, adding interest with trendy  accent tiles is just going to make your house look dated. Here’s one more reason to skip accent tiles altogether.

There is a new answer that I have come up with recently when clients ask me about the finishes for their renovation or new house. I want to save you from spending money later to undo some of the choices you are making right now for your house. This article provides one more reason you should skip accent tiles altogether.

Light Blue Subway Tile

Via DecorPad

Read more: What countertop looks good with Carrara marble?

Here’s how it usually goes. You show me your backsplash tile or countertop for your bathroom and then say:

“I’m worried that it’s boring.”

It’s the pitfall that many designers (including me until I was in my 647th consultation) as well as homeowners fall into when they are choosing tiles and that is this:

Interesting = Trendy

Here are a couple of bathrooms (below) that used the same tile throughout. This is much better than trying to coordinate three different accent tiles in one space. Boring now equals timeless later.

Marble Tile Bathroom

How long will you love your accent tile?

The shelf life of an interesting backsplash is about five years. I have never been in a house with trendy backsplash tile that is more than five years old and had anyone tell me they still love it. 

I’m serious. Take this accent tile (below). See the green and yellow-beige undertones in the tiles? Until the day you renovate a bathroom with tiles like this, these will be the colours of your walls. Are you ready for that commitment?

bad accent tile

So when people say to me, “Maria, subway tile has got to be dated now, right?”

My answer is, “No.”

Do you have to choose a subway tile? No. Choose anything simple and neutral. And while it might still look boring to you before it’s installed, trust me, you will thank me later when you have the flexibility to change colours around it without being stuck with the colours in your tile.

Hey wait, I just thought of something else. 

Everyone asks me for neutral walls or neutral furniture but then when it comes to tile, something that is permanently stuck to your bathroom or backsplash FOREVER, you suddenly decide it has to be interesting. Hmmmm.

Show me a trendy and interesting backsplash tile or accent for your shower surround and my response, “Be prepared to hate it very soon after you have it installed.”

I know this sounds like tough love, but take it from someone who’s consulted on hundreds of bathrooms.

Bathroom Accent Tile

There are pretty ways to incorporate accent tiles into your fixed finishes (like above) but getting the look right usually takes perhaps more than you’ll want to spend or the expert eye of an interior designer. Magazine worthy looks cannot be easily copied.

So in general, it’s best to stick to the simple plan. Tread carefully into the accent tile section… go ahead, take a look. And then… run for the hills.

Want more of my colour guidance?

Download my eBooks: How to Choose Paint Colour and White is Complicated

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, try one of my eDesign packages.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large painted samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Encaustic Tiles: Should you embrace the trend?

Which Backsplash Tile goes with Granite?

The Hottest Trend in Backsplash Tile; Yay or Nay?

Selecting your Kitchen and Bath Backsplash Tile; Accent Tile or Not?

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  • Dana says:

    I’m not thanking you later, I’m thanking you now! I was in the tile store today and kept struggling with this same problem! Great to have validation!

  • So true. We built a house 11 years ago. I hated the accent tile after 3. Luckily it was all in the showers and not the kitchen.

  • TOTALLY agree! I was only telling someone this last night when they were asking me what I thought was “in” for bathroom tiles! Couldnt agree more! Plus if its boring add some nice accessories!

  • Tonya says:

    So appreciate the timing of this post today! I’m here in my office with tile samples for our master bath and was consiering glass mosaic tiles. Just put them back in the sample box and now deciding between the three porcelain ones that look like marble. Thank you! ; )

  • Bert says:

    I agree 100% with you, Maria. I did my bathroom upstairs about 3 years ago. I chose neutral tile but had them install one of those ‘matching’ tiles with a little design on it, here and there. It’s certainly not overdone but I still wish I had left them all plain. Now everytime I see it, I think “I shouldn’t have done that”….so live and learn. I have to say I’ve learned a lot just from reading your blogs.

  • Wendy Nelson says:

    Absolutely right. I recently bought a hundred year old house with a kitchen rebuilt in the 1990’s. It is a testament to timeless white. With white cabinets, wood floors, marble counters and good layout all it needed to look current were some new appliances and a little lighting. Oh — Except for the tile backsplash which is accented with painted bowls of fruit and flowers that simply SCREAM 1990’s. Chipping those off will be a major headache.

    • mairi says:

      Good points Maria! I resonate with Wendy’s comments. I also reside in a century home and the classic white feels timeless and fresh. One thing I’ve learned to do is to Not have back-splash tile. Instead, I have changed the look and interest factor regularly with a variety of ‘art’. At the moment there is a square plate collection mounted in a line-(easy with velcro strips). All are the same bold pattern creating a visual line-very mod and fun. Before that I had DIY canvasses- endless color possibilities there. Mirrors were nice too but high maintenance. The sky’s the limit…and it can cover up the 90’s fruit and flowers!

  • Bette says:


    Love your new site everything looks happy. I had a client discussion on this same topic two days ago. My thoughts have always been in most cases simple is best, timeless, modern, classic, traditional and pleasing to the eye. Don’t know how else to encourage those important decisions. Except keep saying the same things.


  • I couldn’t agree more about back splash tile. People want to feel up to date in their choices. but don’t realize that up to date has a very short shelf life. I try to steer people toward classic choices in anything that is permanently attached. I’m sure they think I can’t be much of a designer if I’m suggesting something that boring. It’s always a problem.

  • I adore you, Maria!! You are so right!! Oh my goodness, and when you wrote about neutral walls and furniture and then all of a sudden now you want to get interesting … Truer words have never been spoken!!!! xo!

  • Couldn’t agree with you more, Maria. How many times have we seen a neutral backsplash ruined by some trendy accent piece – I know of a great white backsplash interspersed with floral tiles – breaks up the whole continuity and limits the choices for any other pattern in the room. Thanks for the advice.

  • Maxine says:

    Agree with you but I must say the lightly veined tiles in picture 2 really bothers my eye. a little different distribution would work better for me.

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Maria, This advice is so right! I think what happens when people are building and/or remodeling is that the space is still empty.
    They need to be reminded that when all the food, small appliances and other people are added to the mix, (or in the bath–all the products, etc.)…..
    NOW the space becomes complicated. Keeping the background simple will always compliment the rest of the story !!

  • Rebecca says:

    Tile can be painted. I have never done this but a niece had it done in a home she lived in when living in Omaha a few years back. She had it professionally done and you could not tell it was not original.

  • Coley says:

    I loved every word of this article. It is SO TRUE when people want nuetral walls and furniture but want crazy, colorful permanent fixtures.

  • So, so true! Brilliant post which could save people a fortune. Trend colours on towels & cushion is my motto too. You convey your point so well with excellent images, thank you.

  • Amen Sister! I am battling with clients right now over not using light blue glass tile on an entire wall of their kitchen which is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door. It’s just not a good idea.

  • Dana Kretz says:

    Sad story.
    Did a total remodel 2 yrs ago ago. Chose white subway title across the entire wall with no overhead cabinets. Love that stark clean look. Well, while I was out my contractor put a black tile above the stove to form a square. His gift to me, no extra charge.
    My options are to put stainless on it or paint the black tile square white.
    Any other suggestions?

  • Cheryl K. says:

    What if your accent were the beautiful – but perhaps too expensive for one’s budget for the whole area – natural marble or stone? Your post also makes me wonder about the classic look of black strips done with the white of the 1930’s.

  • Barbara says:

    I beg to disagree. Safe, long-enduring, neutral is just plain boring. I have to live with it every day. It is the Pop! and the Bam! that talks to my soul that I want. Let’s face it, the back splash in the average kitchen is not a large financial outlay. Why shouldn’t it make you happy for five years. Do the math, what is the daily cost of real soul food?

  • Jen says:

    As a big fan of Sarah Richardson’s bathrooms, I have to disagree a little. She does great things with a neutral palette, but the variance in tile is what makes it beautiful.

    On the other hand, maybe this look shouldn’t be attempted unless you have a Sarah-caliber designer on your side!

    • suze says:

      I doubt the “accent” tiles Sarah selected for this lovely bathroom is what Maria is opposed to, since they are all neutral and of the same material. They are a variation on a theme, not a dated and trendy “accent” tile.

  • connie rese says:

    SO TRUE! even after years of consulting and also disliking accent tiles, I made the mistake of adding
    them to my bathroom because the owner of the tile store told me I should….I second guessed myself and in a moment of self doubt told him to go ahead. Funny, I would have never told any client of mine the same thing.
    A $20,000.00 renovation that I now hate 3 years later!!!

  • L M says:

    Why not have tiles as an accent, but installed in a less permanent way? I would like a custom tile piece behind my range, but have it readily removable, i.e. within a frame that is installed on top of the backing wall.

  • Two years ago, we purchased a house, where the master bath was renovated about 25 years ago. It had floor to ceiling brown tile with a flower motive on it. Truly not a pretty picture. Maybe, it was chic 25 years ago, but certainly not today. I aim for the timeless design approach. Thank you for reminding us to steer away from trendy.

  • This sounds like great advice. My mom had some beautiful blue backsplash tiles installed in their kitchen..which is very open to the livingroom. For her, it probably won’t matter. But I think the bright blue designs would cause a real problem for future owners. It looks great–at the moment. :o)


  • Jennifer @ Timeless Interiors says:

    I could not agree more! Stick to accessories to get the trendy feel you want so you can easily change them when you get tired of them. I always advise my clients to go with tile that does not date it’s self. Like good architecture, you should not be able to tell when it was done. As always, well done post!

  • Angie says:

    Well….I’m about to do what you’re saying not to do, but I feel that I’m allowed to because my husband is a tile setter. I’m currently doing reno’s on a house we just bought, We’ve had the cupboards spray painted white and are doing a white silestone coutertop. The tiles I chose for my backsplash are the powder blue Walker Zanger Ashbury Vibe tiles, which I love. I’m pretty sure they’ll make me happy every time I look at them. We’ll see if I regret it! And if my husband will agree to rip them out in 5 years if I’m tired of them by then!

  • diana says:

    amen amen amen.. so glad to hear you say this…. I thought I was alone in this thinking! I like accent tiles…. in someone elses home.Thank you

  • Maria Killam says:

    HI Suze,
    You’re right I think Sarah’s bathrooms are accent tiles done with drama and they are fab. My advice is for everyone that is about to install a strip of tile around their shower, etc, etc, etc.

  • Shawna says:

    I recently did both my kitchen and bathroom. I chose white tile for both. As you said, tile is permanent, and therefore, I want something neutral. To me a backsplash and tub surround aren’t the accent, they’re the background. It’s not to say the tile doesn’t look beautiful, it does, but it’s not screaming look at me. And more importantly in 10 yrs it won’t be screaming I was installed in 2011. If I want trendy and colourful I’ll use paint, towels and accessories. They’re easy to change and need to be replaced regardless every 5-10 yrs, so I figure it’s money I’d be spending anyway.

  • Mary says:

    If someone thinks their neutral tile is boring, my advice would be to add some of the same tile layed in a different direction. It will break up the space without adding another color.

  • Bonnie Lagerstrom says:

    Years ago when I was re-modeling my first home, it was the tile layer who wanted a hand in the design and was pushing the “interesting” look. I kept it simple and neutral and never regretted it.

  • Barbara says:

    Hello Maria,
    So true and you explained it perfectly! Well done!

  • Tawna Allred says:

    You are so right on! Love, love, love…..have a great day!


  • KJ says:

    Very interesting. I always think that someone should come up with an “easy switch” system for installing and later changing out accent tiles; you’d make a fortune! I know Centsational Girl just dremmeled out the ugly medallion tile she tired of and switched it to something more plain.

    Also, I love subway tile but it *will* look dated some day. People used to use subway tile until it fell out of favor. I don’t think anything has remained “in” for decades and decades and decades. Not to say you shouldn’t use it, but it isn’t timeless. No idea what will replace it (or when), but something will one day.

  • Robin Reid says:

    As always, great advice that makes us think. AND I love how you always explain why.

  • Lori says:

    Maria you are so right, you are brilliant…I have found validation on so many decorating topics on your
    site. It`s like you are the afirmation of my inner voice and decorating gut instinct. Many light bulb moments
    after reading your blog.
    Thank you

  • trish Berns says:

    We just built a new house. All of the tile I picked was some version of off white. Tile salesman, and builder both tried to talk me into accent tiles. So glad I didn’t let them sway me.
    I have lived in a lot of houses that had tile I couldn’t stand. I wasn’t about to do that in this house. It looks beautiful. There are a lot of other (better) ways to bring temporary color into a room. Replacing a backsplash is very expensive, and a major headache. I’ve done it in 2 other houses.

  • Farha Syed says:

    True – totally agree.

    I have yet to upgrade my kitchen – so I will definitely steer way away from the accent tiles.

  • Soma says:

    I love reading your blog! I just spent a few hours in a tile store the other day, and you are so right. I’ve been using the same showroom for years, and I walked by their permanent display, which I was in absolute love with when they first put up (2007) and just shook my head.

    I will say for mosaics, when the are the dominant feature, they are EXQUISITE, however few people have the kind of budget that allows that.

  • sometimes clients will come into the paint store with all their tile for the bathroom, floor, counter, shower and then the dreaded band of accent tile to go around the shower/tub area. after some conversation and looking at wall color, I ask them if they’ve bought the tile? if they haven’t, I suggest leaving out the accent pieces because they are not happening any more, they look at me like ‘it took a long time to pick out this tile to match the other tile’.

    My recommendation to them KIS…

  • Amber says:

    Wow! So glad I found this post! We’re currently putting an addition on our house and I’m glad we didn’t do a backsplash in the kitchen or accent tiles in the new half bath. We put a pedestal sink in the half bath and kept it simple and we love it! I just told my husband no crazy tiles in the new master bath! Neutral tiles, same color scheme-larger tiles on the floor, smaller in the shower-but no accents or designs! 🙂

  • Mary says:

    This is great advice. The manufacturer’s make the coolest accent tiles and it’s easy to get seduced. This advice will save us money now and later – thank you!

  • Linda Fitzgerald says:

    Maria saves the day again!! I absolutely agree and you obviously posted this just in time for some of us – whew.

  • The skinny stacked/alternating/too many colors tile band in the shower/tub is about the ugliest thing ever! I don’t care how many I see. Clients come into the paint store and show me what they are thinking of buying for that accent tile and how the paint can coordinate (of course, it’s on their iPhone) I’m with you subway tile in all it’s variations of colors, transparencies etc. is the way to go.

  • YaleMichMom says:

    I think you just saved me from myself! I’ve always wondered if so-called “boring” was better, but now I get why I need to trust my intuition. Paint, towels, flowers, art, and interesting perfume bottles all can add the accents I need and are not “cemented” to a surface. Long-live subway tile and simplicity!

  • YaleMichMom says:

    …oh, and it’s for the same reason I’ve never understood the interest in using anything other than classic, white bath fixtures. I love Kohler, but I cannot understood who would ever order/install colors of toilets, tubs, and sinks in pink, black, green, beige or… BROWN. Clean white rules in a bathroom. I like to see the dirt on a surface to know when it needs attention. Definitely not trying to hide it.

  • barbara says:

    I have not heard/seen any mention of the pebble tiles/sliced pebbles. Considering it for my shower floor..possibly bathroom floor? I have lived the clean organic look of them ( i am speaking of the ones that are white tones/sandy tones).
    I originally liked the actual pebble ones but have heard that the sliced stones are easier to maintain.
    Your thoughts please? thank you! <3

    • Maria Killam says:

      I don’t know about maintenance but I like the look of those tiles too. . . if you have a beach house? Or the entire room has that look and feel? Maria

    • Jean Tinelli says:

      I put in sliced stone on my shower floor 9 years ago and I still love it. Non-slip, virtually no maintenance, and easy on the bare feet, unlike actual pebbles. I also put sliced stones on the floor around the toilet and I like that look, too.

  • Jennifer says:

    What about accent tiles in the niche to match the floor of the shower?

    • Maria Killam says:

      You can have accent tiles in the niche without choosing one that has you stuck to a specific colour scheme forever. Maria

  • Myra Ephross says:

    I agree completely, and I share with my clients that any finish that is expensive to replace should be Neutral and timeless. Paint and accessories are so easily changed out for a new fresh look. Sometimes client are willing to to me. The possibilities are endless with neutral permanent finishes.

  • Nancy Markon says:

    Please — LISTEN . . . LISTEN . . . LISTEN — to what Maria is saying about accent tiles and white or cream baths. The bath in my walkout basement has neutral creamy white wall tiles in the shower, but the design got “creative” at the top border and on the floor. I loved it at first, but now I’m just wishing for a simple white shower. Since it’s in the basement, not that big of a deal, but I’d love to save the rest of you from buyer’s remorse. I will NOT be using accent tiles in a bath ever again.

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