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Advice for HomeownersColour in TilesTimeless

The Debate on Interesting and Trendy vs. Timeless

By 10/02/2012December 11th, 202045 Comments


Have you ever noticed how many different tile combinations can be found in commercial bathrooms?

When I travel I notice it the most.

It’s always staggering to me why so many people feel the need to choose such a variety of conflicting patterns, colours and multiple sizes of tiles–and install them all in one bathroom.

source (TIMELESS)

As I mentioned in this post, when I consult with clients on their final decisions regarding their hard finishes, especially tiles and granite or quartz countertops which generally don’t get taken out for 20 or more years, they will say things like:

‘I don’t want to have the same countertop, kitchen, bathroom, backsplash tile that everyone else has in their house’.

source (CLASSIC – Because it’s your favourite colour)

But when it comes to a sofa which is a way less permanent design choice, no one EVER says ‘I don’t want the same sofa colour as everyone else’. In fact, that’s where most people choose a ‘safe-the-one-everyone-else-has’ colour. Right now it’s in the realm of charcoal or brown.

And in all honesty, if I look back at the tile advice and selections I made for clients 15 years ago at the beginning of my career, I didn’t even question using accent tile. In fact, I thought if you had a creative backsplash or tub surround you were probably a really good ‘out-of-the-box’ designer or homeowner.

That was until I saw thousands of bathrooms and kitchen back splashes, most of them with conflicting undertones and busy patterns that rarely coordinated.

Do you have a theory on why? Why do we choose ‘interesting’ over ‘classic’ for tile, but then go totally trendy (still not timeless) for furniture?

I’m doing a poll so I’d love your take on the comments below!

Related posts:

One more Reason you Should Skip accent Tiles Altogether

Which Colour Sofa Should you Buy?

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

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

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  • Great question, Maria! Not sure how to answer it, but good question nonetheless. When someone doesn’t feel comfortable or confident about making decisions regarding decor, they are often inconsistent in how they reason through their decisions. Which is why they need you or me to help them see their inconsistencies and make better decisions! Thanks for the shout-out on your blog last week 🙂

  • Ginger says:

    I think they are both the same. Our tastes are easily influenced. We seek something new (to us), but we are attracted to the familiar, so we make decisions based on what we see in magazines or in the homes of friends.

    Even if we think brown sofas are ugly the first time we see them, after seeing them everywhere for a year, when we replace our blue sofa, we choose brown. It seems both new and safe.

    I think the kitchen and bath finishes are the same. The current trend is for “unique” tiles. People choose off combinations of finishes because that is different from what they’ve had before, but similar to what they see around them.

  • Lisa Moon says:

    Possible reason(s):

    1. The tile selections are part of the builder’s allowances, and as such feel like “free” (although of course they aren’t). The client doesn’t experience the stress of paying for it on the spot, and can handle a bit more risk, emotionally speaking.

    2. The sofa – which IS paid for up front, with hard-earned cash – is very “front and center”, where people are more afraid of making a mistake and being seen as tasteless.

    In reality, I think the tile is like the little black dress, and the sofa is like the fancy jewelry, but most people do seem to handle them as if the reverse were true. Never thought about it before! I’m about to help a client select tile later this week… I’ll be especially “aware” from now on. 🙂 Thanks, Maria!

    • Denise Grant says:

      Lisa, I really like your analogy of the little black dress with accent jewelry. It’s perfect.

  • Mary says:

    Ditto – great question. I think tile companies do a really good job of marketing their endless product portfolios. Even big box retailers have displays that are complex and encourage you to go wild. The only time I ever had the opportunity to choose tile for a bathroom, I went to the tile showrooms countless times to look at the cool products and floor displays. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to figure out something unique and cool – never entered my mind that it would need to be unique and cool for years to come. I never saw a display or a photo that just had a monotone field tile in a good color with nothing else going on. I have no idea what possessed me to stick with white classic subway tiles, a traditional black and white basketweave floor (for my ’40s house) and a restrained black pencil tile for the accent. Ten years later, I’m glad I did!

  • It is a good question..when we built our first house I put an accent tile in the kitchen and realised very quickly that matching the style of the tile with the accessories in the kitchen wasn’t going to happen easily. I think now, that all the tiles should be plainish and accent them with moveable, changeable accessories which can be placed on the bench in front of the tiles.

  • teresa says:

    Interesting question. I think the sofa follows the trend of the predominant colourway, now gray, formerly (and in still some locales) brown.
    I can’t explain the tile issue. I didn’t even know backsplash tile was such a major design statement until recently. I can see tile with formica,quartz and soapstone, but it always seems to clash with granite. And what’s wrong with marble for a backsplash, anyway. In the end, I think what we’re referring to as interesting is really trendy when seen in the macro environment.
    I think of interesting as a pejorative comment when there’s nothing better to say or sometimes when something needs to be studied to be understood. IThe most interesting rooms (in a good way) contain items and design not found in big box stores. I’ll have to send you a pic of my friend’s beautiful tiny bathroom with its shrine-like quality. Completely ethereal and unique and interesting because of the person it reflects. He’s an artist, of course.

  • It all comes down to marketing, I’m afraid. We humans are in effect “programmed” to believe we want/need something even if we don’t like it or even if it’s not “right” for us!

    Companies (regardless of the product) have always had one thing in mind: to sell what they’re making/building/creating/, etc.

    So the real question we consumers must ask ourselves (regardless of the product) is “Do I like this, whether or not it’s trendy?” If we answer yes, then even when the trend is gone, we’ll still like our choice. If we answer no, and follow our instincts of what we truly love, we will also still like our choice years to come.

    So….it’s really a matter of following your heart and instincts rather than having/doing what you think is “right”.

    • robin jurovich says:

      Connie, so right!! Marketing has an effect on the designers as well. We all want to be cutting edge ( or most of us)
      However, if we did deeper and ask why? I’m convinced
      it is our need to be approved.
      How much better to direct our client’s to be authentic to who they are and celebrate their own unique taste.
      That is timeless….

  • Meghann Wandrocke says:

    I happen to love that pink sofa!

  • Donna Frasca says:

    This goes back to my point – ask 10 different Designers about color or color trends and you’ll get 10 different answers. Which one will be right? It’s great to hire an Expert like you or I but ultimately, the final decision is in the comfort zone of the client who has the final decision. Tough call.

  • It seems to me that people think of the sofa as the “grounding” in the room that they will accessorize using complementary colours and patterns. Whereas I think people look at the tile AS the accessory against the cabinetry and wall colour. You’re right, most people do have it backwards. As I’m choosing tile and countertops for a kitchen facelift, I’ll keep in mind that simpler is better. But my style is that way anyways, so I can’t imagine picking tile that is too busy or “interesting”.

  • Lesli says:

    I think most people go with the OUTFIT/SHOES approach. The tile and hard finishes are the “outfit” and the sofas are the “shoes”. MOST people choose sensible shoes, but they might pick a colorful top…even if it does not work…which quite often…it does not

  • Vered Rosen says:

    interesting conversation…
    Here’s a theory – maybe people actually try deliberately to avoid the “trendy” look for their bathroom because they think “trendy” for bathroom/kitchen is bad – after all the dated bathroom/kitchen they live with and passionately hate was also “trendy” back in the 50’s 60’s or seventies, so why go trendy now and hate it later?
    I also agree with Heather. I think people see the couch just like jeans: everyone wears them but you can still pull a unique look. Bathrooms and kitchen are seen differently. Because there’s not much accessorizing involved, the “look” is determined largely by the tile, counter top and cabinet choices, which may drive people to choose “unique” over simple/tried-and-true finishes.

  • Debbie says:

    I don’t think the marble kitchen is “timeless” at all. Serene, definitely, and maybe more “tasteful”? But, especially with the industrial range, giant hood, big island with stools, it really does not look like it could have been built in any era other than the current one. Even if you’re just going by the large carrera slab island and backsplash. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m an amateur), but was that style popular in other decades too?? I would guess not.

    • Jeanne says:

      I don’t know if, in modern times, marble counters will look eventually dated. But to answer your question, marble counters have actually been used consistently throughout time. We toured the massive mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, and all the kitchen counters were made of white marble(1880s). And in Europe, the kitchen and bakery counters have been constructed of marble for centuries.

  • Karen says:

    I also love the PINK sofa. I just spent 6 months looking for a raspberry fabric for my new sofa. I finally found the only color raspberry in many many stores and ordered the sofa. I have been nervous about it until your post today. Now I am so excited to see it. I am happy I was brave!

    • Cherie says:

      I love that sofa, too. Good for you for going with what you love. Sometimes, you do have to be brave, as you said.

      • mairi says:

        Raspberry, pink-it’s all good! I still have my peacock blue velvet antique French sofa since the early 80’s (now in a sun room but in good shape nonetheless). No one was using that colour then but as my favorite I went ahead- with the upholsterer shaking his head. Well in all these years I have never tired of it and it is a delightful fun color to work with. I’ve tended to run in the opposite direction of colour trends anyway…my mantra now -‘go fun or go home’ when it comes to the soft stuff.. The irony is-you don’t want to change it if it’s a great piece!

    • Donna says:

      I am also having my sofa slip covered and have been a bit nervous! It will be Basel green. I was first leaning toward a cream color but decided that green can be accessorized just as easily for all of the seasons. Stepping out of the box can be exciting!

  • Lynn says:

    I think there aren’t many tasteful/classic tile options — looking back thru history, folks can remember the hideous avocados/ harvest golds they had to pull out, and they’re determined not to do that again, so I think they err on the side of trendy. I think some of the only classic and enduring bathroom tiles are white subway tile or carrera marble, but those don’t fit in everybody’s home or budget, and can seem too boring for many.

    That pink couch is classic because of its shape. If you put that color on a Pottery Barn oversized sofa with loose back pillows, it would never be classic because the couch itself isn’t. That pink couch’s shape would be a classic in any color or print. Love it!

  • Cherie says:

    It seems we always lean toward the new trends eventually. Not everyone jumps on at first, but when the time comes to make changes, or when we can afford them, we often go with the trend in some way. Sometimes that trend is on the way out by then, though.
    For a while many people were doing accent tiles in bathrooms and kitchens, and because the magazines and advertisements were showing that look, it was quite fresh and interesting. People wanted that look if they were building or renovating, and decorators/designers helped them get it. Now the trend has gone in the opposite direction, to the use of more plain tiles and few or no accents. But some people are mentally still in the old trend, and think accent tiles look great. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all building or renovating at the exact moment the new trends manifested themselves and designers could help us get those looks? And wouldn’t it be nice if the latest trends could all end up being classic and timeless? What an ever-changing art is design!

  • "Bristol Sunset" says:

    I am in the middle of my reno. Absolutely, I am choosing options that will stand the test of time for the “hard elements.” Our kitchen cabinetry –not white, I might add — is shaker in natural cherry. The countertops are soapstone. Tile will be white subway with light gray grout. I will add pops of color through what I choose to display in the two glass-fronted cabinets. There is no accent tile.

    In a New England home that is almost 100 years old, these elements are timeless.

    Nevertheless, the kitchen looks clean and contemporary with the choice of full-overlay doors, stainless appliances, and a stainless undermount sink.

  • Tawna Allred says:

    Why is a good question. I think it has a lot to do with control….people want to feel like they get some kind of say in what happens when they are ready to renovate, then they get pulled away by all of the “dazzle” of the showroom. All the sudden, plain isn’t even on the radar, and when it’s suggested, it’s a little disappointing. I’ve recently been working on an office, and I talked my client into a plain, white backsplash and tile across the front desk and around a fireplace in the waiting room (they originally wanted cultured stone and other busy things, yet asked for a tranquil environment for clients). They are so wonderful to work with, and handed over the trust to me. It will be going up in the next few weeks. I’m excited/nervous to hear if they say, “Phew, thank you” or something else. We’ll see! I think it will all be good if we have a very deep understanding of the end result, and then we can share “Why, why, and some more why.” Those are my thoughts….I don’t know if it’s right or not :).

  • ellen Rush says:

    I think there are soooo many choices when you go tile shopping that it is easy to be swayed with something other than classic. However, when you shop for sofa/chairs etc. the choices seem fewer and the sofa is usually seen in its final finished size. When you choose tile you don’t see the finished tile job until it is all done.

  • Maria,

    Most people, in my opinion, are use to “multiple stimuli” and when design doesn’t refect “action” or “movement” it is considered boring. Now that more and more individuals are spending more time at home either working, or staycations, or entertaining they want their spaces to reflect their current “state of mind”.

    As a designer it is our job to extract from our clients what they need in their spaces especially when they say one thing yet mean something else. The words used to describe what they’re looking for and their response to materials in person can reveal it all.

  • Wendy says:

    I had to pause and carefully choose how to say this, since I run the risk of sounding like a JERK 🙂

    My theory is that people want so much to be individualized, and see tile/granite as a way to show it.

    Installing custom tile/granite is a big bucks item and they want to put their personal imprint on it…to show THEY paid for it. Maybe just like the Victorians added gingerbread to every house (*IF* they could afford it).

    Builders know this…they encourage self-expression in tile/granite…just don’t slow down my job!! But it’s a throwaway for them…they care little about timelessness or self-expression. They are looking to turn the project over (no disrespect intended toward good builders!)

    In short, plain tile and UNbusy countertop materials ALWAYS feels best in a kitchen to me. Too much decoration in these areas always feels a little…desperate, or something.

    Restraint is good. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.


  • rainbow1 says:


    As a homeowner, your blog is REQUIRED READING. I’m so grateful I RESISTED 1. the comments of the salespeople, contractor and craftsmen to get more “bling” in my timeless choices. 2. the “siren call” of the catalogs and ads to “glam” up my hard spaces. You give us affirmation and courage to choose what WE WANT! My remodeled bathrooms and kitchen make us feel like we are in a swanky hotel and it was worth the hours of shopping to get the undertones JUST RIGHT.

  • Candy says:

    its the same with cars. People choose grey, beige or greige cars and only keep them a few years yet they put trendy tiles in the kitchen that last 20 years. Put the bright colours in the driveway and keep it simple inside.

  • Jude says:

    When we renovated our kitchen 4 years ago my mantra was:
    I chose white Shaker cabinets,, beadboard (white) on the lower walls, , Quartz countertops in a greyish green color and white subway tile backsplash And a white beadboard window seat I wanted it to look like something you’d see in Better Homes and Gardens. Timeless. My rationale was that one can ALWAYS paint and change the “soft” furnishing, so if I get tired of BM limesickle on the walls, easy to switch. Same goes for the cushions on the window seat. Easy to change.
    Think of the colors we choose for the OUTSIDE of our homes. The ones that look good year after year are timeless, not trendy.

  • sandra says:

    the question is what design role does the background play in the kitchen (or bath).

    Enhance foreground design elements or create a separate and distinct design statement.

    Although most people involved in a renovation/build enjoy being part of what’s current in design… some design choices prove unfortunate over the long term.
    How often do you hear “learn to live with it”?

    Sofa color choices appear to be a result of timid decision making …is it because of their size?

    Do some colors seem more inviting or more comfortable- looking …depending on the room’s purpose and perception of light.?

    Also consider the cultural influences of tv shows, movies (the kitchen in “something’s gotta give”), design magazines, and peer groups.

    Interesting question with many answers ….and
    that’s why designers create the personalized perspective for their clients.

  • I wonder if some people think of tile as an accessory that could be changed out if they didn’t like it or got sick of it. Once the tile is in place the reality is that (unless you love home improvement projects) you’re never going to change out that tile. I’ve been so thankful for your posts on this topic because I’ve noticed my propensity toward tiles that are either really popular right now or are too busy. I’ve been thinking of them like they’re a sofa.

  • SandyCGC says:

    I think Connie hits the nail on the head with the marketing idea and the programming – that’s how and why advertising works. The general public thinks the comapnies selling product (and even some designers) telling them what to pick are the experts and know what they’re talking about. So when cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances and busy, complicated backsplashes are the norm for kitchens or brown sofas are the norm for living rooms, too many clients don’t dare say “but I hate dark cabinets” and “I can’t stand stainless steel appliances” and “I absolutely hate brown sofas, even in leather”, so many people are sadly too insecure or just don’t have a clue. Maybe a way to work with clients is to request in advance or work with them to pull pix from magazines or online of 5 or 10 of their favoriate “kitchens”, for example, and sit with them to analyze those pix – why does the client like those kitchens, is there a common denominator (maybe all 5 kitchens have a very simple, plain backsplash which would suggest that the client’s angst over the better of 2 complicated, busy backsplashes is wasted because she doesn’t even like complicated, busy backsplashes.) I think, as Tawna says, there’s too much dazzle and overstimuli in showrooms, and there are way too many silly design shows on TV and way too many “faux” designers. I applaud the choice of the pink sofa – it would never be mine because I’m not a pink person but when the time comes, I hope I have the courage to chose a green one because green is my faorite color. Great question to throw out there, Maria. This has been super interesting reading.

  • What a great question! My first impulse is to say, people seek creative schemes in their kitchen because the tile/counter/etc makes such a large visual impact and, in my opinion, there aren’t very many other opportunities to “express” yourself. Can a spoon rest or utensil container define you as an individual? Is your refridge so UNIQUE that you feel distinct? I think people aim to convey, to themselves and to visitors, “you are in MY kitchen” rather than “you are in A kitchen.”

    I would also assume people are drawn to neutral sofas because there are additional opportunities to define your style – accent pillows, throws, etc… the sofa acts as a “blank canvas” on which to paint (metaphorically) who you are and how your feeling, with expressions of color, texture, quantity, personalization, and so on.

    However, I see the paradox – daring on permanent, safe on removeable. I am going to take a poll from my design team here at Nantucket Home in Chico, CA, and see what their thoughts are on the matter! Thank you for posting such an interesting design question!

  • My clients are usually a bit surprised when I talk about keeping things simple. Like I have to come up with “fancy stuff” to make it worth their money. I agree with Maria: all kinds of tiles, backsplashes and countertops that clash, and then I’m supposed to come in and choose the paint after they’ve made a mess. I especially come across intensely colored granite, and people seem stunned when I point out all the colors in it. I can’t answer the question of why, but I agree that there are too many frou frou examples in showrooms, magazines and on TV. I don’t even watch design shows anymore since 99% is just ****. It’s all flash and sparkle, it has very little to do with good taste.

  • Amanda says:

    There are too many choices out there! It is so overwhelming to streamline your decisions and to edit yourself. And, I think it is really difficult to know who you are and what your true style is (it is usually how you dress, which should be repeated/reflected in your home environment…unless you and your home need an extreme makeover). Also, it is really hard to envision how your choices will translate into the space. This is why restraint is critical. You can always add fabrics, paint, and accessories. It is so much harder to quickly and economically subtract wall tile and countertops!

  • Tricia says:

    Maybe for the same reason people will sing in the shower, but not in public. It’s a private part of the house and want to express themselves with wild abandon. =)

  • Liz says:

    I think there are a lot of things in play! First, people believe their taste isn’t going to change. Most people don’t think they’re choosing something “trendy” — it’s just “what they like.” When 1-inch multicolored glass tile is in every magazine, that feels like an obvious choice.

    Also, while a backsplash is an expense, it feels like the “easiest” fixed element to change in a kitchen. In ten years when the backsplash trend changes, you can make a small investment in new tile and still have an up-to-date kitchen.

    Personally, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as timeless or classic. White painted kitchens are so popular right now that they will almost definitely date a renovation. I’ve seen more white shaker cabs with charcoal countertops, white subway tile, carrera marble, dark wood floors, industrial light fixtures, etc., in the past 3 years than in the previous 3 decades combined. While I love the look in pictures, I no longer want it for myself.

    Likewise, a colored sofa may seem timeless, but it’s very easy to end up on trend (and then behind-trend) accidentally. For example, I LOVED blue and brown and used them for years. Fast forward to early 2000s, all of the TV designers put blue and brown everywhere, and I had to edit my palette. The same thing happened to my sister with Tuscan colors in the 90s and my mother with turquoise in the 80s.

    Overall, people may get more time out of a simpler renovation plan, but ultimately, they have to like what they choose. I’ve never been in a house that looked timeless 15 years after the last renovation/redesign. The answer might be that we need an overhaul every 10 years regardless, so might as well choose what you like.

  • Shawna says:

    When I walk into a tile store I am dazzled by all the beautiful options and it is difficult to choose but the last thing I want is white subway tile or marble. I am not dazzled when I walk into a furniture store and look at sofas. I look around for the least offensive sofa and plan to jazz it up with throws and pillows.

  • Sara Smith says:

    I actually do think that the all-white kitchen is trendy, too. I’m sure you are 100% correct that it is more timeless than a very specific color palette with lots of specialty tiles, and if you like the look now, you will be more likely to like it for longer because of its simplicity. But, painted everything is so in, when that trend disappears, something else will take its place.

    I think that what it sounds like you like the least about interesting and trendy tile is that it is rarely chosen with the context you are always talking about. When people are looking at tile, they are usually just looking at the tile…they don’t always compare with countertops, cabinets, fixtures, etc (contrary to what you advise), so it’s super easy to get it wrong and have it look bad.

    In kitchens, there is just so much going on texturally, with all the fixed elements, it’s easy to have too much & for it to get busy and have clashing undertones. Keeping a simple design for your cabinets, countertop, and backsplash, like you suggest, may not be super exciting seeming to people, but it is a clean, fresh look that you can brighten with accessories…and isn’t that what’s trendy now, anyway?

    (Confession, am about to install mosaic glass/stone tiles for my own backsplash. I know they are too trendy, but they are what go best with the mixed tone silestone countertops, light wood cabinets, and oil rubbed bronze hardware & fixtures chosen by the previous homeowners. We just need something to make it look more finished for resale in the next few years.)

  • Susan S says:

    That’s a thought-provoking question!
    The only reason I can think of is because tile packs more of a punch than upholstered furniture and when spending hundreds of dollars, we generally want the “wow factor.” But I’m with you and agree that classic beats the trends when it comes to expensive, long-term decorating.

  • Maria,
    Longtime reader first time poster. Very thought provoking article here about hard finishes. I always enjoy your articles and videos on color.

  • Lauren says:

    So, I am OBSESSED with the pink sofa. Wondering if Maria or any other folks have suggestions for where to find a fabric like that to reupholster a chair? Websites/stores…. I am looking everywhere, but it’d be nice to direct my search a bit better.

  • kathi steele says:

    I wonder if it is because of an earlier post….they just do not “love” the plain white subway tile (or whatever) ? They cannot really see the bigger picture and see the that each element of hard finishes contributes to the whole picture.
    I was always excited that I could “punch up” my rooms with the odd piece of furniture, etc., because it would not necessarily be there for 20 years.
    I found a “story board” always helped me see where I was going and I could use it to tweak things.
    I also found my “story board” helped my husband and family see my visions and see the big picture.

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