The Art of Tile – and an update on the Winnetka Project!

We’re in our final week at the Winnetka Project and, while I am sure my clients are ecstatic to have their home free of drop cloths, blue tape, and large Polish men, I always find these last days filled with nostalgia. The paradox never fails – it feels like we began so long ago and yet just started all at the same time.


Reflecting on these past few months, though we had many issues to consider throughout the process, I think our biggest challenge was the tile. In fact, I think tile is one of the most unexpected challenges to our clients on most projects.

First, let’s start with the cost. Tile is expensive. When you walk into a big box tile store, it seems pretty cheap when you’re looking at the cost of ONE. That’s where they getcha! Now, some tiles are priced per square foot and some tiles are priced PER PIECE. This is a big difference! If you have a tile priced PER PIECE, it’s probably less than 1 square foot which means you need MORE.


(Bars on top and bottom are 1SF – tile piece is less than 1SF!)

An average bathroom in a historic home is 75SF…and that’s just the floor! Now, add on the shower walls and any wainscot around the bathroom that you’d like installed. Think about it: an average ceiling is 8 feet high, an average bathtub/shower is 5 feet wide, don’t forget the side walls of the shower area! Boom. Just like that, you have about 140SF of tile needed. An average tile costs $15/SF. Are you multiplying? That’s  $2,100.00…now add on an extra 20% for waste. See how that adds up? Very quickly.

That’s for basic tile. What’s considered basic tile? Anything that doesn’t make the installer think.

Non-basic tiles? These can easily get up to $250/SF.

Now, let’s move on to the fun stuff we had at Winnetka!


Design is important. All of these bathrooms were small space, high design. Anytime that you walk into a bathroom and see tile that looks effortlessly stunning, please note that the final effect you are seeing was anything, but effortless. In the Master Bathroom, we had one type of tile on the lower portion of the shower wall and another on the top of the wall to the ceiling:


We have two questions here:

  1. How do we transition the two tiles?
  2. How do we tile the niche?

Well, we transition the two tiles by adding a chair rail. BE CAREFUL! That chair rail piece needs to be proportionate thickness to the tiles – you don’t want a super thick chair rail or, worse, a chair rail that is not as thick as your other tiles. It simply won’t work and everyone will be annoyed while standing in the bathroom staring at it before installation. At Winnetka, our top tile was thinner than the bottom tiles so we actually flipped the chair rail “upside down” so it worked.

Did you notice that in this photo the first time?


Exactly. Effortless…

Now, the niche. Ah, niches! We love them! Instagram loves them! PINTEREST LOVES THEM! Here’s my advice on niches: sometimes they betray you. That’s right, they’re finicky bastards. The niche you see on Pinterest may not physically be possible in your bathroom. Why? Because there’s a lot of stuff in your walls – pipes, to be specific. Of course, ANYTHING is possible!

I often tell our clients: The answer is “yes.” The question is “how much?”

If you have a flexible budget, then you have flexible options.

I digress…niches are a serious consideration when tiling because it is rare that a full tile fits in the niche so you have to decide how it’s going to be finished. Often, shower floor tiles are used in niches because they are on a flexible mesh backing with a repetitive pattern which is very forgiving for small spaces that will naturally draw attention to themselves. Other times, the sides of the niche will be different tiles from the back of the niche.


Lastly, you have to decide how you’re going to handle the corners! Pencil tile? Chair rail? Channels?

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!


Now, moving on to the other bathrooms – I have to say, our client treated these bathrooms like her children…there were no favorites! They were all important!

First, the Hall Bathroom. Glass Camilla Tile.




Now, arabesque tiles are beautiful. No doubt. Stunning. Here’s the thing: we have to cut these tiles and finish them identically along the sides of the shower walls. That means that each piece needs to be cut EXACTLY in half. If we’re off, it looks terrible. Not “okay”, terrible. These tiles are glass. That means they’re mean, entitled pieces that get an attitude problem and chip if you don’t handle them perfectly. Remember that 20% waste?

Then we need to discuss how the corners get finished off based on how the tiles are lining up along the width of the wall.


(This is my parent’s house, I’m just making a visual point here…)

Then, we have grout. It sounds simple; however, it’s worth saying that the grout also takes more effort because there are more crevices to fill.


(Integro is awesome.)

See that corner? How the two halves meet to create one full arabesque piece of tile? See how one full half piece fits in front of the bathtub? Yeah, we’re awesome.

On to the Ensuite Bathroom – for what I’m assuming was the servant’s room back in post-depression era times. Here, we used an intricate tile pattern which we continued from the main bathroom floor into the shower floor. THIS is exciting stuff. For me – not my installers. After the Hall Bathroom, they saw the Ensuite tile design and looked at me as if I betrayed them somehow.

Let’s be honest, I did.

Here’s why: we had to dry cut the entire floor to ensure that the floor design CONTINUED into the shower. So, the tiles had to line up perfectly. Remember, in the shower, there’s no base shoe to forgive a 1/4″ difference. It has to be exact.

Here’s the other item: the shower threshold. Is it one custom piece? Is it tiled?

That decision? Perhaps easy enough. Here’s the hard question: How far does the threshold overhang? 1/8″? 1/4″? 1/2″? – Why does this matter? It matters because we need the main bathroom floor design to continue into the shower floor which means that, aesthetically, when you look down at the shower floor, the design should start where the THRESHOLD stops, not where the SHOWER stops. Did I lose you?

Check this out:


If we butted the tile against the end of the SHOWER, the THRESHOLD would be covering the tile and the pattern would look off because the THRESHOLD is covering 1/4″ of the tile, making it look like we started the pattern off the center of the tile.

Then, after it’s all dry cut. We check for shading. Tiles are stone and stones have shading. We want to make sure marbling and shading is consistent and not bunched in one place. Easier said than done, and the coloring is subjective to the eye.

…and finally, grout changes everything. Grout color is NOT a last minute decision. It softens and sharpens the final product simultaneously.

So, all in a day’s (months’) work! We’re cleaning up and getting ready to move on…


Final Reveal coming soon…


Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!

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