Outdoor Tile with Style
Clever installations set the foundation for chic exterior spaces
It was a last-minute style decision. Designer Audrey Graham Kennedy, the owner of La Jolla’s AGK Design Studio, had a stash of this Enchante tile in Moderno from Bedrosians Tile & Stone left over from a laundry room floor, and an exterior patio in need of some “wow.”
The concrete tiles were just the accent the outdoor space needed. Installed on stair risers and around the built-in grill (pictured at right), the pattern complemented a black wrought-iron stair railing while extending the interior design out well beyond the patio doors.
“When you have a home where all the walls essentially disappear, it’s nice to use tiles instead of boring poured concrete,” Audrey says. “We’ll do anything as long as it’s pretty.”
As homes are increasingly fashioned to blend indoor and outdoor living, design elements typically reserved for interiors are finding new life outside. From pool decks and patios to outdoor fireplaces and garden terraces, natural and man-made tiles can be artistic focal points, define a dining or seating area or simply lend a polished finish to a sophisticated home exterior.
“Every room we do, we like to have one thing that stands out,” Audrey says, explaining that outdoor rooms should be no different. “It brings the outside to life.”
For insights on the best applications of exterior tile, with an eye toward style that can withstand both the elements and changing trends, we went to several local experts. Here’s what they had to say.
Pick a pattern
Designer Lotta Goodman, owner of San Diego firm Simply Nordic Interiors, says she picks outdoor tile designs based on the architecture and interior design of the house.
“We want to tie it in because of this indoor-outdoor lifestyle,” she says. “Whatever colors and inspirations we have inside, we can bring outside, too. Sometimes it can be more fun and playful, but sometimes it can be more muted with maybe a splash of color or a graphic print.”
Moroccan and Scandinavian prints are popular, as are black-and-white tiles that lend themselves to a modern farmhouse look, she says. She balances bright and colorful tiles with neutral furniture or, conversely, neutral-colored tiles with statement patio pieces.
Lotta says she hasn’t used the exact same tile inside and outside but will select versatile tile prints that complement each other in motif or color.
Also on-trend: large outdoor tiles spaced so that small stones and plantings can be placed in-between.
Carla Bocchini, Encinitas showroom manager for San Diego Marble & Tile, says she’s seeing a lot of large-scale tiles too, but she’s also noticing what’s called a French or Versailles pattern that cleverly staggers four different-sized tiles.
“It’s a bit of a puzzle for the tile guy,” Carla says.
Herringbone patterns are popular, too, particularly with wood-look outdoor tiles, she says.
Tiles with a faux finish to look like wood or terra-cotta are favored for use from indoors to out, Carla says, as many new-home designs include LaCantina-type sliding patio doors. “Matching means you can get that seamless look.”
Outdoor fireplaces and pool-feature walls are still often done in stacked stone, but homeowners are opting for larger slabs, Carla states, noting that glass tiles are big right now, too.
Meanwhile, Audrey discovered she liked the look of square tiles around an outdoor fireplace while searching for an alternative to stacked stone.
“A lot of times we’re trying to come up with ideas that aren’t that typical fireplace outside,” she says. “But still, we’re not going too crazy with them because we don’t want it to be too trendy. I like a little bit of trend, but my style is more timeless.”
And while she’ll use tile to border a patio space, she doesn’t like showy tile set in a rug-like design that will end up being obscured by patio furniture.
“There are so many rugs that are cheaper than masonry,” Audrey says. “It’s a lot easier to change out a rug when styles change; it’s a lot harder to jack-hammer it out.”
Sustain the style
Longevity is an important consideration when planning an exterior space. Audrey looks to commercial-grade materials when designing outdoor areas that are particularly susceptible to harsh sunlight, salty air or heavy foot traffic.
“We want these spaces to wear for a long time. I don’t want those phone calls saying that something didn’t hold up,” Audrey says.
Designers often recommend porcelain tiles because they’re durable, stain resistant, don’t require additional sealing and can be cleaned with virtually any household cleaning product. With high-definition imaging, porcelain tiles can be manufactured to be any color, texture or shape, Lotta says.
Carla says natural stone is appealing because every piece is different. Cement and natural stone tiles require extra maintenance, with special cleaning products and additional sealing needed every one to two years to ward against stains and fading. But not all wear-and-tear is bad.
“Even if you seal a porous tile, it’s subject to chipping. But if you like the natural beauty of a stone tile, sometimes it’s okay if it’s a little scratched,” Lotta says. “With natural stone, be aware that over time the natural elements will affect it. It may fade or scratch, but it depends on the project and what you’re after.”
Grout is also an important durability and design decision. Both Lotta and Carla recommend Kiesel ServoPerl Royal Grout, a cement-based product that withstands swimming-pool chlorine and is resistant to mold, mildew and stains. It doesn’t need sealing and is available in an array of hues.
“It has a great color palette. It goes with everything,” Carla says. “I like it, too, because it’s easy for contractors to use. You don’t have to be a mad scientist to mix it.”
Aside from aesthetics, designers agree that the most important factor when choosing an outdoor tile is slip-resistance. While a slick tile might be shiny and easy to clean, it can present a hazard in wet or dry conditions.
Ratings that measure “dynamic coefficient of friction” or DCOF indicate how slippery a tile flooring might be. A higher number rating means the surface better resists a sliding motion.
That’s not to say outdoor tiles need to be entirely coarse. Tiles with higher DCOF ratings can be interspersed with more decorative tiles, and grout lines can be situated to catch your step, Audrey says. On stairs, the risers can have a smoother finish if the tread and nosing pieces have good gripping.
There are a variety of anti-slip coatings that can be applied to tile flooring after installation, but designers caution it can change the tile’s appearance.
Ultimately, local design experts say the best way to plan your outdoor area is to think about how you want to enjoy the space over the years while investing in high-quality products built to endure.
“If you go with something timeless that suits your environment, it’s going to last for a long time,” Lotta says.
Hand-Painted Tile Inspiration
This collection of bright-colored, hand-painted tiles from Arto can be mixed-and-matched.