The effect of faux tile finishes once depended on how light fell, how the sun or kitchen lights caught the pattern in the floor, how the tile felt underfoot or how it looked behind the sink. Decades ago, faux was just another word
for fake, ersatz, as something that was meant to reach for an effect, but failed in the process. In the ’60s and ’70s, decorators played up the shortcomings in realism, and preferred tile that was more fake than faux. Since the ’90s, the trend has been toward natural surfaces and genuine materials. Never fear, though — vintage-style tiles are also available.
With improvements in the fabrication and printing of tile, faux surfaces and styles have achieved their intent — of looking and feeling close, if not identical to, the original surface. Compressed wooden tiles, concrete tiles made
to look like hardwood flooring, polystyrene tiles made to look like pressed tin, leather tiles and other types of finishes are now used on virtually any surface, and can fool most of us, even upon close inspection. Current faux wood paneling for walls has come a long way from the orangetoned rec room wood paneling of the ’70s. Today’s
wood paneling looks so much like slats and planks, you’d swear you could feel a draft between the boards. Glass mosaic tiles take away the laborintensive act of setting individual pieces of glass into grout, and make achieving a mosaic effect a snap. Rough textures, delicate inlaid designs and other effects are much easier to find in these newly engineered tiles, as are bigger sizes.
These faux tiles have some distinct advantages over their natural counterparts — they are less expensive than the material they are mimicking, and they are lighter, making them more suitable or wall and ceiling use. These tiles have another distinct advantage — they are well suited for use with adhesive sprays in the place of thinset, and
the dry time is only one hour as opposed to four for thinset. You still have to grout, but with much less mess and fewer fumes. Use of adhesive makes ceilings, walls and backsplashes much easier to tile, with less mess and less chemical exposure.
Of the recent trends, faux wood tiles have become the chic alternative to laminate. They are harder than wood or laminate, they resist moisture better, making them suitable for kitchens and bathrooms, and they can create a wide-plank look without the headaches of having to cut and fit actual wide planks. Tiles are also better suited
for radiant heating and they stay cool over the summer months. The drawbacks of faux wood tiles are that they don’t insulate against noise as readily, they aren’t as comfortable for standing for long periods of time (source: roomology.com).
Glass tile used to be too expensive and labor intensive for widespread use, relegating glass to backsplashes and shower stalls. But with lighter compressed tiles, called “smart tiles,” glass can cover a bathroom floor-to-ceiling on even a modest budget, creating beautiful light and color effects that were once only for big spenders. They
are on long, adhesive sheets that can be cut to whatever space or shape you desire. The tiles are also interlocking. A backsplash project that could take weeks is shortened to a couple of hours. These glass tiles have a hidden advantage: they are easy to remove (simply hold a hairdryer on them for a few minutes), making them almost like
seasonal slipcovers for your walls.
Bear in mind that if you are removing tile that was installed before the mid ’80s, it is likely the tile you are replacing contains asbestos. A carcinogenic fiber, asbestos made flooring fire-resistant and helped with sound-proofing. You won’t get lung cancer by having asbestos tiles in your house, but if you are ripping out old tile, you could send the particles airborne. If you are removing the tiles yourself, be sure to soak them in plenty of water.
Do not sand or break the tiles, and use a soaking wet mop for cleanup, not a vacuum. It’s best to hire a pro for this kind of demolition.
Whatever tile or finish you use, know that there are so many options and styles that you may have trouble choosing just one. Luckily, they are budget-friendly, so you won’t have to. While faux may be a dirty word in fashion circles, when it comes to home decorating, faux tiles and finishes can be a gateway into a more affordable upgrade
for any room of your home. With spray adhesives and lighter materials, any surface has potential for a bit more color or texture. Whether a pressed tin ceiling in the kitchen or a bright bathroom of colored glass, you can update and brighten your dark corners on a budget and with ease.