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Glass tiles

Glass tiles are the new jewelry for the home. They're colorful, reflect light and add an artful sophistication to the trophy kitchen, spa bathroom and any area that cries out for attention. Architects, designers and skilled do-it-yourselfers are ...

Glass tiles are the new jewelry for the home.

They're colorful, reflect light and add an artful sophistication to the trophy kitchen, spa bathroom and any area that cries out for attention.

Architects, designers and skilled do-it-yourselfers are going for the glass look on backsplashes, countertops and floors. They're surrounding fireplace mantels and covering supporting pillars in high-rise condominiums.

Make no mistake. Glass tiles are pricey. Uninstalled tiles typically cost $30 to $60 a square foot and can go as high as $350 for custom applications. But diehard fans insist the result is well worth the cost.

"Glass tile is strikingly beautiful in so many different ways," says Patricia Hart McMillan, a South Florida designer and co-author with her daughter, Katharine Kaye McMillan of the new book "Glass Tile Inspirations for Kitchens and Baths" (Schiffer, $19.95).


"It's a material that tile designers can work with to change the colors, textures and patterns. It has unlimited possibilities for constant invention. The design potential is inexhaustible. No wonder people are totally intrigued by it."

This ancient material has become a must-have, McMillan says, because new technologies have allowed tile designers to produce it in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and textures.


The choices are as varied as decorating styles. There's cast glass, enameled glass and fused glass. You can find pastels, neutrals, jewel tones and metallics as well as black and white.

Finishes are frosted, crackled, gloss, gold flecked, iridescent, matte and opaque. Textures are fused, molded or tumbled.

Besides looking good, those made out of recycled glass are ecologically correct.

No wonder many more homeowners are seeing their homes in glass tiles.

Jaime Eldridge, senior project designer at Expo Design Center's Davie, Fla., store, says about seven out of 10 of her customers ask about using glass tiles.


"A few years ago it was used in bathrooms and kitchens as inserts, but now people are doing full walls of glass tiles," she says. "Their first question is: Where can I put it? The answer is basically everywhere - in the shower, on the walls and on the floors, on backsplashes and countertops."

Whether tiles should be used on countertops is up for debate. McMillan's book shows several applications on kitchen and bathroom countertops, but noted Miami architect Alison Spear disagrees.

Spear never uses glass tile on countertops because everything gets stuck in the grout lines. If she wants the look, she uses sheet glass.

Spear used a graphic assortment of colorful circles last year in a retro kitchen design inspired by Lucy and Ricky Ricardo at the House Beautiful Designer Showhouse in Miami Beach, Fla.

The green and yellow glass mosaic tiles, which start at $133.38 per square foot, were designed by artist Erin Adams for Ann Sacks, a high-end company that produces stone, tile, plumbing, lighting and accessories. (Spear and Adams collaborated on novelist Jay McInerney's house in New York several years ago.)

Uses"I use it all the time," Spear says. "I find it to be indigenous, very Miami and very South Florida. It's very historic, has a lot of tradition and was used in a lot of old Miami Beach hotels.

" I use glass tile in bathrooms, on accent walls, on exterior projects. There is no limit to using it."

Although glass tile can be used almost anywhere, Spear says if it's installed improperly, it looks bumpy and pops off the wall. She suggests hiring an installer recommended by the manufacturer.


Eldridge agrees. She says the installer has to know the idiosyncrasies of glass tile. Some tiles from Oceanside, for example, come with a paper backing that is on the front of the tiles.

"I have seen it come out horrible if you use installers who don't know what they are doing," Eldridge says. "They have installed the tile with the paper against the wall. Then people call and complain that the tile looks strange.

"It does because they are actually looking at the back of the tile."

InstallationThe grout color can affect the color of the tile, McMillan says, and some manufacturers are developing clear grout so the final look is almost seamless. If you are in doubt about the grout, she suggests testing the installation on a piece of wall board before you do the whole wall.

"Ask to see other work (the installer) has done," she suggests. "Once the glass tile is up, it's not something you can rip out and redo easily."

Although most professionals advise against do it yourself application, Jonathan Iovino was successful installing a glass tile backsplash in the kitchen of his Pompano Beach condo. He used a combination of 3-by-5 running tiles, 1-inch mosaics and a half round border.

An experienced do it yourselfer, he had little problem with installation after researching techniques on the Internet, in books and magazines. When he ran into varying opinions, he gave a heavier weight to advice from the manufacturers.

But he says he had to improvise when he found that the slow-drying adhesive caused the tiles to slip.

His solution? Using soft plastic spacers and blue painter's tape to keep the tile in place until it dried. Iovino says it was also tricky to decide when to remove the paper off the front of the tile before it got too dry.

Even though he saved on installation, the materials still cost about $1,000.

"We couldn't be happier with the tile," Iovino says. "There is no problem with durability and maintenance."

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