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You, the tile shop, the decision

by Steve McKee on November 22, 2007

It can overwhelm a person to stand in XYZ tile shop surrounded by so many possibilities. So, so many. But going in, you and your significant-other had a strategy. A ”look” that the two of you discussed a few times already, like when an image of a cool bathroom happened by in the Sunday Chronicle magazine. Or whispered about briefly in the dark of a Diane Keaton movie when the to-die-for kitchen up on the screen caused you both to miss dialog in order to point out the black stone countertop with the subway tile backsplash and the white raised-panel cabinets with the brushed nickel handles.

Now at the tile store, the day has arrived to commit to colors and textures. Unlike paint jobs that are done over and bad haircuts that grow out, there really isn’t a “do-over” with tile. Not without spending really big money. Yep, the choices you make with this tile will be there pretty much forever. Forever. And that’s part of the “overwhelm” of it all.

The tile store has set up a whole bunch of vignettes: display areas in which a corner of a bathroom or kitchen has been mocked up to show off some possibilities. Here are some shower walls. Over there is a chunk of kitchen with a travertine floor and a tile backsplash with a fancy accent stripe.

Having a design strategy already in mind is what gives you hope to not be overwhelmed, gives you the power to not be seduced by so many alternatives that your focus becomes diffused, scattered, gone. Near each display is mounted a board showing all the different tiles available by that manufacturer. You can do this.

“Simple but with some richness” is how you expressed your look to yourself. Quite a broad statement, that. It could mean almost anything to anyone, but you know what it means to you, and that’s what’s important. That eliminates a good portion of the overly colorful or overly textured samples that pass for the trendy look of today.

Two weeks ago you selected the mostly black synthetic stone countertop for your new kitchen. Within ten minutes in the tile store you had the white subway tiles for the backsplash picked out. (Thank you Diane Keaton’s kitchen!) When you first learned that the phrase “subway tile” referred to rectangular tile, usually white, installed in staggered rows, like bricks, you instantly liked how “timeless” it looked, as well as its gritty name. Now you’ve moved onto the decision for the tile at the fireplace and that isn’t nearly as easy.
So, so many choices to consider – first the “field” tile and then the “accent” band. All these scenarios to ponder with almost no restraining idea to limit you. And after that you’ll need to select the stain color for the mantle. Walking again down the same aisle of the store for the third time, energy seems to be draining from your body, like the weariness that males feel after about fifteen minutes of clothes shopping with females.

But then it happens: you notice a different display you hadn’t noticed before and that’s how you find the grey-green tile, and that changes everything. Simple, but with richness, this tile is. Hey, this could really work. There are little flecks of white in it, kind of like little tiny embedded fossils, and these little flecks add some distinction. Not bad, you think. Your significant-other seems to dig it too. You don’t just choose this tile, you practically embrace it, almost laughing out loud at the joy of finding it.

With this one decision made, the load suddenly feels much lighter. Now you just have to select a few accents to go with it. And that seems so easy compared to having to decide everything. After the fretting, it turned out to be simple, this single epiphanous moment of choosing. In an instant a hump has been cleared and the balance completely shifted. The sense of relief is palpable.

The tile store guy is going to let you take home free samples of each kind of tile, including a few you want to consider for the accent strip. Cool deal. He seems like a really nice guy. The whole world sort of seems nicer, come to think of it.

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