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Let’s Be Practical: Selecting Products


Many posts to this point have dealt heavily with the importance of choosing the right design professional, understanding what designers and architects add to a job, and adding value to a project. This month we take a closer look at one of the more practical concerns many jobs face: selecting a product. While many clients may feel this is an easy task of selecting what looks best or fits the budget, there are a few more points to be considered when making a choice. A design professional will be well versed in working with product suppliers and can easily catch mistakes and avoid pitfalls. Below is a candid example of what some of those pitfalls are and how an experienced professional can navigate around them.

In this example, we’ll use wall tile. Recently, I was tasked with selecting an appropriate tile for use as a kitchen back splash. For those who may not know, a back splash is the area directly behind the sink that is usually constructed of a hard surface to resist water infiltration. Tile is a popular choice for back splashes, as it is easy to clean and is well suited for a wet environment. A back splash can be confined to a small area of the wall at the sink, or can extend farther – say, the length of the counter – for aesthetic and maintenance reasons.

While the color palette had been determined, I had the freedom to suggest a wide range of aesthetics and products that would be suited to the project. The process began with browsing through vendor catalogs and in-house samples. The primary focus was on tiles that were very colorful, had a nice sense of depth and would have a contemporary look. For these reasons, glass tile was our top choice. Glass tile offers a contemporary aesthetic, a great depth of color, and a mesh backing that allows for an easy installation. Glass tile does not absorb water, whereas a ceramic tile product will have a small amount of water absorption. That translates to less maintenance and less probability of mold and mildew growing. After discovering several glass wall tiles that looked like a good match, I contacted the sales representative to order physical samples of the styles I wanted to consider.

One part of the process that is often overlooked is the interaction with the product sales person. I tend to keep track of which companies are timely, orderly and knowledgeable so that I can use them again in the future. If I find that a vendor is difficult to get in touch with, doesn’t have the answers I need or is slow in responding with sample requests, I tend to avoid them for future projects. Another consideration on which product vendor to use is whether they have an informative website. If a supplier or manufacturer does not have product information on their website, or if it is difficult to navigate, it can mean extra time spent emailing, calling and waiting for service. I tend to give preference for companies that readily supply information online in addition to encouraging calls and emails.

Once I received the glass tile samples, I sorted them as to their type and color spectrum. After doing some quick eliminations, my team took a closer look at our ‘top contenders’. At this point we began to scrutinize each tile and were surprised to find some problems.

The first is made of sheets of colored paper embedded within the tile to create colored bands. While the look is visually striking and unusual, several sample pieces showed evidence that the paper was not cut correctly. The paper’s edge was barely visible , creating a stark line in the tile. An important point to remember is to order multiple samples for the sake of comparison. While one or two samples were perfectly fine, several others showed this flaw, and we ended up rejecting it for that reason.


Wall Tile #1

Wall Tile #1

The second was an interesting layered tile that had bands of color in random locations. It gave great depth to the tile, but the finish was not durable. There were scratches on the colored surface, indicating the product would not hold up to use very well. Considering this tile will be in a kitchen, we decided durability was a top priority and rejected this product.


Wall Tile #2

Wall Tile #2

Finally, the third choice was whimsical and light, and had a playful feel that would fit well with the project. However, glass tiles can often have problems with the thinset bed showing through if the tile backing is not opaque enough. That means the tiles would look great, but you would be able to see trowel lines, air bubbles and more. Simply being able to read the product label (adhered to the back of the tile) from the front was indication that we might have an aesthetic issue with this particular tile. To ensure a clean aesthetic with no show-through of the thinset, ask your supplier for tiles that fired the color to the back side of the tile.


Wall Tile #3

Wall Tile #3

While tile is just one small aspect of a job, understanding what clues to look for when selecting a product will help ensure the project meets expectations. If you are unsure as to what clues to look for in your product selection, consider hiring a design professional to walk you through the process and assist in selecting what is right for you.

January 18, 2012

1 Comment

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  1. abdul
    July 12, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    A great post. I didn’t think of these issues when selecting tiles.

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