The range of color and styles of glass tile are catching the eye of designers and their clients. More manufacturers are offering extensive lines of large tiles and mosaics, which are finding their way into kitchens, baths, and even the living room or bedroom, where they are featured around fireplaces.
"People like the look of glass," says D. Kirk, office manager of tile installation company Living Spaces. "There's much more available in color variations in glass than in ceramic."
He has seen the use of standard ceramic tile drastically fall in the past five years. At the same time, the use of glass tiles has increased for showers, tub surrounds, and backsplashes.
"[Glass] used to be in just six colors," recalls remodeler Andrew Shore, president of Sea Pointe Construction in Irvine, Calif. "Now there is one company that has 40 colors, all available in a matte or glossy finish. There are earthy, not just primary, colors." The tiles are also available in sizes larger than the well-known 1-inch mosaic pieces. "We have 4-by-4 and 6-by-6 and even 8-by-8 tiles. The larger glass means more light penetration," he says.
Bonnie Bagley of the Norsk Design Center says her clients are crazy for glass. "It is handmade or comes in sheet glass," says the Redmond, Wash., designer. "There are so many ways to customize it. It's more like art."
Her designs are split evenly between using glass by itself and mixing it with stone or ceramic. When glass is used by itself, she says, it offers a cleaner look. She prefers having a rustic open edge instead of outlining the tile with basic bullnose tiles. "I think you lose the appeal in edge details if it is not something decorative," she says.
Jimmy Reed, a Caladasas, Calif., tile installer, doesn't like bullnose edges, either. He prefers the unfinished modern look of square corners or butting it up to another material.
The glass tile displays in Andrew Shore's showroom catch the eye of his clients. Customers usually choose glass as an accent or as a liner rather than on full walls. Designer Bonnie Bagley dresses up the simple lines of a contemporary kitchen with shiny mosaic tiles. Below: When installer Jimmy Reed designs a backsplash, he wraps the entire kitchen with glass mosaic or Walker Zanger's Roku line of tile. He says Roku's 6-by-12 tiles are clean and modern and suitable for contemporary houses. The line also includes 12-by-12 tiles.
Besides the higher cost of the tile (see "Glass Cuts"), a more detailed installation makes glass tile more expensive for homeowners than ceramic. DeeDee Gundberg, a designer for tile company Ann Sacks, says grout joints are necessary due to expansion and contraction of glass. "You can't butt glass pieces up against each other," she says. Also, for a wall of glass, she recommends using a crack suppression membrane. "Because the substrate may not be even and level, any movement that moves the wall will crack the glass. This happens in ceramic tile, too, but ceramic is covered by a glaze, so you don't see it," Gundberg says.
The most critical issue to Reed is a flat installation, so he only installs glass in a mortar bed. "With a mortar bed you have absolute control of what you're doing. With backer-board, it is uneven if the surface you put it on is uneven," he says. This is especially true with the varying thickness of glass and other materials.
Using a proper setting material is also important. "With any temperature changes, the contraction will cause the tile to pop. Use setting materials with elastic added," Reed warns. He cautions installers to avoid acrylic because it dries hard, which offers less forgiveness for any movement.
For clear tiles, the setting material shows through the glass. "You'll see the lines in a gray floated wall from a notched trowel," Reed says. He uses white cement in the float, and if necessary, coats the floated wall with a layer of white Thinset.
"This is to assure no dark colors show through," Reed says. He also uses a trowel with small notches or a flat trowel to spread the mortar.
Reed and Shore also "butter" the back of each tile before placing it on the mortar bed for a more consistent surface. For painted glass tile, Gundberg recommends a neutral cure silicone, because Thinset will eat through the paint and cause it to disintegrate.
It's hard to create tight angles or corners with thicker mosaic tiles. "We miter the inside of the tile to get a nice, tight, consistent joint on corners," Reed says. "Or for a square corner, we'll sand the inside of the tile to get a tighter corner." On outside corners, he uses a rotary sander to break the sharpness of the edge.
Hiring a talented installer is important. Reed suggests asking if they have installed glass before, how they prepare the surface, and what installation material they use. "If they say 'I use backerboard and gray Thinset,' don't use them," he warns.
The subtle, muted tones of the Pila Vetro line of glass tiles from Ann Sacks fit contemporary or traditional designs.