Ceramic tile is one of the most versatile decorative elements around. The variety of color, texture, shape, and layout available with tile makes it possible to create almost any mood or environment.

Taking advantage of that versatility, designers and consumers are getting more creative with tile. “There are rules about scale and layout in tile,” says Amy Denny, product/design manager of Oceanside Glasstile, “but these rules are being broken, and designers are pushing the boundaries of tile design more than ever.” Denny sees the mixing of textures as the hottest trend in tile design right now. “One trend I've been hearing about and using in my designs is combining materials,” she says. “Using stone with glass, ceramic with stone, maybe a matte stone finish next to a glossy glass finish.” Incorporating several different textures and finishes while using a monochromatic color scheme is another emerging trend, according to Denny.

Designers and consumers also seem to be moving away from smaller tiles and toward larger sizes — 16-by-16s and 18-by-18s. Larger tiles create a completely different look, says Shelly Durbin, products manager at Laufen Tile. “Using bigger tiles means fewer grout lines, which makes a room look more open and expansive,” she says.

Durbin also notes that although earth tones are still popular, the colors are getting richer. “The trend now is a more urban, contemporary look. People are moving away from beige and white toward darker, deeper colors.”

Tile has always been huge in Europe, but Americans are now starting to recognize its potential as both an ornamental entity and a functional building material. With tile, homeowners “have the opportunity to express themselves,” Denny says. “They can do something to differentiate their surroundings.”

Tile sales are benefiting from the healthy housing market, Durbin says, and there's a hot market in remodeling. “Tile is a popular upgrade,” she says. “Kitchens and baths are usually the first things people remodel, and tile is the logical choice for both.”

courtesy Vitra Tiles USA

Vitra Tiles USA. Durable enough for exterior, pretty enough for interior, the Galia Series combines the durability of frost-resistance with a smooth look and a variety of decorative pieces. Available in three natural shades, wall tiles come in 8-by-12 and 10-by-13 sizes; floor tiles, in 6-by-6, 12-by-12, and 18-by-18. 770.453.9301. www.vitrakaro.com.

courtesy Ilva

Ilva. The Pietra Patagonica series is nature-inspired, modeled after the Patagonian region of Argentina. Four rich earth tones come in 20-by-20, 14-by-14, 7-by-14, and 4-by-4 (mesh mounted on a 14-by-14 net). The tiles are available in floor and wall tiles, inserts, listellos, sink rails, and more. 305.667.7090. www.ilva.com.ar.

courtesy Oceanside Glasstile

Oceanside Glasstile. A unique matte finish defines the Ritual collection. Both mosaic and field tiles are offered in a number of sizes. Colors range from the deep, translucent brown of Harvest to the soft white of Oxygen. Two shades, Midori and Moonstone, contain recycled material. 760.929.4000. www.glasstile.com.

courtesy Marcus Tile

Marcus Tile. The Olive Mural is a series of four images of old jars divided by olive leaves. The scenes can be repeated for a kitchen back-splash or other decorative detail. The tiles are made entirely by hand, ensuring that no two are exactly alike. 843.452.8730. www.marcustile.com.

courtesy Walker Zanger

Walker Zanger. A palette of cool, subtle colors distinguishes the Mizu family of tile. A deep crackle glaze lends a delicately rustic feel. Shades include Tea, a rich brown, Wasabi, a bright green, and Rice Paper, an opulent ivory. 877.611.0199. www.walkerzanger.com.

courtesy Meredith Collection

Meredith Collection. The Thistle Series' hand-painted floral motif was inspired by late 19th-century designs. The handcrafted tiles are offered in 4-by-4, 2-by-2, and 2-by-6, which can be used as a frame or as a horizontal or vertical border. 800.325.3945. www.meredithtile.com.

courtesy Crossville

Crossville. Designed to replicate the look of travertine, the Tuscania Series is made of porcelain stone. Available in multiple sizes and four colors, including Cortona Crema and Siena Ambra, the tiles will not scratch, stain, or fade, and don't need sealing or waxing, says the maker. 800.221.9093. www.crossvilleinc.com.

courtesy Laufen

Laufen. The Stone Evolution line is created through a special process of double pressing that seals the surface, making the tiles less porous, which results in lower water absorption. It also adds to the natural stone appearance of the two series, Solaris and Jupiter. Offered in a range of sizes, the tiles are easy to install and maintain, according to the maker. 800.321.0684. www.laufenusa.com.

courtesy Marazzi

Marazzi. Artea Stone tiles take their cue from the stone walls of prehistoric caves. Combining a natural, distressed look with muted, neutral tones, the tiles are equally versatile for both wall and floor applications. Multiple decorative and trim options are also offered. 972.226.0110. www.marazzitile.com.