Modern bathroom material selection is critical for a bathroom design. There are many different materials, patterns, and considerations to take into account before embarking on a bathroom renovation.
I am an architect in NY and owner of a Manhattan-based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. In this blog post on bathroom materials, we will be exploring a few material options for your bathroom renovations. All pictures in this article are from our own projects in New York City.
I would have to guess that Marble is probably at the top of the list for most people when it comes to bathroom design materials. Marble can be seen as a traditional and modern bathroom material. There are many different types of marble available and it can be quite beautiful. Marble can have a lot of variation, which you want to take into consideration. If you order marble based on one tile sample, the amount of detail and veining in the slab can fluctuate. Be prepared that marble will be on the higher end of material pricing. Certain type of marble costs more than others.
The picture below is of a white marble bathroom in a Manhattan apartment we renovated. This is a pure white marble with no veins. Selecting a color and detail level will come down to your personal taste. I will always suggest going to showrooms and seeing these in person, rather than selecting them from online pictures only. As an architect I always go to showrooms to see them close up and touch the materials. My office is in the Flatiron district in Manhattan, which is filled with showrooms.
Monolithic Marble Bathroom Tiles
Monolithic means one stone. A Monolithic marble bathroom is a bathroom where you only use one type of marble. This is a specific look that you may want to consider. Contrast versus uniformity is a personal decision based on taste. If you are going to build a monolithic marble bathroom, I would advise using slabs instead of small tiles, or at least using large tiles. Slabs are very large pieces of stone cut from a large block. Typically, slab sizes max out at around 10 x 5 feet, but this will vary based on the exact material. Slabs for bathrooms will also be 3/4″ thick, which is significantly thicker than a tile. This would be the most expensive option for a bathroom design.
The bathroom below is built with 12″ x 24″ marble tiles with thin grout joints. The walls and floors are the same marble, but the shower floor is a mosaic tile. The toilet and vanity are also white to match. This bathroom has a simple and elegant feel to it.
Porcelain Bathroom Tiles
Porcelain is a very popular material, because it is versatile and durable. It comes in many different colors and textures, and is nonporous. If there is any material with enough variation to suit almost anyone’s tastes, it’s porcelain.
In the picture below, you will see a grey bathroom we renovated in an NYC Chelsea Loft. The tile has a weathered and almost concrete look. This is just one example of the many different types of colors and finishes you can get with porcelain. This is why porcelain tiles are always a good go-to for bathroom renovation. In this bathroom we matched the floors and walls. You may also notice the thermostat on the wall near the light switch. This is for the heat mat under the tiles, which is a nice option if you want a little extra heat in your bathroom.
Marble-Look Porcelain Tile
Porcelain is typically much lower in price than marble and many manufacturers make marble look porcelain tiles. Besides price, porcelain has another great advantage: it is nonporous. Marble is a natural material and has tiny pores that can absorb and stain over time. Marble bathrooms can, however, be polished in order to get their vibrancy back if they discolor or fade over time.
The downside to marble-look porcelain tiles is that the marble will usually look better. The porcelains can look great, but never quite as good as marble. Of course, some of these porcelain tiles are better than others. I always tell my clients to see samples in person and to never select a material based on a picture. You need to get a real feel for the bathroom material. We are located in New York City, so we have many showrooms where we can compare materials. I often take my clients to showrooms for in-person material selection.
In the picture below, you will see a Statuary marble-look porcelain in a master bathroom. A few details to take note of here are the tile joints and orientation. The tiles are installed with butt joints, which makes the joints almost unnoticeable. Additionally, the tiles are rectangular and we oriented them vertically. This is a more modern way to layout tiles. The tile in this bathroom would have cost about 3 times as much if it was actually in marble. The choice is up to you.
Concrete Bathroom Walls and Floors
Concrete is a very unique material that was popular during the 50s and 60s in a trend known as Brutalist Architecture. The trend to have exposed concrete disappeared for several decades, but has made a resurgence. People today are using exposed concrete in both interior and exterior design. I have even designed multiple concrete houses. Concrete is a great material because of its strength and unique characteristics. It is an extremely modern material that can be both minimalist and textural at the same time. I think this is its real appeal visually, while versatility, strength, and durability are its technical appeal. Concrete is truly one of the most modern bathroom materials you can find.
There are many different ways to use concrete, you can make concrete countertops, concrete sinks, or, as in the picture below, concrete bathroom walls and floors. This is an apartment we renovated where the owner wanted to add texture and mood to an all white apartment. The bathroom floor and walls have concrete finishes that were applied on site. The concrete shower has a linear shower drain with concrete fill. This is a truly unique and modern bathroom.
Horizontal Stacked Tile
The picture below is of a small bathroom in an apartment we renovated with horizontal stack bond tiles. Stack bond means that all the tiles line up vertically they are not offset. This is a very modern look but it requires more precision from the installer to make sure the vertical line is really straight. One concern I want to point out with a tile like this is that you have a lot of grout lines. Those grout lines need to be consistent in length. You also need to plan out the entire bathroom tile layout.
When we renovated this bathroom, I met with the contractor’s construction manager on the job site and went over every single wall to decide how we were going to lay out the tiles. We have this on the drawings as well, but it definitely also requires an in-person meeting and review. The in-person meeting with the architect and contractor to review all the details is really what makes makes a difference in the final product.
3D Tile Bathroom Accents
3D tiles are tiles with a 3 dimensional aspect to them. This can be a great choice for an accent wall if you want to add another dimension to make the wall more dynamic. A word of caution on 3D tiles: they should be used sparingly. They can look a bit overdone if you use them too much. Depending on the type of tile it may be very difficult to wrap them around a corner nicely, so using them on only one wall is the easiest installation.
The tile below is a textural porcelain tile with a 3D accent tile. The 3D accent tile we used in this bathroom is not a mosaic. The squares pop in and out, giving a little bit of a 3 dimensional surface. This is a good option for an accent wall, but I would not overdo it. These particular tiles came from Porcelanosa.
Tiles as a Background
Sometimes you want tiles to be a feature, sometimes you want an accent, or you may want the tiles to blend in and disappear. The bathroom below is in a Tribeca loft. This is a large bathroom with a sculptural freestanding tub. The large freestanding tub should really be the feature in the bathroom. The off white mosaic tiles blend in and fall into the background, allowing the tub to be the hero of the room.
You should prioritize the hierarchy of the bathroom. What elements do you want to highlight, and which ones do you want to blend in? This can help make a cohesive design.
Mosaic Tile Floor
Mosaic tile is often used for bathroom floors, but you may not realize that there are actually technical reasons for this. Bathrooms are wet areas and a wet floor can be slippery. A mosaic floor has many small grout joints. These joints create traction, making the floor less slippery. Another technical reason for mosaic tiles is the pitch in the shower. Shower floors need some pitch to the drain, in order for the water to drain out properly. Mosaic tiles are very easy to lay on a pitched floor, including when there is pitch in multiple directions. If you had large pieces, this would be more difficult. Of course, you do not have to make your bathroom floors with mosaics if you do not want to; there are plenty of other solutions.
A few alternatives to a mosaic floor tile would be using a linear drain and to have the pitch in one direction with large tiles or slabs. You would of course avoid very slippery tiles with polished finishes and favor something a bit more matte that has some grip to it.
In the picture below we have a blue mosaic bathroom floor in a Manhattan apartment we renovated. This is a blue marble with white grout joints. It is quite simple and modern and goes well with the overall white bathroom. Notice the joint at the shower curb.
Linear Shower Drain
One detail that will make a bathroom more modern is the use of a linear drain. The picture below shows a linear drain in a concrete bathroom shower floor. The drain has a pan that can be filled with the floor material or tile. In this case concrete. This makes the floor drain discreet and sleek, looking like a reveal in the floor.
Bathroom Materials and Finishes
As an architect, I study design and construction, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. Every project is different and must be assessed on its own unique characteristics. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but rather to provide a general overview of the topic.
Thank you for reading our blog post on Modern Bathroom Materials and Finishes.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.