Let's Not Blow This Whole Thing Out of Proportion, Part 2: How to pick the right size tile / by charity buchika

How to choose the right size tile

How to choose the right size tile

You know how it goes: You need to pick tile for your new (or renewed) kitchen or bathroom. You can't wait to get to the tile showroom to pick from all the beautiful styles and colors! So fun!

But then you get there.

And you realize this whole tile picking business isn't just about finding something pretty. You actually have to make important proportion decisions too.

No matter how pretty the tile is, if you pick the wrong sizes and shapes for your space, it could end up looking boring as all get out, or dizzyingly busy with tiny tiles and a million grout lines.

But don't worry. While it definitely takes a little bit of design knowledge and some careful thought, you can pick tile that gives you just the right proportions to make your kitchens and baths visually appealing and looking perfectly designed.

how to pick the right size tile

There are essentially 4 things you need to take into consideration to get the proportions of your tile right:

Size (which also determines the amount of grout lines you'll have)


Color (of both the tile and the grout)

backsplash tile idea

When it comes to the size and shape of your tile, first take into consideration the surface you're covering.

Generally speaking, shower floors require smaller, mosaic-type tiles - the ones that come laid out on a backing, like this penny tile...

Image: Ann Sacks

Image: Ann Sacks

Or this river rock tile...

Image: Tile Bar

Image: Tile Bar

The smaller size and plentiful grout lines of mosaic tiles like these will make it easy for your installer to wrap the tiles over the slopes and slight curves of the shower pan. If you try to use standard 12x12 or plank tiles, it could be difficult - if not impossible - to make the tiles level and flush with the bottom of the pan.

bathroom tile size advice

For backsplashes and other tiled walls, just about anything goes for tile size and shape, but generally speaking, smaller tiles will give a more traditional feel while large tiles may look more modern.

And, of course, I think you can’t go wrong with a subway tile kitchen backsplash. For some reason, it’s always just right.

how to choose the right size tile
how to choose the right size tile for the room

Also, think about the size of the wall or walls to be covered when picking tile size and shape because you could end up with some glaringly obvious awkward cuts if the wall area and the tile size don't "play well" together. That said, it may work to hide an awkward cut or two in corners or on the end of the tile run, as opposed to smack dab in the middle of things.

choosing the right size tile

Especially for bathrooms, you'll also need to consider what the total effect will be from the tile on the floor, shower floor, shower walls, and sink backsplash if you have it. It's a little like putting together an outfit: The blouse could be perfect and so could the jeans and the shoes, but they can all be completely wrong together.

A key principle of good design is that contrast adds visual interest - so using all the same size, shape, and color tile throughout the room could end up looking boring and even institutional.

On the other hand, another design principle is that too much contrast can be jarring. A space needs a thread of consistency running through the design elements to make everything make sense to the eye and keep chaos at bay. That means that just picking different sizes, shapes, and colors for your tile might not work either.

So then how do you put together the right tiles for your whole bathroom? This part does take some practice because there's no exact formula or hard and fast rules. But essentially, if you have several different tiles in your bathroom, you want to be sure that each has something in common with one of the others - size, shape, or color.

bathroom tile size advice

For example, white subway tile on shower walls + same tile on sink backsplash + white penny tile on shower floor + charcoal gray plank tile flooring (the rectangle shape of the planks relates back to the rectangular subway tiles).

OR white subway tile shower walls + black penny tile shower floor + black and white penny tile flooring.

With both of those scenarios, you have just the right amount of cohesiveness with color but a little added contrast with shape and size to make things interesting.

floor tile size vs room size

Just to round out this idea for you, here's a combo that wouldn't look proportionate: gray 12x12 square tile shower walls + black square mosaic tile shower floor + taupe plank tile flooring. There's no commonality amongst those tiles in color or size, which looks random, but they're all either square or rectangular in shape, which lacks creativity and visual interest.

Here's another wrong approach:  white penny tile shower floor + white penny tile sink backsplash + white square mosaic shower walls + white penny tile flooring, all with charcoal gray grout. In addition to the huge amount of grout lines stemming from such small tile everywhere, having a strong contrast between your tile color and your grout color really makes the grout lines pop out. A space tiled that way would look entirely too busy. And although white grout would calm that down to some degree, you'd then have a boring all-white space. Plus just imagine all the scrubbing someone would have to do to keep it clean! Ugh, no thank you!

bathroom floor tile size advice
choosing the right size tile

One note about flooring tile: Wood look plank tile flooring can change the equation with your other tile. Depending on the color and texture, it can come across as a wood floor, neutralizing the tile/grout effect that you'd otherwise need to take into consideration with the rest of the space's tile. I find this to be not as true of wood look flooring that's lighter in color with a more beach-y or modern style as it still looks tile-like enough to count in the space's tile equation.

bathroom tile size advice

I admit it's probably more art than science - and I probably handle it by instinct more than anything else at this point. But getting your tile "recipe" to work hinges on learning to put the specific ingredients of shape, size, and color together in a way that's cohesive enough to look logical but contrasting enough to be interesting.


If all else fails, but the tile combination you're considering together at the store and snap a picture. Look at the photo in your space and think about the levels of contrast vs similarity and the amount of grout lines you'll end up with if you use those tile options in that space. And of course, if you're in the Syracuse area OR in Vermont where we now have a new studio (yay!), you can always give us a call to help you get it just right!