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One designer trick is to keep the materials simple but turn up the volume on contrast.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

I’ve heard it said that fixtures, from taps to tub fittings, are the jewellery of the bathroom. They’re shiny (most of the time) and act as make-or-break style accessories, so the metaphor made sense – until recently. Now, tile has its turn in the spotlight, and as you’ve already learned, the options are both joy-inducing and anxiety-making.

If you’re hoping to achieve a timeless look on a tight budget, you can’t go wrong with subway tiles. One designer trick is to keep the materials simple but turn up the volume on contrast. White subway tiles in the shower – or even square four-inch tiles (yes, they’re back) installed in an offset pattern – look crisp when paired with black hexagonal or penny tiles on the floor. The best part? All are inexpensive and readily available at home improvement stores. For a final flourish, use a dark grout with the white tiles and a lighter grout with the dark tiles; contrast is just as important with the details.

The long-needed modernization happening in our bathrooms

Subway tiles are a little too safe, you say? Before we move on, consider going beyond basic with subway tiles that are handmade or have bevelled edges to give them a more artisanal quality. Marble ups the ante, too.

Though I’m still charmed by patterned encaustic tiles, I worry they’ll soon hit a tipping point from “amazing!” to “again?” If your heart’s set on that look, choose a muted palette of white and grey to outlast the trend. (The colourful ones could always make a small-scale appearance on your laundry or mudroom floor.) Consider geometric or three-dimensional patterns for a look that’s fresher than the ubiquitous Spanish-inspired motifs.

My favourite “new” type of tile is actually centuries old. Hand-shaped from clay and glazed with translucent enamel in a wide variety of colours, zellige tiles, which hail from Morocco, aren’t for perfectionists; no two are exactly alike in colour or shape. When installed, they have no discernible grout line because they’re placed close together on a cement base, then skim-coated with liquid cement that seeps between the lines and then is wiped away. The result is a rippling, shimmering surface with a slight opalescent effect and heaps of well-travelled patina.

Whether you go classic or cool, enjoy the shopping process – it’s half the fun – and be sure to bring samples home to see how they look in your space.

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