We employ a design sensibility we call "high/low". It reflects our belief that not all design decisions need be expensive to be beautiful. Instead, pick your spots and mix more expensive fixtures and materials with more economical ones.
One of the best times to employ this idea is with tile. Tile selections can easily become one of the most expensive materials in a project, and having a "high/low" strategy when making your selections can not only save money but deliver some compelling design solutions.
The "High" or Pick a Spot for the Pop
When it makes sense, we may spend more on a tile we love. Smaller featured areas, such as a powder room floor or a kitchen backsplash, are perfect places to splurge with a more expensive tile selection. The price difference between a simple tile at $10/SF and a gotta-have-that-tile-or-I'm-gonna-melt tile that is $30SF might initially seem like a big spread. But do the math. A simple, main level powder room, for example, may only be 7'x3'. That's 21 SF of floor tile. In this example, the price range of our two tile options would be $210 to $630, or $420. Yes, the more expensive tile option costs 300% more, but in relative dollars, $420 is a modest amount in an overall project budget.
The "Low" or Play to the Base
To keep tile costs down - or the "low" - we often use inexpensive field tile [a 4x10 subway tile in this bathroom] as a tile base. Instead of paying for more expensive cove base or a decorative bullnose, we use a larger field tile. The unique and interesting shapes of decorative tile or cove base come at a price, and are commonly charged by the piece.
In our previous powder room example, we would need approximately 17 LF of tile base [20' LF minus 3' for door and casing]. A 6" cove base at $5/piece would cost $170. Using the 4x10 subway tile [$2.50/SF], however, would cost approximately $15. That is a $155 difference and goes a long way to offset the "high" cost of the more expensive floor tile.
To Cap it All Off
Using a less expensive 4x10 subway tile as a tile base poses one additional challenge. As it was not intended to be used as wall base [it's intended to be topped by another piece of tile], it lacks a factory finished edge. Without another course of tile, you are left with a rough, unfinished edge. What to do? Enter the metal transition strip! At only $1/FT, it's an economical solution that not only covers the rough, unfinished edge of the field tile, but also adds a clean and durable surface.
A field tile base capped by a metal transition strip - it's a favorite solution, a great way to stretch your tile allowance dollars, add a little flair. We love that combination! Want even more? The metal transition strips come in a variety of finishes as well, from chrome, to satin, to brass and even black.
One More Use
We've applied the same technique in other locations as well [you can see it in the first image capping off the mosaic tile backsplash]. We have even used it at a door threshold between hardwood flooring and floor tile. It's a simple, clean detail between two different materials that can be a little rough when laid up next to each other.
At the door threshold, we turned the metal strip on end so that you only see the thin edge, which is a very similar dimension to a grout joint line. Given the tendency of wood and tile to move and settle at different rates, a grout joint in this location will crack and break apart over time, leaving a crumbling joint.