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Different Types of Tiles You Can Use for Mosaics

Whether a mosaic adorns the backsplash in a kitchen, the top of a table, the walls of a bathroom, or even the floor. The basic definition of a mosaic is that it’s a decoration of a surface. You could use that same definition for any piece of art, and so the distinguishing feature of a custom mosaic art installment is that it typically uses fragments of tile or stone to create the decoration.

A mosaic can turn up the class in any room, and even when applied to a surface using neutral colors, it adds pop to the area. Most mosaic patterns used on walls let the natural beauty of the stone, glass, or other material shine on its own, but some designs are intricate pieces of art that form flowers, faces, or places. When you choose a mosaic application for your home, it’s an investment, but is it one that could pay off down the road? Read this guide to learn about the various tiles you can use, how to incorporate mosaics in any room, and why you might not want to add mosaic to some areas of your house.

Mosaics in History

The art of mosaic is one of the earliest, and it was discovered in Mesopotamia. Back then, colored stones and shells were used to create patterns and pictures. The art form continued to be used throughout the ages in the Middle East, Europe, and pretty much everywhere else. Maps were made of stone tiles, and people from the Bible were depicted in mosaic forms. Mosaics were as intricate or simple as the artist wanted.

Today, mosaic designs are still made into detailed images of people, places, and things, or they’re used to create patterns in courtyards, on tabletops, and as backsplashes in kitchens. The only real difference today is that many mosaics are being manufactured. There’s a debate as to whether these computer-created mosaics are still considered art, or even mosaics because they aren’t technically artisanal.

What a Mosaic is, and What It is Not

You already know what a mosaic is, but is it possible to define what a mosaic is not? The beauty of art is that it can be whatever you want it to be. However, there is a way to simply use mosaic-like techniques, but not create a mosaic. For example, if you were to digitally create a mosaic-like piece, it wouldn’t technically be a mosaic. To make it a true mosaic, you must use actual pieces of material to create a pattern – or a non-pattern. So, what materials are considered ideal for real mosaics?

Tiles You Can Use for Mosaics

Many people love the look of glass tile mosaics, while others like the natural matte look of stone. Both end up looking beautiful as mosaics, and there are more materials out there than just those two. Whether you go with random or natural shapes, or you prefer the small blocks or squares of materials known as tesserae, your mosaic should be stunning with the right materials.

Glass

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You can choose from all sorts of different glass tiles for your mosaic. The end result will have a stained-glass look. It will be glossy, shiny, and can be made up of a variety of colors or finishes.

  • Smalti: Italian glass with an opaque look. Typically, hand cut and very expensive.
  • Vitreous glass: Affordable glass tiles that are sold by the sheet. These are usually used in pools or showers, so they’re easy to acquire, and they come in a variety of colors.
  • Mirror tiles: Precut mirror fragments are easy to come by now, but you can also buy large mirrors and shatter them to create different shapes. Use negative space or colored grout for a striking look.
  • Clear glass tesserae: This pricier type of glass is beautifully colored and often includes patterns in the tiles. It’s one of the best, but most expensive, ways to get that stained-glass look.

Raw Stone

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It’s surprising just how beautifully intricate your mosaic can look with simple stone. You can choose natural shapes or buy tesserae for a uniform look.

  • Marble: Not only is mosaic marble gorgeous, it’s also durable. You can find slabs to cut your own tiles, or buy precut squares, hexagons, strips, and more shapes to get the look you desire.
  • Pebbles: These come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. You can get pebbles and stones that are raw or polished, and you can use them in clusters or laid out next to one another. The mix of earthy tones creates a striking look.

Ceramic

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One of the best choices for a newcomer to custom mosaics, especially if you’re creating your own, is the ceramic material. It is inexpensive, comes in several colors, shapes, and textures, and it’s easier to cut and use than other materials. You might notice that ceramic is sold right next to porcelain, and porcelain gets a better marketing plan. The truth is, there’s not much difference between the two. If anything, the difference is in durability and water absorption. If you plan to create a mosaic outside, then you want to avoid using ceramic, as it could crack during a freeze. Another option, if you’re looking to add mosaic tile flooring outdoors, is to use something more durable, such as slate, marble, or quarry tile.

Recycled

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Not all mosaics are made of factory-produced tiles. In fact, the truer mosaic is made of found materials, as it was in the past. That is not to say that tiles cannot be used to create beautiful works of art. If you’re looking for a more artistic outlet and result, though, you might find more authenticity in recycled materials.

  • Broken mirrors
  • Old china pieces
  • Seashells
  • Coins
  • Mason jars
  • Household tiles
  • Jewelry
  • Beads
  • Compact discs

Where to Use Mosaics

Adding mosaic to your home can be as simple as hanging a piece of art. Any surface can be used for mosaic art. Not all surfaces, are practical, of course. You have to keep in mind that mosaics typically have a raised surface once finished, and the cracks are filled with grout. Many of the materials used require special cleaning products, and there’s the possibility that staining and pitting could happen. Taking all that into consideration, there are some popular, and some not-so-common places in a home where mosaics may appear.

Bathroom

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One of the most common rooms in a home where mosaics are a part of the whole look is the bathroom. The clean look of clear, colored tiles, or mirror mosaics makes sense. Where they go is a matter of practicality sometimes, but they might make surprising appearances in other areas.

  • Wall: It’s easy to create a mosaic on part of a wall and it’ll stand alone as a piece of art. Materials used vary from metal or glass to mirror or stone.
  • Shower/bath: This is another common place to see mosaics make an appearance. Glass is especially common, as it’s easy to clean it’s non-porous.
  • Flooring: This is rare to see in a bathroom, as a lot of materials uses for mosaics can be slippery. Stone, slate, travertine, and other natural materials work well here because they’re smooth, but you shouldn’t slip on the surface.

Kitchen

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Another popular place for designs to make an appearance is in the kitchen in the form of a mosaic border. It’s a great way to add a mural or pattern on a wall that would otherwise be plain.

  • Backsplash: By far, this is the most common way to add a mosaic to a kitchen. Almost any material works well in this application, but you’ll have to shield it from water, food stains, and grease.
  • Island: You might see mosaics added as a focal point on the wall of a center island, which looks fantastic, and it’s easy to maintain.
  • Flooring: Rarer is the mosaic kitchen floor. You might see some mosaic-style tiles in a kitchen, but true mosaic on the kitchen floor is impractical. The raised surface can be uncomfortable, and spills are common in the kitchen. The same goes for countertops.

Back Yard

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One of the best places to enjoy the beauty of mosaic ideas is in the back yard. Whether you use mosaics in the garden, or on a patio, it’s an easy way to add this art form to the outside rooms of your home.

  • Pathways: Whether you hire a professional, or you do it yourself, adding a mosaic path to your back yard is easy and offers a stunning result. You can use almost any material for this project, but ceramic is not advised. Natural stone and colored glass are the most popular choices.
  • Patio furniture: Bistro sets, tables, and stools covered in colorful tiles are commonplace. They’re easy to find in stores already made, or you can easily create your own. Glass is the best choice, but ceramic can be used, if you take weather precautions.
  • Pools: Creativity blooms in large outdoor pools with mosaics. You can show off a beautiful design with glass tiles that seem to float just under the surface of the water. Alternatively, you can create a lovely pattern that spans the entirety of the pool, which seems to add depth and texture.

Objects

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Just about anything you can think of can be spruced up by adding a mosaic feature. It’s also easier to incorporate almost any material, such as gears, coins, marbles, or buttons.

  • Planters: Cover an otherwise plain planter in jewel-toned glass or ceramic tiles to give it a unique look. Indoor planters will last longer than anything kept outside.
  • Art: Create a design, pattern, or portrait by using any material on a board, canvas, or other surface. You can hang it on your wall, use the wall itself, or any other surface – try a surf board, if you’d like.
  • Stairs: Add a mosaic to the flat facing side of stairs to add some art to a plain set of stairs. They shouldn’t suffer much wear and tear in this spot, so you can use almost any type of tile.
  • Cracks: Fill in the cracks of a pathway with custom-cut tiles. This takes the idea of kintsukuroi to another level. The Japanese art of repaired pottery can work almost anywhere, and it’s meant to take something that’s broken and making it more beautiful.

Pros and Cons of Mosaic Tiles in Your Home

As beautiful as mosaics are, they may not be practical in every room of your home. After all, who would want to sit for extended periods on a couch covered in tiles and grout? You’ll have to keep a few things in mind when you choose mosaics to decorate with in your house.

Pros

  • Trendy: Mosaics are often considered a classic style, but occasionally the look trends upward or downward, like any style. This can increase the value of your home if you get the right buyer who sees the mosaics in your home as a bonus.
  • Easy to maintain: With all the protective coats and grouting, your mosaic should be easy to care for, especially if you choose glass tiles.
  • Unique: Good luck finding a mosaic anywhere else that looks exactly like the ones in your home. The very nature of mosaics means they will always have a one-of-a-kind look. Steer clear of the factory-produced sheets of tiles and you’re more likely to keep a unique style.
  • Affordable: Mosaic can be an affordable option if you choose inexpensive tiles. Glass, ceramic, and natural stone are the most budget-friendly choices.

Cons

  • Low resale value: Although mosaics can increase the value of your home, there’s also the chance that it affects the value negatively. It really depends on the market, the demographic, and whatever’s currently trending. Natural stone holds its value better than some other materials.
  • Difficult to clean: Not all mosaics are easy to maintain. Natural stone, for example, requires kid gloves when it comes to cleaning. You may have to purchase a cleaner specifically made for stone.
  • Easily damaged: Glass tiles can scratch easily, which can affect the overall appearance of your mosaic. Ceramic tiles absorb water easily, and if used outside without the necessary protective coats, it can crack if there’s a freeze in the winter.
  • Expensive: While some types of tile are affordable, there are plenty of options that might be outside your budget. Porcelain is likely to be pricier than ceramic. Simple glass tiles can be affordable, or more intricate or thicker pieces could be as expensive as quartz, marble, or granite.

What You’ll Need for DIY Mosaic Projects

Obviously, to start making your own mosaics, you will need to buy tiles or find materials that you want to use as tiles. Depending on whether you buy prefab mosaic tiles or you want to cut your own, there are some tools and supplies you’ll need or won’t need.

Supplies

The supplies you’ll need largely depends on the type of tiles you choose, and the base where you intend to build your mosaic. Some will require mosaic glue, while others only need grout. And in some cases, you can forgo grout altogether.

  • Tesserae: These are your tiles, whether you choose glass, ceramic, porcelain, stone, or found objects.
  • Mosaic glue: This may be necessary if your tesserae won’t stay put with grout only.
  • Grout: If you want to fill in the cracks with a cohesive look, you’ll need this product. You can find colored grout, or stain it yourself.
  • Paint: Use acrylic paint to stain the grout when you mix it if you want a colorful grout.
  • Tile & grout sealer: You’ll need this to create a seal to protect the grout from stains and the tiles from scratches or other damage.

Tools

Once again, depending on what type of mosaic or tiles you use, some of these tools will be unnecessary. Most of them are must-haves, though.

  • Hammer: Use to break large pieces of materials into smaller shards and fragments.
  • Tile cutter: This is for making clean cuts of ceramic and other materials.
  • Glass cutter: Specifically, for cutting glass cleanly.
  • Safety glasses: It’s always important to wear safety goggles when working with sharp objects and chemicals.
  • Work gloves: To protect your hands when you cut or hammer materials.
  • Bucket: This is needed for mixing the grout and water when you’re ready for this step.
  • Stir sticks: Obviously, you’ll need something to stir your grout.
  • Rags/sponges: After applying grout, you’ll need something to wipe off the excess.

Maintenance

Perhaps maintenance is the hardest part of mosaics. You must use the proper cleaning agents and clean the tiles regularly. You’ll also want to avoid stains and grease on your mosaic.

  • Sealant: You’ll have to reapply sealant once in a while for mosaics that remain indoors, and at least once per year for outdoor mosaics.
  • Mild soap: This is the best way to keep your mosaic clean. Avoid acidic cleaners, as they can strip sealant and potentially damage your mosaic.

The Bottom Line

Mosaics are an excellent way to add color, art, and patterns to any room of your house – and outdoors. Glass, ceramic, natural stone, and other materials all work equally well to spruce up an area of your home. Whether you choose the DIY route, or you hire a professional to design a backsplash, flooring, or a pathway, you’re sure to enjoy the artistic touch a mosaic brings to your space.

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Candace Osmond

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