How to pick the right size tiles for a small bathroom

Make more of your small bathroom by following our tips on layout, colour and tile sizes

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Getting the right tile size for a small bathroom, whether for walls or floors, will have a big impact on making your small space feel bigger and brighter. But from the thousands of different styles, colours and designs on the market, where to start to choose the best bathroom tiles that suit and enhance your space?

We’ve put together some tips to help you find floor and wall tiles that suit your bathroom and enhance the sense of space. Check out our pick of the best tile designs for making a small bathroom feel bigger, and find out how to design a small bathroom like an expert, too.

freestanding bath in bathroom with patterned floor tiles and house plants

The diagonal effect of the pattern of these floor tiles tricks the eye into seeing the bathroom as larger than it is

(Image: © Victoria Plum)

What's the best tile size for a small bathroom?

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Tile size shouldn’t be determined by bathroom size, despite what you may hear. A small bathroom can actually benefit from a large tile. With fewer grout lines the walls and floor are less cluttered and the room visually expanded. 

Using smaller tiles, such as mosaics, will give you lots of grout lines, which can give the bathroom walls a grid-like appearance that can promote the feeling of being boxed in – making your bathroom feel smaller still.

This doesn’t mean you have to rule out small tiles out, however. If you've fallen for some beautiful mosaics, you can mix it up a bit by using different sized tiles in different zones of your bathroom, with smaller tiles being limited to the showering area, a larger format tile used in the majority of the room, and mosaic tiles in alcoves or recesses (spaces you don’t expect to feel generously-sized).

It can be hard to tell whether what will look good in your bathroom when you're looking at it on the shelf of a tile shop, so it makes sense to request samples (a few to lay on a sample board if you can) to see them in situ.

iridescent style tiles in pink and blue shades with sink houseplants and mirror

Pearlescent tiles reflect light, enhancing space in a small bathroom

(Image: © Original Style)

Does the tiles' layout make a difference?

A clever trick to use in small bathrooms is to lay your tiles in diagonal patterns, which tricks the eye into seeing the space as bigger than it really is. When you take a look at normal squared options they are fairly easy to count, but arrange them diagonally and your eyes are drawn to the longest dimensions of the room. Popular chevron patterns can do this well.

If a diagonal tile pattern doesn’t sound appealing, consider laying your tiles in brick bond. This is a popular choice for metro tiles, but helps limit the grid pattern effect mentioned earlier, which can emphasise the limited width and height of a room.

a mirror with added storage options set above a sink

Tiles laid in a brick bond pattern break up the classic grid-effect, making the room feel larger

(Image: © Hurn & Hurn)

Which colour tiles to choose for a small bathroom?

It’s a well-known rule that using lighter colours will help a small room look bigger, so apply that to your bathroom, too. Choosing lighter colours, such as white or cream, for your bathroom tiles will help reflect more light than darker colours would. 

Another trick is to use glossy, metallic or mother-of-pearl finish tiles, which will enhance the space by reflecting light, giving a sense of grander proportions.

However, don’t shy away from dark colours – a darker tile can be used effectively to add a sense of depth to a space, either throughout the room or, on walls, as a pencil line around the width of the room, which will make it look longer and wider.

industrial style white sink infront of blue metro tiles

(Image: © Topps Tiles)

Patterned or plain tiles?

Which to choose? Patterned tiles, especially busy ones, will inevitably make walls advance visually, which means they'll make the room feel smaller. However, if you'd like to use patterned tiles to add character, put them below dado rail height, and use plain, light-coloured tiles above. Taking this approach will draw the eye upwards and across the room, making it feel larger and lighter.

Carnaby White, and Carnaby Sunset ceramic tiles both £46.80 per m2, Harlequin Decor 4/6 ceramic tile, £40.80 per m2, each tile is 20 x 20cm, Mandarin Stone

(Image: © Mandarin Stone)

Where to tile in a small bathroom

A small bathroom can feel unwelcoming if it's tiled from floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall but, to enhance the feeling of space in the room, you need to aim for as much decorative flow as possible. In other words, if the placement of the fixtures and fittings means that there will only be small gaps of painted wall between, say, a bath splashback and a basin one, it's better to tile across the length of the wall and to limit the changes in tiling levels than to interrupt the tiling. 

small bathroom with white colour scheme

Pale colours reflect light and enhance space in a small bathroom

(Image: © Ikea)

However, stopping the tiling short of the ceiling and painting above will make the space feel less like a cell, and more like a luxurious space and, if you've used dark coloured tiles, and paint the wall and ceiling above in a lighter colour, the room will feel taller, too.

The placement of fixtures and fittings in your bathroom can have an effect on what size of tiles you use, too. If there’s little wall space between shower and the toilet, for example, then small tiles will mean fewer cuts and less wastage than if you used larger format tiles.

How to calculate how many tiles you need for a bathroom

Measure up and calculate the number of tiles you need before you head out to buy them. To make life easier for you, there are many tile calculators available online. You can also go to your local retailer armed with the measurements and they should be happy to help you out. 

Make sure to add on an extra 10 per cent to allow for breakages, cuttings, waste and pattern matching. You don’t want to be halfway through tiling your bathroom before you realise that you don’t have enough to finish the job.

tiles original style

Handmade tiles versus machine made

Handmade tiles offer the opportunity to create a characterful finish to your bathroom, with bespoke options also available. Here Richard Miller of Froyle Tiles explains the benefits of handmade tiles for your bathroom renovation project.

Choose the right tile materials

Travertine, marble, limestone, slate and granite are all natural stone options for bathroom tiles, each with its own natural properties. Slate in particular is great for bathrooms, as it has low porosity and its riven texture is non-slip, while stones such as marble, travertine and limestone can be polished to a high shine for a stunning finish, but need to be sealed.

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are usually a more affordable manmade option, and there is huge scope in the range of finishes available. From those that mimic stone and even wood, to bright colours, decorative patterns, high glosses and raised prints.

Mosaics, in stone, glass or ceramic, look beautiful over smaller areas, such as behind the basin, and give a sense of having been meticulously laid. They are also available in sheets for easy installation.

tiles fired earth

An aquatic palette of glass tiles in a range of striking formats, these Indian Ocean mosaics in Madagascar Seaspray from Fired Earth give a subtle mix of colour and texture

How to tile wonky walls

'Many old houses have wonky walls so there are a number of tricks you can use to overcome this when tiling bathroom walls so that you are not left with a bumpy-looking finish, with tiles jutting out at odd angles,' says John Forden of Topps Tiles.

'Creating a level wall is particularly important if you plan to use large format tiles as they have no way of flexing over the humps or bends on an uneven surface.

'The best option is to invest in re-skimming the offending walls with plaster, or installing new plasterboard – a water-resistant one if used behind a shower or sink. Place the tiles on to this to create a flush, even finish. Remember that new plaster needs to be left four weeks before tiling.'

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