This countertop idea is trending for beautifully textured kitchens – but is it worth sacrificing practicality for?

Designers are embracing tiled countertops for the most beautiful kitchens, but there are question marks over how practical they are

a kitchen with a tiled island
(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Design: GRT Architects)

In a world where every other kitchen is decked out with white marble, I'm fully on board with making an unusual choice for a countertop. That could be an incredible terrazzo, or colored concrete, or rustic butcher's block counter that sets your kitchen apart from the crowd, but there's one trending material that's caught my eye of late in particular. 

That kitchen countertop idea? Tile. While it isn't exactly unexpected to see tile in a kitchen, it's not something used commonly for countertops. Plus, where I have seen it used before, it's been with simple, square metro tiles - often edged with curved tiles and colored grout - for a bold, but ultimately very specific look. This iteration of the tiled countertop trend is bringing a different sense of style to the kitchen. 

It's an idea, in all its guises, however, that isn't without its drawbacks. Can tile live up to the practicality of materials specifically designed for countertops like quartz? The answer is, inevitably, no. But, could the magic this tile trend brings to a kitchen outweigh my concern over functionality? Let's find out...

luke arthur wells
Luke Arthur Wells

Luke is a design writer and award-winning blogger who favors beautifully textured, neutral schemes. Here, he tells us about a surfacing trend in kitchen countertops, and whether it's as practical as it is beautiful. 

a kitchen with a tiled island

(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Design: GRT Architects)

While previous ideas for tiled kitchen countertops leaned into a playful, graphic style, this new imagining of the material is informed by the modern rustic trend. Following tile trends across the home, designers are embracing rustic styles with handmade characteristics, such as Zellige tiles. This gives the tiles irregular edges, dappled surfaces and even, in some instances, slight variation in color that all help them bring texture to a scheme. Texture is something a kitchen can lack very easily. 

For Tal Schori and Rustam-Marc Mehta, founding partners of GRT Architects, it became a defining element of the renovation of this East Village apartment in New York. 'We, and our clients, loved exploring contrasts and the unexpected on this project,' Tal and Rus explain. 'We all liked the way the handmade, deep burgundy tile island contrasts the effortless simplicity of the composite countertops, which meld into the walls where the island stands out as an abstract sculpture.' 

Despite being made from relatively small tiles, the design calls to the idea of monolithic kitchen islands, usually made from vast sheets of expensive natural stone, by using a tonally similar grout. The only interruption to its form? The modern induction hob that sits atop it. 'It is perhaps more common to see a vintage-looking cast iron gas range with a sleek polished counter but we concluded that the easy-to-clean, visually uncluttered induction cooktop paired well with a more textural counter.' 

a kitchen with a tiled countertop

(Image credit: Nathalie Dunn. Design: JJ Accuna)

For Hong Kong-based designer James JJ Acuna, the inspiration for a tiled countertop came from a different source. 'Our clients in Hong Kong tend to work with Feng Shui masters - like their parents did and their parents before them,' James explains. 'This client tasked us with creating more red spaces to reflect the element of "fire". We didn't want to resort to easy solutions by painting surfaces red - as an example. We instead wanted to utilize materials that related to the briefing requirements. For the kitchen, we immediately thought of bricks. which to us bricks speak of fire and baking.' After sourcing the perfect tiles from a supplier, the designers were given carte blanche to install them around the apartment's kitchen. 

'The client was so gung ho about the idea of covering up the counter with these brick tiles,' James tells us. 'It completely changed the form of the buffet counter as a volumetric exercise than having another awkward-looking kitchen peninsula in a constrained space.' 

What are the drawbacks of tiled countertops? 

Having a client that's willing to commit is half the battle a designer seems to face with this idea. That's because there is, of course, a reason why kitchens traditionally lack these textured surfaces - they're harder to clean. 

I know this first hand. I picked a beautiful Zellige tile for the fireplace hearths in my home, and while I love the variation in shape and size that creates a much more textured surface, it's not as easy to wipe clean without the dirt collecting in between in the tiles and grouting. For my fireplace, I'd simply vacuum it, but for a horizontal surface like a kitchen countertop, it's less ideal. 

However, that doesn't mean you definitely shouldn't do it. 'Tiled counters in kitchens are not ideal due to grouting issues and what might happen when you spill wine and sauces, we understand that completely,' James says, 'but the client just really loved the material and was okay to eventually place a glass top on top of that peninsula if ever needed, if only to hold on to that aesthetic.'

'I mean, we don't expect another client to allow us to do this ever again, but we are happy that we were all aligned with this concept,' James adds. 'The client says he'll just have to be very careful about it moving forward.' 

It's a lesson worth learning - just because a particular finish has a downside, it doesn't mean you can't make an informed commitment to it. After all, 'all surfaces have trade-offs,' says Tal and Rus from GRT Architects. You just need to decide which of these trade-offs are important to you. 

Luke Arthur Wells
Freelancer writer

Luke Arthur Wells is a freelance design writer, award-winning interiors blogger and stylist, known for neutral, textural spaces with a luxury twist. He's worked with some of the UK's top design brands, counting the likes of Tom Dixon Studio as regular collaborators and his work has been featured in print and online in publications ranging from Domino Magazine to The Sunday Times. He's a hands-on type of interiors expert too, contributing practical renovation advice and DIY tutorials to a number of magazines, as well as to his own readers and followers via his blog and social media. He might currently be renovating a small Victorian house in England, but he dreams of light, spacious, neutral homes on the West Coast.