Types of Tile for Swimming Pool Finishes
By David Knox
Blending indoor and outdoor areas into one setting enables pool owners to choose complementary materials. In the hands of a good designer, pool tile can connect a hardscape with a softscape, which includes plants, foliage and flowers. Just as granite-tiled floors in a living room may extend outside to become a pool's decking, a skillfully tiled patio transitions nicely into the water as a beach entry. Likewise, coordinating accessories that pick up a color in the tile bring forth a uniform setting. And, as always, design is established through the use of subtle details.
Popular styles such as vanishing-edge pools, spa spillways, beach entries and complex water features, serve as great canvases for stunning tile. The three main types of tile for pool finishes include glass tile, natural stone tile, and ceramic or porcelain tile.
Glass Tile Pool Finishes
Glass has become the most popular tile choice in recent years. While it is the most expensive type of pool tile, customers on a budget may opt to alternate its use with another type of tile or finish, creating splashes of color and scale. In addition, this durable, nonporous tile can be made from recycled materials. As a medium, glass complements the transparent nature of water. Its ability to be molded into various shapes, creating pebble-like or abstract effects, is a strong allure.
Glass tile comes in many varieties. Small-format, mosaic glass tile can produce a classical appearance and has the advantage of being able to completely cover curved surfaces. By mixing colors, the designer creates a color scheme within the pool like that of a pointillist painting. The optical quality of small-format glass tile is usually low, but surface reflections can still be quite brilliant underwater. Many have an iridescent coating, which shimmers in the changing light and as water flows over its surface.
High-end glass tile has excellent optical clarity, shine, color and depth. The artistic look and feel of a finished installation that has high-end glass is significantly different and more dynamic than the look of small mosaic designs. In all-tiled pools and spas, the overall effect of glass is mesmerizing, and as waterline borders and step-markers, the internal reflections offer a gem-like luster.
Stone Tile Pool Finishes & Coping
For a natural look and textured feel, customers may lean toward stone tile. Large format stone tile can be used on a patio or deck and blended into the coping to create a monolithic appearance. It also fits well within a classical or Mediterranean design. Stone tile is relatively affordable for large areas, provides slip-resistance and maintains warmth after a day in the sun. Leading designers source stone from around the world, visiting quarries and selecting the best materials available. Many travel extensively to inspect particular batches to ensure the proper color, texture and veining of the tile.
Currently popular design elements include limestone, sandstone, bluestone and honed (semipolished) granite tile, as well as pavers and cobblestones. While granite is more expensive, it displays a rich peppered look. The textures and soft colors of these types of tile can be warm and inviting.
Ceramic and Porcelain Tile Finishes
For decades, ceramic and porcelain tile have been staples for pool finishing. They are the least costly and can be handpainted with intricate designs or formed into a mosaic. Textured porcelain blends well with the surrounding landscape, while glazed porcelain offers bold, striking accents.
Ceramic and porcelain tile are a great option for pool owners looking to add a custom look or waterline accent without extending their budget too far.
Many designs mix glass, stone, ceramic and porcelain tile; the assortment can create a surprisingly unified theme. A positive outcome will be a balance of scale, color, texture and detail. The choices are endless, but the critical factor in selecting this style is the designer's skill and knowledge of the material at hand.
Custom Tile Finshes for Pools
Manufacturers and suppliers are responding to recent trends that have designers and pool owners seeking more artistic and better quality tile:
• Ceramic art studios are addressing the high-end pool markets with beautiful, handmade tile.
• Studios work with pool designers and clients to create emotive artistic compositions, and some create entire murals pieced together like a puzzle.
• Handpainted glazed tile creates shadow and depth and often includes three-dimensional elements.
• Pool owners can even show off their company logos or favorite sports teams with today's custom mosaics.
Pool Tile Installation
Each type of tile requires specific installation materials and techniques. It is critical to follow each tile manufacturer's installation recommendations since the setting and waterproofing materials used for each variety are usually quite different. A good designer is aware of these nuances and has the experience to investigate and detail the requirements associated with each material.
Creating a cohesive, elegant environment for indoor/outdoor living through the addition or redesign of a swimming pool is often challenging but rewarding. The size and scale of the area involved offer a unique canvas. Fortunately, there are pool designers who understand both the difficulties and possibilities of the space at hand and use the best tile materials available to create true works of art. When used effectively in a design, tile can elegantly transform an aquatic environment into a moving, artistic masterpiece.
Photo courtesy of Azul-Verde Design Group, Inc., Cave Creek, AZ
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