As much as she loved her wood flooring, she ripped it out, plank by plank. Then she went to Daltile, where she's a manager, and looked over one of her store's hottest products: porcelain tile that looks like wood.
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Porcelain tile - for use on floors and counters in any room in a home - has been trending the past few years as interior designers and homeowners tap into its benefits. It's affordable, tougher than ceramic tile or natural stone such as marble or travertine, it won't stain and, with the right installation, it's nearly waterproof.
One reason for its increased popularity is technology, which allows manufacturers to make tile for counters and floors that has the look of wood, marble or another design, but won't chip or stain.
After selling woodlike tile to hundreds of others, Walters-Dominguez is installing it throughout her own home.
Tips on tile
Porcelain tile won't stain or chip like marble or travertine, and it's tougher than ceramic tile, too. It comes in a variety of sizes for flooring and backsplashes, but also comes in big sheets so you can use it like slabs of granite on kitchen or bathroom counters.
Wood-style tile comes in a variety of colors and widths. If you're using porcelain tile in another design, the on-trend style would be in long planks or large rectangles. Twelve-inch squares are no longer in style - not even for a small room.
One hack for a beautiful floor on a budget is to buy 12-inch square tiles, but then have your installer cut them into 3-inch strips and lay them in a herringbone pattern. You'll be using the least expensive size tile and end up with a floor that looks luxurious.
When selecting porcelain tile with a design such as wood grain, make sure you get one with a "through body" image. That means the pattern's dye has gone beneath the surface.
Porcelain tile resists water, but grout does not. To make your floor more water-resistant, make sure your installer uses an epoxy or resin-based grout. If you're a DIY'er using regular grout, mix it with a sealer in place of water. It will be easier to clean, too.
Have your tile installed with 1⁄16-inch spacers for a clean, contemporary look. This is narrower than most installers' default installation of 1/4 inch to 3⁄8 inch.
Another advantage is that porcelain tile is adhered directly to a concrete slab. There's no subfloor to potentially hold moisture where mold would breed.
Woodlike porcelain tile works best in traditional, Mediterranean or transitional style homes. It would be used less in contemporary or modern homes.
Porcelain tile with a "grip" texture is now made for indoor-outdoor use around pools and patios.
Sources: Cindy Aplanalp-Yates of the Chairma Design Group; Andee Parker of the Casa Bella Design Group; Stuart Rae, president of Thorntree Slate & Marble
"It's a whole uniform look, and that's what a lot of people are doing," she said, noting that it's an overwhelming favorite among Daltile shoppers. Home magazines often feature it, and Pinterest and Instagram are filled with examples of it in homes.
Builder Jennifer Henry of H Square Design Build installed it in her home near Tanglewood in a long-awaited remodeling project in September.She wanted something more durable than wood, and it needed to come in a variety of colors.
The tile ranges from very light to very dark, and some even has a textured surface resembling the feel of a wood grain or even knots. Styles range from sleek and sophisticated to rustic and distressed.
Now, instead of her dark Saltillo tile, Henry has 2,000 square feet of Daltile's "Gravel Road," a shade of gray, everywhere except her bathrooms.
"It's super durable," Henry said. "Say if your house floods or a pipe bursts, instead of replacing wood flooring, that wood tile - if it's not in standing water for an extended period of time and your grout doesn't pop - it's not going to buckle like wood would."
It was a practical decision for Walters-Dominguez and Henry. It holds up to the rigors of family life: kids and pets might mar wood or chip marble, but porcelain tile is nearly indestructible.
Its improved look and affordable price tag are factors, too.
Stuart Rae, president of Thorntree Slate and Marble, said he believes that porcelain tile is the most widely used flooring in the industry right now. At Thorntree, sales of porcelain wood tile have increased 65 percent in the past two years.
It's been popular in remodeling and new home construction all over the city; Rae, Henry, Walters-Dominguez and interior designers all say their clients are eager to talk about using porcelain tile. The tile's near-waterproof qualities are sure to catch the attention of thousands more who are faced with post-flood repairs.
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The tide turned in 2015, Rae said, when continuum technology escalated the quality of printing on the tile. It allowed the use of more colors in the printing process so that the finished product - whether it's tile that looks like wood, stone, concrete or any other design - has better depth and a much improved look with color variations, knots and even some that looks like it has a hand-scraped surface.
In other words, those offerings that used to look like cheap imitations now look much more like real wood, and each plank can look slightly different - as real wood would.
Andee Parker, a builder in The Woodlands, said new designs have won her over. "At first, I was opposed to it because it screamed, 'I'm tile trying to look like wood,' " said the owner of Casa Bella Design Group. "But they have got it down perfect now. I have set so many floors in high-million-dollar homes down to lesser priced homes. I am working on a very high-end home in a gated community, and I am using porcelain wood."
Manufacturing technology that creates the planks with perfectly straight edges allows it to be installed without grout, an application that looks even more like a real wood floor.
While the interior design world is in love with all things gray, Rae said that he believes greige - a beige with grayish tones - is about to become the new color darling.
"I went to Italy just last week, and the new color is a beige-gray with warmth," Rae said. "Two years ago, people were putting in gray porcelains throughout a house, but now we'll see beige-gray, hickory, French oak or walnut. Gray has turned."
If durability and the improved appearance aren't enough, Rae said the cost of porcelain tile is affordable for anyone.
Where the square-foot cost of real wood might start at around $15 to $20 installed, porcelain tile will cost $3 to $6 per square foot or up to $12 a foot installed.
For those who love the coveted Carrara or Calacatta marble, the porcelain tile versions of those would cost $8 to $10 per square foot, compared to $40 to $100 for the real Italian stone.
Henry said her clients arrive full of ideas for their new home, and one is wood-look porcelain tile. Some want whole-house installations; others blend it with other surfaces such as natural stone.
"You don't see dirt or sand. You don't see pet hair and all of that stuff," she said of its day-to-day wear. "They want the wood tile that has a little texture to it. Nobody wants smooth. They all want something with a grit to it."
Brenda Denny, a senior designer at Chairma Design Group, had 13 inches of floodwater in her home for some 30 hours. All of her flooring is shot.
She's still deciding what she'll put in her own home, but among her clients, she's installing lots of porcelain tile.
"That's one of my No. 1 flooring materials that I recommend. I recommend it way over stone or ceramic tile," Denny said.
"They have improved the look drastically, even in the last three years," she said. "It's gone from 'nice' to 'wow, I can't believe this is not stone.'"