TILING With the right tools and a little patience, almost anyone can do it

June 08, 1991|By Lynn Williams

Incomplete information was provided with pictures of tile installers in Saturday's editions of The Sun. The two men pictured, Don Conrad and Dave Sykes, are with R. F. Williams Jr. Ceramic Tile Inc., a Pasadena company that specializes in tile installation.

The Sun regrets the errors.

They're fit to be tiled. Not only bathroom walls, but stylish kitchens, casual sun rooms, foyers, fireplaces . . . ceramic wall tiles are making their way even into more formal areas previously sacred to paint and wallpaper. "It's become an actual decorator item," says Don Sekira of the Maryland Tile Center, a wholesale distributor.

These are good times for home decorators who like the look of tile. Old-fashioned glazed tiles, invariably 4 1/4 -inch squares in neutrals or pastels, have been joined by a lively spectrum of styles. What's new? Local tile merchants agree that larger, sometimes rectangular, tiles are making strong gains in the market. Not only do they have a richer, more dramatic look than the little squares, but they offer a larger canvas for romantic floral patterns or jazzy geometrics.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Leslie Storm, owner of Tile Exhibits on Falls Road, points to Mexican-style tiles with earthy colors and interesting finishes as style leaders, as well as tiles with the look of marble and granite.

According to James T. Stratigakos, a co-owner of Tile Concepts in Carney, loud patterns and colors aren't big in Baltimore and the local best sellers are conservative, reflecting the buyer's desire not to damage the resale value of the house with anything too individualistic. But if that's not a concern for you, he says, "The sky's the limit. You can create a dream if you want."

Tile is available all over town, too.

In connection with the openings of its new Home Project Centers, Hechinger's has beefed up its ceramic tile sections and hired seasonal professionals to assist customers. (New to the staff of the North Plaza Mall store is Bob Nichols, who has been installing tile for 33 years.) The company also has produced a tiling videotape and advertises occasional classes in its circulars.

Wholesale and retail tile centers have scores of tiles on display and often can order unusual tiles not available in Baltimore. Such lifestyle emporiums as Laura Ashley offer tiles color- and pattern-coordinated to fabrics and paints. Even craft shows can be good sources; some potters make ceramic tiles and can provide hand-painted motifs that match your decor.

While a professional tile installer or contractor will provide the most finished look in the shortest time, there is nothing inherently difficult about doing the job yourself.

"Most of your retail stores have people who can walk a customer through a step-by-step procedure," Mr. Stratigakos says. "As long as you have the proper materials, the proper tools and a little bit of patience, you can do just about everything yourself." However, he warns, the amateur who takes shortcuts will probably run into trouble.

Although tile dealers have installers who will do the job, they make it easy on do-it-yourselfers by having the aforementioned in-house experts to answer questions, as well as tools that customers can buy or rent. (Or, in some cases, use for free with a deposit.)

For on-the-job help, pick up a step-by-step illustrated text at the library or the hardware store.

Below are some basic how-to tips for installing ceramic wall tile. If your job has special requirements, don't hesitate to ask a pro for help.

"The best tip is to talk to the people you are going to buy your tiles from about proper installation," offers Don Sekira. "Different jobs have different requirements. . . . You don't bake all cakes at 350 degrees for 45 minutes."

A prerequisite for a successful tiling job is a dry, flat surface in good condition, painted with primer to prevent the adhesive from soaking in.

It's possible to install a new set of tiles over the old tiles, but Rich Pettit, another owner of Tile Concepts, doesn't recommend it. A special adhesive is needed to stick ceramic to ceramic, and the results are often bulky and awkward. Chip off the old tile first. "It's basically demolition work that some people actually have fun doing," he says.

It's almost guaranteed that your wall won't be the "right size." In other words, you will probably have to cut some tiles to get the right fit. For professional-looking results, you will want to end up with equal-size tiles at the edges, and full-size tiles in such noticeable spots as over a counter or tub. To get these results -- without ragged edges or unsightly gaps, and with no gnashing of teeth -- planning and accurate measurement are essential.

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