Materials 101: Bathroom Flooring

Here we are with another post in what I am tentatively calling The 101 Series. Today the focus is on bathroom flooring. I have to be honest with you, blogosphere – we’ve recently been working on quite a few projects with some non-basic bathroom flooring requirements. In typical fashion, the team at Catherine French Design made up a huge pros and cons list to figure out what to choose. The debate: what are the typical, go-to materials, and what is less expected? What are the relative prices? Most importantly, how do you land on a material selection that best represents the desired style without sacrificing function?

As a self-proclaimed design nerd, one of the things I’m always excited to learn more about is the world of materials and finishes. It can become overwhelming at times to sort through all of the patterns, textures, and colors. Here’s a image-heavy list to go over it all – the reliable and the lesser-known material choices in bathroom design to make your space feel unique to you.

Clay Surfaces

When to use ceramic tiles in a bathroom. Ceramic tiles are the ultimate go-to in bathroom tiles. They are known for their wide selection of colors, sizes, shapes, finishes, and textures. There is a massive selection to choose from when shopping ceramic, and equally abundant choices when it comes to laying out the tiles in a pattern of your choice. Ceramic is both tough and cost effective, and is typically glazed, which makes it an ideal choice for repelling water.

Different ways to use ceramic tile patterns.


  • Ceramic repels water when glazed.  What little water that it may absorb does not distort the shape.
  • It’s a durable product that does not scratch as easily as the others listed here.
  • Its very commonly used and not expensive.
  • Lots of styles and price points available for almost any bathroom application.
  • Available in a huge selection of shapes, colors, and patterns.


  • Not as water repellent as porcelain, but not as expensive as porcelain.
  • Can damage easier in areas with larger temperature fluctuations.
  • Not recommended for outdoor shower areas.

When to use terracotta tiles in a bathroom.

Terracotta tiles are really becoming the hot new material in 2017. We are seeing this earthy look reemerge in counter tops for kitchens and flooring in the home, which you can see if you click site. One of the spaces that terracotta works really well in is the bathroom. The great thing about this material is that it introduces a sense of warmth and history to any space. Terracotta is in the clay family just like ceramics and porcelain, but is kiln fired at the lowest temperature of this group. Depending on the shape in which the tile is cut and the other materials and decor within your bathroom, you can take terracotta stylistically from eclectic to modern.

Pros and cons of terracotta flooring in a bathroom.


  • Terracotta repels water.
  • It can be glazed to provide a wide range of colors.
  • Terracotta is an inexpensive and commonly found product.
  • Similar to ceramic tiles, terrracotta is very durable.
  • It doesn’t get as cold as ceramic.


  • When unglazed terracotta has a reddish hue look that isn’t suitable for every space.
  • Terracotta is more complex to install and expensive to install compared to ceramic tile.

Stone Surfaces

When to use marble in a bathroom.Ah, marble. Known for being expensive, using this material in your bathroom will definitely give the space an elevated aesthetic. When continued from the floors onto the walls within a shower, marble’s gorgeous and subtle striations create a luxurious backdrop for hardware, fixtures, and decor. Mixing tones together to create pattern (see below) is a fun way of using this material. Its a natural stone that is the result of heating and compressing travertine or limestone during tectonic activity.

Pros and cons of using marble in a bathroom.


  • Marble has wonderful white and gray veining structure embedded throughout the tile.


  • Although marble is a common surface material it is more rare than other materials and as a result can be expensive.
  • Marble consists of calcite and easily scratches. A knife, penny, or a grit of sand will easily scratch the surface.
  • Marble like limestone is porous and will stain easy by absorbing liquids or rust.

When to use slate tiles in a bathroom design Slate is tough and like marble is a natural stone product that is the result of shale placed under high heat and pressure during geologic activity making it natural impervious to water. This natural stone has a rigidity to it that prevents cracks, scratches, breaks, and chips. As a bathroom material, it strikes a good balance between being earthy and modern, especially when used in large tiles along with modern fixtures and equipment (see below). One drawback is that it can easily stain, so it is important to ensure that slate is properly sealed. When done right, slate gives any space a sleek and textured appeal.

Pros and Cons of using slate tiles in a bathroom.


  • There are many styles and colors, however, it is mostly a gray to green with rarer varieties having a purple hue.
  • Slate like marble is a natural stone product.
  • It is a strong material that is that is difficult to scratch, break or chip.
  • It is impervious to water due to the tiny material grain size squeezed so closely together.


  • Slate is expensive as a result of manually cleaving of the tiles.
  • Slate flooring on a cold morning might keep you in the slipper market.  It retains cold later than other similar surfaces.
  • It’s unique: every tile is unique making planning a particular design difficult.

Wood Surfaces

When to use wood flooring in a bathroom.

Wood as a bathroom material seems like it’s mostly for the brave. However, when treated properly, it’s a perfectly suitable material to use for bathrooms and can be a great way of creating warmth and character. If you have wood flooring in a hallway or otherwise adjacent room, you can carry that flooring into the bathroom, creating a more seamless transition between the spaces. Wood flooring in a bathroom feels indulgent yet grounded at the same time.

Pros and cons of wood flooring in a bathroom.


  • Wood looks amazing in a bathroom.  It provides a unique natural finish to the space.
  • Wood, as I’m sure you know, comes in a wide variety of stains,  grain patterns, and widths.
  • You can place wood in a wide range of patterns and utilize it similar to a subway tile.


  • Water will do some serious damage to a wood floor.
  • If not maintained properly, most wood will discolor or loose its shape when wet.
  • Varieties of wood like teak that well when wet when are very expensive.

When to use a cork surface in a bathroom.

Would you ever think of using cork in a bathroom? Seems like it doesn’t make sense. However, it’s really the same animal as wood. The main concerns are ensuring that the material is properly sealed so that it doesn’t absorb water. What makes cork an interesting choice is that its color resembles wood flooring but it provides a more concentrated texture. It’s also more durable than hardwood flooring, naturally hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal.

Pros and Cons of using cork flooring in a bathroom.


  • Cork has a fantastic spongy  soft texture to walk across.
  • The natural qualities of cork make is similar to keep clean.
  • Cork installation is relatively simple.
  • Its a unique look and its not too expensive.


  • Cork is soft and will scratch or chip. Although the veiny porous texture will often hide those blemishes.
  • Similar to wood, cork needs proper sealing to avoid water absorption.

When it comes to choosing materials for your bathroom flooring at home, the process can really be fun. Whether you want try a natural stone, engineered ceramic, or wooden floor, there is a wide spectrum of flooring options. The great thing is that once you’ve selected a material, the creative process doesn’t end there. You still have to pick out fixtures, cabinets, accessories, and so much more. Do you have a bathroom that needs overhauling? We’d love to help. We can figure out what materials and colors are right for you and find unique ways of combining patterns, giving your bathroom a look that is all your own.

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Catherine French Design is a team of interior design consultants based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We have provided residential and commercial services in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Durham, Wake Forest, and beyond.