One of the great things about ceramic tile is that it lasts forever.
Great, that is, unless you're stuck with tile that went out of style decades ago.
Decorating tastes change, but ceramic tile can stick around for years. Witness all the pink-and-black bathrooms still haunting postwar homes and the sunny yellow backsplashes hanging on from '60s kitchen remodelings.
Nevertheless, ceramic tile is a big investment, and getting rid of it can be an even bigger mess. So if you're stuck with tile that's ugly or just plain boring but your budget doesn't have room for reconstructive surgery, you might want to settle for a cosmetic makeover.
One of the newest options for giving tile a new look is tile appliques, adhesive designs that dress up plain squares. One product, Stick'n Stile, is made from a resin compound.
Another, a Spanish-made product called Onlyglass, is real ceramic glaze that's fired atop a clay tile body. An agent between the glaze and the clay allows the decorative layer to be lifted off, explained Carmen Canonico, vice president of sales and marketing for MasterTile in Canton, Ohio, the U.S. distributor.
"Pretty interesting. They won't show me how they do it, though," Canonico said.
The appliques can be applied only to hard, smooth surfaces. Both products are applied just by peeling off a backing and sticking the applique to a tile, and both can be removed Â Stick'n Stile with a hair dryer, Onlyglass with a heat gun.
"That is the beauty of it," Canonico said of Onlyglass. "It's so changeable."
The Stick'n Stile appliques come in four style themes Â palm leaves and trees, brightly colored tropical fish, retro-looking geometric designs in blue and lime green and a set of pastel flower and dragonfly images. They're priced at about $15 for a package of four to 12 appliques and are available at some Bed, Bath and Beyond stores; you can check the company's Web site Â www.sticknstile.com/ Â for a location near you.
The Onlyglass appliques come in a broader array of designs that more closely mimic traditional tile looks such as Southwestern designs, fruit motifs, florals, Greek keys and Art Deco looks. They come in 2 1/2- and 3-inch squares as well as listels, or horizontal bands, that range in size from 3/4 inch to 3 inches wide and from 6 to 8 inches long.
Prices for Onlyglass appliques range from $2.28 to about $5 apiece, although they're generally sold in multiple-piece packages. The product is sold by some tile retailers; you can find one nearby by calling MasterTile at (330) 493-1272.
Appliques are fine if the tile's background color isn't objectionable, but what if you simply can't live any longer with that orange tile you thought was so trendy back in 1970?
In that case, you might want to paint the tile Â but keep in mind it won't end up with the same glazed finish when you're done. It'll look like, well, painted tile, but you can jazz it up with a faux finish if you like.
The most important step in painting tile is cleaning it thoroughly first, said Dave Szep, president of Akron (Ohio) Paint Inc. You need to get rid of all the soap residue, or the paint won't stick properly. He recommends trisodium phosphate, a heavy-duty cleaner sold at some paint stores, or even a household cleaner like Spic and Span. Just be sure to rinse it thoroughly.
Next, apply a good-quality primer. He recommends Grip & Seal, a water-based acrylic sealer that doesn't require sanding the tile first.
For areas like showers that are exposed to a lot of water, Szep recommends painting with two coats of a polyurethane oil-based enamel, which can be tinted to any color. It's a marine-grade coating, he said, so "you'll probably get tired of the color before it wears out."
For kitchens and other areas of the bathroom where water isn't a problem, Szep said you can use a latex enamel instead, but the finish won't be as tough or long-wearing.
Keep in mind that you'll be painting over the grout as well as the tile, so if you want grout lines, you're going to have to go back and paint them in by hand Â line by tedious line.
Out with the old grout
Then again, if the grout color is all that's bugging you about your tile, there's a solution for that, too: grout colorants. They're epoxy finishes that coat existing grout, almost like paint, and they're typically available from home centers and some tile retailers.
The colorants are squeezed on or dabbed on with a brush and allowed to dry. The colorant sticks to the grout but not the glazed tile, so you don't have to be neat about it. You just scrub the excess off the tile after the colorant dries.
One product, Aqua Mix grout colorant, claims it will last up to 15 years Â less on heavily trafficked floors, the company's marketing director, Bob Pacelli, said. It can be used anywhere, including shower walls and countertops, he said, but it's not recommended for grout used with porous materials such as natural stone.
Colorants are generally available in a fixed selection of colors, although Aqua Mix can also custom-match existing grout colors, Pacelli said.
The product costs less than $20 for an 8-ounce bottle, which is enough to cover 50 to 300 square feet, depending on the size of the tile and the width of the grout joints.
Grout colorants have to be applied to grout that's in good shape, however. If the grout is cracked or pieces are missing, the colorant won't fix it.