Indoor tiles can come out to play


Q: We are redoing my mother's house at the beach and plan to use ceramic tile all through the first floor, including the porch, living room and dining/kitchen area. Can we use the same tile outside as we do inside? Should it all match, or would it be too "busy" to mix-up colors since the three areas flow into each other?

A: There usually is a difference between indoor ceramic tiles and those that can take the outdoors, where the freeze-thaw cycle can cause grout cracking and crumbling. However, a number of manufacturers, such as Crossville ( offer tiles designed for inside use to right out into the elements on exposed surfaces.

The advantage of matching flooring materials is that unbroken color carries the eye forward, making the space look larger than it really is. The disadvantage? A risk of being bored by too much of a good thing. Avoid it, not by using different colors on adjacent surfaces, which could add more jazz than you want underfoot. Instead, simply changing the direction in which the tiles are laid can make a subtle, visually interesting difference.


In the run-together rooms we show here, the tiles' grout lines add visual texture enough to differentiate the spaces. Laid on the diagonal, the tiles energize the floor in the game room. In the open living-room-porch next door, they are put down straight, so the joins form a gentle transition between the areas.

These, by the way, are cement tiles, an ancient form of flooring that's rousing current design interest. Check out the Spanish manufacturer's cool Web site at where you can custom-color your choice of cement tile "rug" patterns at a stroke of your computer keys.

Q: What about fabrics that can also live indoors or out?

A: They're out there, for sure. And also in here, looking as soft and rich as the most traditional of materials.

Manufacturers, such as Sunbrella, a name you may remember from patio chairs of yore, are enabling low-maintenance fabrics to assume high-style colors and patterns that look equally at home in a drawing room or on the deck. For example, Old World Weavers' new "Elements" Collection includes traditional florals and plaids and stripes in pastels that may look precious, but you couldn't kill them with a vengeance.

Made of acrylic yarns, these 21st century wonders resist stains, mildew, rot, and are water-repellant, colorfast and light-fast.

Bring on rainy days and dirt, or children, pets and food. Indoors, or out, these fabrics fight back without breaking a sweat.

Currently, "Elements" is available through interior designers only (see, but Sunbrella's impervious yarns are also showing up in less exclusive fabrics, cushions, curtains and even decorative fringes and tassels you might swear were made of delicate silks - until you see how well they weather the latest downpour.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

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