23 March 2010

Reader question: Is glass tile a trend?

Help! I was watching HGTV today and they showed a kitchen that had been remodeled with a glass tile back splash. Designer Vern Yip said glass tile is a current trend and will be outdated in 4-5 years. This concerns me.

What do you think- are glass tile backsplashes too trendy? Will they be "out of style" in 5 years? What would you do?
Vern's right. Sort of. Glass tile is a current trend. So what? Glass tile's a current trend, travertine floors are a current trend, stainless steel appliances are a current trend, granite counters are a current trend, brushed nickel finishes are a current trend, and so is just about any finish you can pick for a project. Timelessness is a myth and trend avoidance is a fool's errand.

Human beings have been making glass since the Bronze Age. At first they made beads, then tile. Glass blowing started in Syria about 100 BCE and by 100 CE the Romans were making glass windows, vases and cups. Human beings have prized glass for thousands of years and have been covering walls with small pieces of it for just as long.

This is a photo I took in Herculaneum.

That's a glass tile mosaic from the year 50 or thereabouts.

Fast forward a couple thousand years and here's a photo I snapped in the 81st Street Station of the Eighth Avenue line in Manhattan.

That station opened in the 1930s and that glass tile is original.

There is nothing trendy about glass as a material, it's as old as civilization itself. In a thousand years, people will still be using glass tile. Tell that to Vern.

Now, just because something's a classic material doesn't mean that every time it's used it will last forever. There's a small window of time during which something looks good to trend followers and spotters. Then it falls from favor and if no one touches it for long enough it may become a classic. But even then it's not timeless.

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome isn't timeless, it's High Baroque. The White House isn't timeless, it late Georgian. The Forbidden City isn't timeless, it's Ming. See my point? Those iconic buildings are locked in time and they come to embody the eras in which they were built. Attempting High Baroque or late Georgian today is absurd because it's not 1500 or 1790.

So what the hell does this have to do with whether or not to install a glass tile back splash? Plenty. You are talking about an expense between $500 and $1,000 for most people. You can spend more than that certainly, but I don't think that's what you have in mind. That's not a judgment, just an observation. So knowing that, and knowing that you like glass tile back splashes, I say get a glass tile back splash. If it looks horrible in five years than get rid of it and replace it with whatever's on trend ten years from now.

Everything you buy for you home, and I mean everything, is subject to the whims of fashion. It is the very nature of living in a consumerist society. It is impossible to predict what will be in style five years from now and it's also impossible to predict what you'll like then.

All you can know is what you know right now. So buy the best things you can afford and enjoy them. Right now.

Glass tile photos from Lightstreams Glass Tile.


  1. I'm pretty sure Bisazza would have a thing or two to say to Mr. Yip.

    I've been spec-ing glass tile for clients since 1994, when I began my design career. So I was ahead of the trend?

  2. I spec it all the time and have since around then too Raina. Sometimes, I just want to scratch Vern Yip's face. I meant to add to my answer the sage advice to stop watching HGTV or at least stop seeing it as some kind of a final arbiter on taste. It's TV, it's entertainment, and it's a vehicle to sell products. Legitimate design advice lives on the internet. Make that, real advice lives on my blogroll.

  3. Excellent points Paul! -Brenda-

  4. Thank you Brenda. When I construct arguments like that in the wee hours I wonder how well they come across.

  5. Oh go suck an egg Vern!
    you said it better than I ever could paul....EVERYTHING is a trend in some way. What makes something stand the test of time is HOW it is executed and HOW it works with the surrounding design elements. EXECUTION is the key element that most people seem to forget about...witness the bad tile jobs in my post on ugly tile. http://www.kitchendetailsanddesign.com/?p=1612
    And besides if nothing ever went out of style what would we do for a living anyway? I am going after Vern's job I tell you.....

  6. People who don't understand the word "trend" and who are looking for "timeless" designs need to crack open a history of architecture book. Either that or a copy of House Beautiful from about 1965. Things that are designed well last. It's the act of designing, not the materials used that makes something last.

  7. Fabulous response Paul. Even within the segment of glass tile there are such amazing variations with regard to depth, texture, color, refectivity and cut that the possibilities of expression are endless. Jen Renzi's book The Art of Tile gives a great overview.

  8. Thanks JoAnn. It's the design not the material, it's the design not the material, it's the design not the material. I'll repeat that until my dying day.

  9. Hmmm. I've been in this business too long--I'll side with both you and Vern (disclaimer: I like Vern) which you're doing in your post anyway. Yes, tile been around forever. Yes, do what you like. Yes, glass tile *is* a trend.

    Everything old is new again to a new generation. Homeowners and designers will eventually find something new and move on. Especially if the color falls in and out of favor as well.

    But here's where I think the difference is for this decade: the next generation is also no longer constrained with Depression-era values. It's not a big deal for them to change as they see fit. Everything's available and available in the fraction of the time it took to order even when I was a kid.

    Which is most likely the reason why the reader is receiving this range of comments.

  10. All the more reason to do whatever she bloody pleases, so long as it's done well.

  11. Great discussion! We love glass and notice that there are different styles offered all the time: size, texture, foils, etc.
    It would be interesting to have a discussion among designers to see we think HGTV is helpful or harmful. One of my past co-workers says it gives you just enough info to be dangerous.

  12. Nancy that's a terrific idea! Where do I sign up?

  13. This is a great discussion. Re Nancy's comment, I think it would only be fair if HGTV could join the discussion. I'll be the Mediator!

    As a non-designer, I admit something that drives me insane is when Designers, Stagers, Color Experts etc. continuously make reference to 'Clients'. Not to ruffle anyones feathers as I have the highest respect for their professions BUT I personally feel a common oversight made by many of them is that they fall short in acknowledging, we the client, are first and foremost CONSUMERS. When they whine about their clients (and many do) my knee-jerk reaction usually is "treat them like you would want to be treated if you were a Consumer....not a client".

    With that said Paul, I think another great topic/discussion would be "What is the definition of a Designer".

    Hopefully I didn't stray too far off subject here. If I did, delete it and I will certainly not be offended. -Brenda-

  14. Great post Paul! Thank you for wonderful words that I can keep in my sales tool box.

  15. OK Brenda, you pitch the idea to HDTV. Just tell me where I need to be and when.

    I use the term client almost exclusively when I'm discussing the people who hire me. They pay my bills frankly and they hire me to deliver an experience that exceeds their expectations every time. I think you hear whining because you hang out on design blogs and you hear us when we're venting. At least I hope that's all it is.

    What is the definition of a designer? I interpret that really broadly. I say a designer is anybody who determines how something looks and functions. How's that?

    Michelle: You are welcome. I love hearing that somebody finds what I say to be useful.

  16. Re your definition of a Designer, thank you Paul. Not only are you a great Designer, but as a reader I feel you are one of the best and.... I have never really heard 'you' whine. Vent on occasion yes, but never whine. (There is a difference.)

    Sincerely, it is one of the many reasons why I enjoy visiting your Blog.

  17. Thank you Brenda, that means a lot. You were one of my first regulars you know and I appreciate your support of this venture and your willingness to participate.

  18. Hi Paul, I stumbed across your blog post looking for backsplash inspiration for tumbled marble, and you have stop me in my tracks. I am undecided about what to do in a kitchen that has alot of wood. (floors,cabinets). I was thinking of installing tumbled subway. I do have a black and brown quarts counter top and maple cabinets. What do you suggest? Beth

  19. Thanks for stopping by Beth. Without seeing anything, it's hard to say. I wouldn't use tumbled marble though, try a honed Crema Marfil marble in a subway shape. It looks less pedestrian than the generic tumbled marble that seems to be everywhere.

  20. Thank you Paul, I will look for something like that to istall in my kitchen. I was having second thoughts about using tumbled marble. Thank you for your suggestions. Beth

  21. I have Clients all of the time that are worried about"getting tired of something." "If I paint the walls green will I get tired of it? Or, Won't I get tired of that backsplash?" Even though that "back splash" will make the room! Some clients are so afraid of this that they opt to do everything neutral and then can't figure out why it looks so dull.( Don't get me wrong, neutral done right is beautiful, but not all space calls for it. My answer to this is" Do what you love now. No matter what you do, you will be tired of it in 7 years. That is the usual design cycle.

  22. Thanks for all the comments today Sue. As I said in that column originally, the search for timelessness is a fool's errand at best. Before people make decisions based on their selections' timelessness, I suggest looking back to what was "timeless" ten years ago. It'll be met with universal derision I promise you.

  23. I so enjoy your blog. Feels like I have come home to friends with the same challenges and joys as I have. Nice to listen and talk with others having the same experiences. I especially like how interactive you are with your readers. It makes us feel like you value us. Keep up the good work.

  24. Wow Sue, that's about the kindest comment anyone's ever left. Thank you! You really made my day not to mention my week.


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