The increasing consumer preference for green building materials that also come with the promise of durability, longevity and low maintenance is driving design trends across the world.
While timber remains a universal favourite in interior decor, especially for walls and floors, concerns about sustainable sourcing are encouraging architects, interior designers and homeowners to consider more eco-friendly alternatives such as wood look tiles in porcelain and ceramic.
It’s hard to replicate the timeless aesthetic and traditional raw appeal of timber in interior design, be it in the warm textures of hardwood flooring or the rich tones of timber wall panelling. However, natural timber comes with its own challenges, not only in terms of sourcing and pricing but also in its long-term care and maintenance.
Timber is not for every environment, nor can it be used in spaces exposed to moisture such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. Besides, hardwood floors need to be constantly protected against scuffs, scratches and spills.
Having made a soft entry in the market more than a decade ago, wood look tiles are increasingly finding acceptance as a viable alternative to natural timber in design applications. Several factors have contributed to the rising popularity of wood grain tiles, particularly, durability, affordable pricing, choice of sizes, colours, patterns, variations, finishes and materials, low maintenance, application versatility, green qualities, and longevity among many more – all without having to compromise on the beautiful aesthetic of natural timber.
Wood look tiles: Porcelain or ceramic
Timber grain tiles are typically available in porcelain or ceramic. While porcelain is more widely used as a base, it’s easy to confuse one with the other. A high quality porcelain tile has a higher breakage point than a ceramic tile – this means a porcelain tile can withstand hard knocks.
Porcelain can also stand up to minor temperature changes, avoiding cracks. Ceramic wood look tiles are ideal for low traffic residential living spaces.
The PEI rating introduced by the Porcelain Enamel Institute determines the ability of the tile to resist abrasion, and ranges from PEI 1 (easily scratched) to PEI 5 (maximum scratch resistance). A minimum PEI rating of 3 is required for residential home applications, and higher for commercial installations.
Porcelain wood look tiles are offered in through-body and colour-body options. While a through-body tile will have a consistent colour and pattern throughout including the surface, a colour-body tile features a baked-on sheen, which can get damaged.
Technological advancements in the production of wood effect tiles have not only enhanced product quality but also dramatically improved the look to simulate real timber to perfection, making the hardwood finish more realistic and authentic than ever before.
The sheer versatility of wood look tiles is impressive, especially in terms of the timber species they can replicate. Bold or dark, greys or pastels, these porcelain tiles can reproduce the beauty and warmth of Oak, Walnut, Chestnut, Maple, Teak, Jarrah, Wenge, Acacia or any other species of your choice.
The wood effect on these tiles is created by scanning natural timber and using high resolution inkjet printing technology to print the image down to every knot and grain in great detail. Wood look tiles that repeat the pattern every few tiles will not be realistic enough to visually simulate timber.
However, when the pattern is only repeated, for instance, after 24 or more tiles (faces), the wood effect is more authentic. The higher the number of faces, the more realistic your timber look flooring will be in the final design outcome with the repetitive pattern barely noticeable.
Choose your wood look from any of several timber species or the currently trending reclaimed wood and distressed wood finishes, select textures to go with your grains and knots, go for the glossy, polished finish or keep it rustic with a weathered look, complete with imperfections.
If the stock doesn’t match your expectation, you can even have your wood look tile customised to your personal grain, colour and texture preferences.
Indoor and outdoor
Wood look tiles are versatile in application too. Turn your bathroom into a spa-like environment with a wood effect, or get the much-desired timber finish in your kitchen. But timber grain tiles have a wider application beyond just the wet areas of your home.
Adopt a wooden floor look throughout your home including your living spaces and bedrooms. Create an accent wall to add drama to your interiors.
Being impervious to water and moisture, wood look tiles are perfect for homes in marine environments such as beach houses or homes near water bodies. Get a hardwood floor for your entryway without worrying about scratches, scuffs or dripping umbrellas.
Take the design theme outdoors seamlessly by installing wood look tiles with anti-slip properties on your deck or any alfresco space.
Timber look tiles are pet-friendly, stain-proof and moisture-proof, will not warp or splinter like timber, and can retain both colour and finish over the long term. These tiles are also compatible with underfloor heating systems.
Wood look tiles come in a broad range of sizes to replicate real wood. Thanks to modern production processes, tiles can even be supplied in 72-inch length planks (or more) with a choice of widths to suit the application and design theme. Some tile collections are also available in variable lengths to mimic a real hardwood floor. Shorter and narrower planks are perfect for creating herringbone patterned floors.
Made from natural materials such as clay and sand, wood look tiles with their longevity, minimal maintenance and zero VOC emission hit all the green building goals. They are recyclable too with the ground-up material used in paving applications.
Wood look tiles are typically installed on concrete slabs. For a more realistic wood look floor, make sure you select tiles with rectified edges – these are tiles with straight edges that eliminate the need for grout and deliver a smooth, even hardwood floor appearance, quite unlike a tiled floor. Tiles with a textured surface or non-slip properties must be considered for wet areas.
Unlike high maintenance hardwood floors, the stain-proof, non-warping wood effect tiles are easy to clean and care for over their lifetime using regular, non-abrasive cleaning solutions.
And the cons…
In cold climes, a wood look floor can get uncomfortable underfoot. Discomfort can also come from standing or kneeling on the hard surfaces for an extended period of time.
Wood look tiles, especially those with smooth, polished surfaces can get slippery in wet areas, resulting in falls and injury. Wood look floors are also quite noisy.
Based on the quality, type, size and customisation, wood look tiles can cost anywhere from AUD 16 to AUD 46 per square metre, or higher.