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Wood look tiles: The truth about timber tiles

Architecture news & editorial desk

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.

Design versatility

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.

Plank sizes

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.

Continue reading Wood look tiles: The truth about timber tiles


Why design matters in memory care communities

Imagine checking into a new hotel. On the way to the room, you take a wrong turn. Suddenly, you end up in the middle of the conference center and have no idea how to get out. How do you feel? Anxious? Lost? Alone?

Those are feelings that older adults living with Alzheimer’s or dementia feel multiple times per day. Something as seemingly mundane as coming to the end of a dead-end hallway may cause decision paralysis, anxiety and frustration, because residents do not know where to go or how to get back to a space they remember.

This and many other everyday situations that cause stress can be alleviated by paying attention to design details in senior living communities. Here are four areas of community design that can help improve the quality of life for memory care residents.

1. Uncomplicated building design with touches of home

An uncomplicated, circular building design eliminates dead-end hallways and any anxiety they may cause while allowing residents to freely stroll throughout a safe, peaceful and familiar environment. This so-called “donut design” creates a never-ending corridor for residents to explore and is at its best when it surrounds an interior courtyard that allows memory care residents to safely access the outdoors.

Other best-practice memory care design elements:

  • Memory care suites with an open concept layout – one room for the bedroom and living area, plus a bathroom. This design helps residents know where they are at all times and helps prevent falls stemming from confusion.
  • A soothing, neutral color palette for memory care suites gives each resident the freedom to personalize their spaces.
  • Large windows that allow for maximum natural light. Natural light helps keep residents’ circadian rhythms in place, and outdoor views can prompt positive sensory stimulations.
  • Bright, natural lighting. By age 75, most people require twice as much light as the normal recommended standard, and nearly four times as much as a 20-year-old, to see satisfactorily, according to the Dementia Services Development Center. Dark areas in hallways or rooms can appear ominous and confusing to the brain, causing anxiety or agitation.
  • Open communal spaces on each floor give residents an open, unintimidating venue to socialize.
  • Resting areas throughout hallways give residents comfortable places to sit if they get tired.
  • Offering at least one private dining room allows for intimate meals when family members visit.

If the memory care community is part of a senior living community with multiple levels of care, then it is important that the entire community is as compact as possible (rather than featuring long hallways to other parts of the community) to cut down on fatigue and anxiety. This is especially important if one spouse is residing in the assisted living portion of the community and one is in memory care.

Beyond an uncomplicated building design, the goal should be that residents feel at home the moment they move in. This is where attention to detail makes all the difference. Using warm, inviting and upscale finishes such as natural stone; high-quality wood such as oak; fireplaces; and lots of natural light help create a more comfortable atmosphere. Some memory care units include a memory box at the entrance to each suite, where residents and families can post photos and memorabilia that can spark conversation with other residents and caregivers and help share each resident’s personal story.

2. Technology integration

Older adults entering senior living communities today have a much higher level of comfort with personal technologies — such as computers, tablets, smartphones and wearable devices — than yesterday’s seniors, and that comfort level will only grow in the future. Senior living communities should be equipped to offer high-speed Wi-Fi access for residents and guests in all areas of the building, not just common areas.

Some communities are experimenting with providing residents with personal iPads that are pre-loaded with memory games and brain twisters, which also can be used to order meals or schedule life enrichment activities.

Technology integration also is vital when it comes to communicating with families. Caregivers need to have convenient access to computers to email with families, who expect more real-time communication about their family member’s health status and activities. Video conferencing technology also is a priority, as some families may wish to communicate in that manner. This will become even more critical as telemedicine continues to grow and more health consults are done via video.

3. A personalized approach to caregiving and life enrichment

Caregivers are a vital part of residents’ social engagement. Oftentimes, caregivers interact with memory care residents more than anyone else does. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, both resident care and the design of communities will need to become much more personalized for each individual’s holistic needs – from life enrichment activities to culinary options.

Memory care units should be designed to allow for both private and collective spaces for a variety of non-medication therapies, such as art therapy, music therapy, culinary therapy, gardening and intergenerational activities. Each memory care resident should have a personalized care plan that is discussed and updated with the resident’s family at least once each year.

4. Sensory stimulation

Best-in-class memory care units are now adding Snoezelen rooms that use light, sound and music, touch and scent to initiate sensory stimulations in the brain. For example, a Snoezelen room might have a lava lamp, scented candles, light patterns projected onto walls, music, squishy bean bags or fiber optic lights. These rooms have been shown to promote feelings of calm, especially in residents with late-stage dementia, those who wander and individuals who experience sundowning or agitation.

Another vital addition to today’s memory care units are “dementia stations.” These areas allow residents to touch familiar objects in a safe environment. For example, a desk would have drawers that open but don’t slam, a work bench might have a soft hammer but no nails and a fishing station may have a pole but no hooks. The idea is that these were once familiar activities for residents. By participating in them, residents use multiple senses that can stimulate the brain in different ways and cause deeper engagement with the world around them.

Putting it all together

Well-thought-out design is not just a “nice to have.” Design can affect the daily emotions of memory care residents. Design can be the reason a family chooses one community over another. The bottom line is that when senior living operators pay attention to design details, just as they would when designing their own homes, the result is safer and more comfortable environments for memory care residents.

Milo Pinkerton is the founder of Heritage Senior Living, the largest senior living provider based in Wisconsin. An architect by trade, he has spent his career creating unique designs for residential properties throughout the Midwest. After assisting his parents in their own search for a senior living community, Pinkerton saw the need for high-quality senior housing with the comforts and convenience of home. Heritage Senior Living now has 14 properties that care for more than 2,000 Wisconsin seniors. Since its founding in 2000, Heritage has worked with Dimension IV Architects to create warm, home-like communities for today’s seniors.

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