Don't let anyone tell you tile is out. Humans for 4,000 years have beautified their environment with tiles, from the pyramids of Egypt to the mosaics of Spain, from the majolica floors of Italy to the tin-glazed tiles of Belgium.
Tilework, however, is constantly being reinvented and rediscovered, with new or artistic variations on an ancient theme.
Homeowners looking to add a custom touch can add tile to a backsplash, a shower stall or around a fireplace, dramatically customizing the look of a space without moving walls or investing in major construction.
Here are two ideas for using tile to add a touch of class to a room:
Granite has become a popular material for kitchen and bathroom countertops. But the granite industry every year tosses away or is forced to recycle millions of pounds of scrap granite a year.
Cringing at the waste, Joe Joseph has found a way to turn that scrap into attractive and contemporary looking split-stone tiles for backsplashes, fireplace surrounds, outdoor kitchens and even entire interior walls.
He and his wife, Brooke, last year started Granite for a Green Planet, taking hundreds of tons of leftover granite from area fabricators and turning them into tiles, all out of patented machinery in their east Petaluma garage.
"The split granite tiles have a unique aesthetic quality and are more durable than almost anything else on the market, making them very attractive to clients," said Joseph.
A residential redeveloper, he and several partners buy up distressed properties, fix them up and then flip them back onto the market. They are committed, he said, to "green-habbing" — or remodeling in an eco-conscious way. He uses the recycled granite in his remodels but also sells it to DIY-ers.
As 100 percent post-consumer waste, the tiles qualify for points toward certification through the Green Building Council.
Granite for a Green Planet is an affiliate of Recycled Granite, a company founded by Julie Rizzo, a former granite countertop consultant who became dismayed by all the beautiful scrap she saw in the company dumpster. She estimates that up to 30 percent of each granite slab winds up as scrap, since homeowners prefer slabs without seams. Since she started the company in 2009, the product has been featured on many home improvement shows and she now has affiliates in 18 states and Canada, including Granite for a Green Planet, one of two in California.
Joseph splits each piece individually, revealing the sparkle from the natural quartz and mica. No two pieces are exactly alike, lending a natural look to a finished installation.
The couple sell primarily to do-it-yourselfers in the greater Bay Area. Because of the weight, they don't ship them, but people can pick them up in person or arrange a halfway meeting point for pickup.
Installation, they say, is fairly easy, requiring only thin-set mortar to bond the tiles to a surface and no grout. The tiles retail for about $8-$10 a square foot.
Graniteforagreenplanet.com or 779-9651.
Linda Shea is a master of faux finish, an alchemist with paint who can fool the eye into thinking wood is stone or plaster is wood.
But the Healdsburg decorative painter also hand-paints ceramic tile, turning plain tiles into custom works of art.