The Pros and Cons
Large-format tiles are generally anything over 300x300mm, but more often closer to 500x500mm to have the impact associated with them. They are hugely in demand at the moment and there are plenty of reasons why. No matter what material they are made from, they lend a spacious, flowing and open look to a room — they are unfussy and suit contemporary spaces down to the ground. Likewise, they can lend a timeless, classic elegance to more traditional homes.
Aesthetics aside, they work on a practical level too. They cover large expanses quickly and there are minimal joints to grout and, later, clean. What’s not to like?
Well, before you rush out and get ordering, there are a couple of downsides to consider too. Actually working with them is far trickier than with, standard-sized, lightweight ceramic tiles — the fitting of which is well within the skill set of most DIYers out there.
Of course much of this will depend on what materials you choose – and there is a big choice out there – but their weight and sheer size makes them not only hard to physically handle, but also require more preparation. This means that while their cost per metre square may not vary hugely from standard-sized tiles, their installation can be more costly.
Jaipur Brushed Limestone from Mandarin Stone measures 825x550mm, from £47.98/m²
Are They Right for me?
Large-format tiles can work well in both contemporary and traditional schemes to emphasise large, open spaces and really open out the floor visually. Where they don’t tend to work so well is in smaller spaces where the number of cuts required is not only time consuming and fiddly, but also somewhat defeats the whole point of them. If you don’t fancy smaller-format tiles then consider ‘multi-format’ tiles, where two or three different sizes of tile are combined in a repeating pattern.
Another point to consider is that when it comes to large-format tiles, your floors must be flatter than flat — any undulations will cause problems. Tiles do not bend and while using extra adhesive to ‘bed up’ regular-size tiles is an option, it doesn’t work so well when applied to large-format tiles. However, the good news is that most surfaces can be laid with large-format tiles if they are correctly prepared — including cement tile backerboard, concrete, wooden floors and marine ply.
If you are planning on fitting large-format tiles to your walls, bear in mind that all walls will have a maximum weight that they can withstand.
- Gypsum plaster has a very low value 20kg/m²
- Unskimmed plasterboard supports around 32kg/m²
- Cement backerboard can take 50kg/m².
Fired Earth‘s Reykjavik tiles, £39.93/m²
Just as with all tiles, large-format tiles come in plenty of different materials. Perhaps one of the most popular is natural stone — which also happens to be one of the trickiest to fit, incidentally. Ceramic, porcelain and clay are also options.
Natural stones, such as limestone, slate, travertine and marble all look fantastic when used for large-format tiles, but they do bring with them some additional considerations. The main issue is their weight — not only when it comes to laying them, but also whether the substrate on which they are being laid is strong enough to take them.
Secondly, they tend to be more expensive than some of the alternatives. What this means is that many DIYers can be more nervous of taking on their installation than they may be of other materials — mess these up and it will cost you.
Finally, porous stones, such as limestone, require proper preparation and finishing in order to maintain their good looks.
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are often grouped together. They both offer a more uniform appearance and size than natural stone, making them easier to lay. However, ‘non-porcelain’ tiles have a glaze with the colour and pattern of the finished tile. They’re also softer and so easier to cut and fit than porcelain. On the downside, they have a higher tendency to chip and wear than porcelain tiles.
True porcelain tiles are usually made from porcelain clays, producing a tile that is more durable than ceramic. They also have a smoother surface, are much harder and better in areas of high traffic. The colour and pattern carries through the entire thickness of the tile. too. On the downside, they come in at around 10 percent more expensive than ceramic, non-porcelain tiles.
Topps Tiles‘ Garden Beige tiles, £75.58/m²
Getting the Look Right
This really is down to personal preference, but in general:
- Smooth and honed finishes look great in contemporary schemes, and a polished look can not only reflect light but will also add a sparkle and sleek edge.
- Rustic, riven, large-format tiles can either help achieve a farmhouse look or, equally, add a sense of grandeur to classic-style homes.
- Large-format tiles work particularly well in open plan spaces, helping to tie two spaces together, such as a kitchen and dining area.
- Finally, choose a product that is suitable for exterior use too, and you can carry the tiles on outside for a seamless, flowing look.
How are They Installed?
Much in the same way as regular tiles but with a little more preparation and consideration required.
Once you have ascertained that your substrate will withstand the weight of the tiles, and is nice and level, you need to ensure any pre-treatment is given to the tiles. In the case of some of the more porous natural stones, this means sealing before fitting (and couple of times afterwards), but do check with your supplier what their recommended products and treatments are before starting to use just any old sealer.
In terms of adhesives, you will have the choice between ready-mixed and powdered. It is generally agreed that powdered is best in the case of large-format tiles. This is because many ready-mixed adhesives need contact with the air to dry properly and can often fail in the centre of larger tiles.
Porcelain and ceramic tile adhesives will often be different to that recommended for natural stone, so make sure you buy the right product for the job.
The next consideration should be tile cutters. Any cutter used will need a large enough bed to accommodate the tile and although your tiler should be well aware of this, it pays to mention the size of the tile to them before they start, just in case.
These Elephant Grey tiles from Walls and Floors cost £41.45/m²
The Crema Di Vena Honed tiles from Terzetto cost £69.50m²
The Barbican tiles from Fired Earth, from £44.99/m²
Aged Limestone Flags from Indigenous cost £54/m²
Mandarin Stone‘s Breccia Grey Matt Porcelain tiles 120x120cm, from £94.80/m²