How To Layout a Tile Floor
If you have never tiled a floor before, there are some details of layout that should be considered before you start tiling. The aesthetics of the layout are influenced by several factors. The final appearance of the layout may not be all you hoped for if you fail to consider your layout before you start
A typical tile floor will have long, straight lines. Those lines may be the grout lines or the tiles themselves and they can have a very strong influence on the perception of the room. The lines tend to lead your eye, and you want the eye to be led to a pleasing view. A room will typically have a focus. The focus may simply be the view of the room as you walk into it, such as the view of the entry hall when you walk through the front door. The focus may be an element in the room, such as a fireplace or a prominent window. Your tile layout should take this focus into consideration when laying out the tile. The tile lines should lead you into a space or lead your eye to the prominent visual element.
Another important consideration is the shape of the room. It is a common misconception that the walls are straight and square. Walls are rarely perfectly straight; they can curve in and out because the framing lumber wasn't perfectly straight. Two walls that appear to be 90° to each other may actually be 89°, 91° or any other angle. For this reason, it is important to plan the layout before you start setting the tile.
Planning Tile Patterns
Most rooms are tiled so that the tile and grout lines parallel the walls. This is a very natural and easy way to place tile. However, sometimes this method has an undesirable effect. For instance, a very long room or hallway is made to look even more long and narrow because the lines accentuate the length.
To avoid accentuating a long space or to draw the eye in another direction, turning the tile a few degrees or even 45 degrees will direct the lines into the side walls. This will deemphasize the length and give the impression of the area being wider. The lines can also be used to draw the eye to a focal point in the room such as a large window, door, fireplace or other architectural element.
Random Patterns Aren't Random
It may come as a surprise that the best looking random patterns are often very well planned. If you are going to place tile in a random pattern, either by size, color or some other element, you may be unhappy with the results if you don't plan it out first.
Truly random patterns often mean that you may end up with clusters of the same tiles in a group, when what you really wanted was a even distribution.
Before you start setting tile, spend some time arranging tiles in a large space. Look at the result from different views to make sure you like the layout. After you tried a few layouts and determined which looks best, make a sketch of what the layout should look like. Add notes to yourself like, no more than two of the same color should ever be next to each other, or use more of the big tiles - avoid too many of the small tiles.
A more practical element of planning is to ensure that the tile are balanced in the space. Whatever the dimensions of the room, tile along the walls will nearly always have to be cut to size. The goal in most cases is that the tile along a wall should be no smaller than half a tile width. If the tile will be smaller, usually the layout should be shifted to avoid using small tiles. If both sides of the room are visible, the tiles on either side should be cut to the same size for balance. If the far side is out of sight, it is better to start the near side with a whole tile.
There are exceptions to the balance rule. In some cases the far wall is hidden under furniture or cabinets and the smaller tiles will go unnoticed. Sometimes the entrance to a room will be greatly enhanced by the use of a full tile in the first course and so the far wall must have a smaller cut tile. Also, if the far wall will result in nearly a full tile, it isn't necessary to balance the near wall.
Another exception is that the eye likes balance and sometimes the layout must be adjusted to provide greater visual balance. As an example of this, imagine a room with a prominent double door leading to the outdoors. The center of the doorway would look unbalanced if a tile line ended a few inches left or right of the center. In some cases, it would be worthwhile to balance the tile line on the center of the doorway and allow the layout to be set by that point.
Doing a Test Layout
Before you start tiling you should do a dry layout. It only takes 10-15 minutes but will save you an immense amount of time and aggravation. Starting in the center of the most prominent wall, make a chalk line 90° to the wall, across the room to the far wall. Next, find the center of this line and make a chalk line perpendicular to it. To make certain that the first line is square with the wall and the second line is square to the first line, use the 3-4-5 rule of measuring for square.
Now lay loose tiles along the first line to determine the width of the first and last tiles. Be sure to allow for the width of grout lines when you do this test layout. Now lay out tiles along the second line. Adjust the position of the first line to get the optimal positioning of tiles along the second line.
Once you have determined the optimal layout, make your final chalk lines. Make additional chalk lines every 2 or 3 feet. Do not make the mistake of aligning each course of tiles against the course before it. Small errors will develop from variations in tile size and grout line width and those errors grow as you cross the floor. Use of additional chalk lines to guide you will keep your installation straight and square.