Ask an Expert

Ask An Expert: Tile Tips from Granada Tile

by Grace Bonney

This year we’re diving back into our Ask An Expert column with advice from experts in everything from painting, tiling, wallpapering and fleamarket shopping. I’m most excited about hearing from people who specializing in materials (wood, ceramics, etc.) because those areas of home improvement seem to be more and more popular with renters and home owners. But not all of us (myself included) have the confidence or tips to install or try things on our own. I’ve always been terrified of installing tile, so I wanted to start with some advice from tile experts, Marcos and Melanie of Granada Tile (they produce the iconic blue & white tiles at Intelligentsia in Silverlake). From properly grouting and wetting tiles to choosing the right tile for your project, Marcos and Melanie are sharing great advice to help your next tile project go more smoothly. I’ve been dying to create a small mini wall of tiles to use in our office for photoshoots, so I think this post is going to be the kick in the pants I need to get going and do it myself. Thanks so much to the Granada Tile team for their advice! xo, grace

Click through for the full article after the jump…


BeachwoodCafe-GranadaTileKhufu40-HR copy copy
Image above: The Beachwood Café has a bright, cheerful decor, enhanced by Granada Tile’s Khufu (pyramid-shaped) design tiles in blue and mustard. The Café’s design is by Bestor Architecture who also did the Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. Photo: Granada Tile.


Your Names:  Marcos Cajina and Melanie Stephens

Where are you based?:  Los Angeles and Managua, Nicaragua

When did you start your company?:   in 2000

What inspired your company?:  The glorious, historic cement tile floors in Granada, Nicaragua.

What do you specialize in?:  We specialize in making high-quality cement tiles using a technique that originated in France in the 1870s.  We call these tiles our Echo Collection.

Advice on Working with Tiles:

1. What is the biggest mistake people make when choosing and installing tile?

Installers don’t always read  instructions and so they don’t always protect the tiles with grout release before applying the grout.  It’s a simple thing, but grout can stain cement tiles if they are not protected.  We advise people to think of cement tiles like marble or other stone, which is porous until sealed. But in general, you want to make sure you’re properly grouting and cleaning tiles so they adhere cleanly to the wall.

2. What do you find most people are afraid of when considering tile? 

Sadly there are projects out there with either badly made tiles or poor installations.  People definitely get spooked when they see some of those projects that didn’t work out.  It is most important to get a well-made, quality tile and an experienced installer.  Make sure you are purchasing tiles that aren’t chipped, faded or blurred.


3.  What is the best way (or creative ways) for people to combine or arrange tile outside of the normal layouts (side by side, etc.)?

In the tile design layout section of our web site, we show examples of 9 different ways (like Patchwork, Rug, Wall-to-Wall and Framing) to lay out your tiles.   Some tiles (like cement tiles) can be cut on a regular tile cutter so people can also cut them into little squares, rectangles, diamonds, etc.  You can also get surprising results just by rotating tiles.  All of a sudden, a whole new pattern emerges.   (Check out the wild back splash created by artist Tim Balon below.  He started with a simple diagonal striped tile – our Santander – and rotated them to create a back splash with so much energy.)

TimBalonBacksplash-Santander-2013-06-28 14.49.11
Image above: Artist and designer Tim Balon chose Granada Tile’s Santander cement tile design for a tile backsplash in a kitchen addition in San Francisco. Photo, Tim Balon.

4. What sort of environmental conditions should people consider before installing (and how can they get around them?

Humidity is an issue if the tiles are not properly sealed after they are installed.  However, properly sealed, tiles can look and work very well in showers and bathrooms (despite any humidity). It is very important that the sub-floor underneath the tiles be in good condition and that the thinset or mortar be applied to the entire back of the tile.  This is crucial to avoid cracking.  In areas that are prone to earthquakes, the best way to control cracking for any kind of tile installation is to have expansion joints (usually an area between two rows of tile that are filled with a flexible material rather than grout).

5. What tips do you have for people installing tile on their own at home?

If you are doing the installation work yourself, we highly recommend watching an installation video. We made a video so people would have a great guide to follow visually, since it takes you through every step of the installation process. You really get a sense of how to do the work from video (that’s hard to get from writing).

But in general you want to make sure you prepare a perfectly level, clean, dry and slightly rough surface for the tiles to adhere to. Make sure you wet the back of each tile completely to enable the thin set to properly adhere to the tile. Also, always brush the adhesive in the same direction, otherwise air will be trapped and the tiles may lift up. And be sure not let thinset or mortar dry on the face of the tiles or it will be very difficult to remove without damaging the tiles.

Image above: Designers Dabney Frake and Ann Manubay transformed the kitchen of what they lovingly call “world’s ugliest condo,” adding a marble countertops and a tile backsplash in our Normandy tile design. Image, Dabney Frake for Apartment Therapy.

6. What trends are you seeing or do you think people should try in their homes?

We’re seeing more people choose bold, two-color schemes and simpler, more graphic designs.  Some people are experimenting with the flow of cement tile from indoor to outdoor space, which makes a big statement or sets a fluid mood.

7. What places should people consider tiling outside of the expected areas (bathroom, kitchens, etc.)?

We’re fortunate to have the example of Nicaraguan homes that are tiled from wall to wall, indoors and out.  Then there is the effervescent Moroccan use of tile everywhere. Really any room or surface, as long as it is sturdy enough, can be tiled.  Designer Ariel Fox had fun with the tiles in a large outdoor patio and used them for the face of a bar—and the side tables and benches—at Rubix, a luxury apartment building in Hollywood. We’ve also seen people cover outdoor planters with tiles and fireplaces and fire pits. Let your imagination go wild.

8. What’s the best way to replace a single broken tile?

Same as with ceramics, chip out the broken one and lay down a new one.  One of the big differences between cement tiles and ceramic tiles, though, is that the top color layer of cement tiles is 1/8” deep, whereas the glazes on ceramic tiles are a thin top layer.  If something very hard chips a cement tile, the chipped area will still show the same colors as before so the chip will not be noticeable.  On the other hand, ceramic tiles, when chipped, reveal the clay color under the glaze.

AdriannaLopezBathroom-GranadaTileFez-HR copy
Image above: Adrianna Lopez let her imagination run wild to create a tropical bathroom paradise with a Fez cement tile theme. Photo: Marcia Prentice

AlhambraBlueWhiteGranadaCementTile-HR copy


Image above: Black-and-white Fez wall tiles in the bar area at Corazón, a new Mexican restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Designer Jessica Helgerson. Photo, Dina Avila.

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Image above: Client and photo: Jill Burnham

Image above: Tthe modern Biscuit Filmworks headquarters designed by Shubin + Donaldson Architects, Inc.
Photographer: Tom Bonner.

Brenes y Salas1E-CostaRica-GranadaTile Ronda1018
Image above: Construction firm Brenes y Salas faced condominiums near Cartago, Costa Rica, with Granada Tile’s Ronda tile design. Tile photo, Brenes y Salas.

Image above: Commissioned by Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places, artist Michelle Weinberg designed this project entitled Shadow Canopy for the GSA Trade Shops Facility. Michelle worked closely with Granada Tile to execute these custom cement tile in the pattern and colors she designed. The photograph is by Paul Clemence.

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  • Not a huge fan of the blue and white tile but I love the gray and white tile in the bar and kitchen! Tres chic. Going to have to look into tiling when we remodel our kitchen this summer! Will definitely be coming back to your post for reference.

    Thanks for sharing:)

  • We just recently did our bath floor in cement tile. I definitely second the grout release idea, and make sure you’re using grout similar to the lightest color in the tile. Our tile setter almost destroyed our tile by not letting the tile sealer set long enough, and then using a dark grey grout over a cream tile. It took MANY hours of buffing/cleaning for him to get rid of the staining. I’m glad he managed it though, it looks spectacular!

  • Des carreaux oui, mais pas trop , je deviendrais épileptique je crois!!!
    Il faut doser pour obtenir un certain rythme , une certaine harmonie.
    Bonne journée,


  • So beautiful!! This really transports me to Granada,
    Nicaragua. The richness of its tiles is certainly inspiring. I’m
    Nicaraguan, BTW…

  • Great post…The tiles and the mix of modern and ethnic materials make great creative drama. The showers are terrific, the blue with the concrete looking benches…Perfection!

  • So inspiring. If such a thing exists, would have loved to some (even one) idea that renters could use or adapt.

    • suzanne

      tiling is tough for renters, but you can always tile onto a THIN piece of plexi or plywood and attach that. But it is probably more cost effective to use a different method, since the plywood wouldn’t be super re-usable :(


  • These pictures seem like good examples of what you’re talking about how more people are choosing bold, two-color schemes. The image of the Fez cement tile theme looks really great. I love how the white and bright blue colors complement each other in this diamond and square pattern. Thanks for sharing this!

  • All these tiles are gorgeous! I dream of the day I can remodel my bathroom and have a beautiful tiles shower. Thank you for the tip on protecting the tiles from the grout. I didn’t realize cement tiles were porous and could be stained. When my dreams come true, I’ll make sure the installers are doing things the right way. Thanks, this was such a fun and informative read!

  • I would absolutely love to work for you as an installer. It would be a dream come true for me to be able to create beautiful tiled homes and business in the land of Nicaragua. I’d love to hear back from you.

  • I want to cover a column with these cement tiles, but im not sure how the edges will turn out since they are so thick.

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