In the early 1900s, home builders began to cover the floors and walls of bathrooms (and sometimes kitchens) with ceramic tile, because the material was relatively cheap, durable, and almost maintenance-free -- a quick swipe with a sponge or mop, and the room was clean. Beginning around the 1970s, though, interior designers -- no doubt scarred by their childhood memories of pink and green-tiled bathrooms in their funky Fifties homes -- turned away from tile. Instead, they began to use wallpaper and even carpeting, which -- as homeowners quickly discovered -- are not suitable for warm, moist environments. Wallpaper traps mold and mildew, and carpet soaks up all sorts of awful things in bathrooms.
But tile has made a comeback, and it's more beautiful than ever. No longer are homeowners faced with walls of 4x4-inch squares, and floors of tiny octagonal mosaics. Instead, they can choose from every color in the rainbow, with a wide range of shapes and textures. Especially popular these days are molded accent pieces that feature geometric patterns, nature themes, or even animals (birds, fish, turtles, oh my).
Installing new tile can be a do-it-yourself project for anyone reasonably handy -- after all, it's just attached with special adhesive. A kitchen backsplash is an easy task, and floors really aren't that hard, but walls and more elaborate areas -- tub enclosures, for example -- probably require a professional. Individual accent pieces can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 apiece, depending on their design, while a complete bathroom re-do can run as much as $20,000. That cost varies considerably, depending on the material (marble is harder to cut and install than individual tiles, for example), the design, and the size of the room. In the long run, though, an updated bathroom is one of the most effective ways to increase the visual impact of your home.