Which Direction To Lay Rectangular Tile? (Find Out Now!)

Which Direction Do to Lay Rectangular Tile?

You might think it’s a ridiculously simple question. Who cares what direction you choose? Is there a wrong way? (Unfortunately, there is…)

So, which direction should you lay rectangular tile? Laying tiles horizontally makes a space look narrower and laying them vertically makes the room look wider. If you have square tiles, it doesn’t matter. There are also patterns that you could choose, like herringbone or chevron. Choose what you want to do with the room, and pick a style that fits.

When you’re actually holding those tiles — if you’re a DIYer — or if your contractor just asked you which direction you’d like them laid, you want to know which direction you’re going to put those tiles down. If you’re interested in interior design, too, then this might be an interesting article for you to read.

We’ll make sure you explore all your options and guide you through it as best as possible so that you don’t make a mistake.

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Check What Type of Tile You’re Working With

First off, if you’ve got a rectangular tile that’s meant to be laid in a pattern (or if you’re attempting to make a pattern with your tile), then it doesn’t matter which direction you lay it down. For example:

  • The herringbone pattern will allow you to make a design with an interwoven, intricate appearance and a single tile length and size (except for, of course, the tiles on the sides and corners). Brick backyard patios, for example, typically have this type of appearance, but it can look good anywhere from kitchen backsplashes to bathroom floors. It’s also hugely popular at the moment.
  • Chevrons can do mostly the same thing with a similar effect. Herringbone is often confused with chevron, but they’re distinctly different. They’ll also require different cuts.
  • Additionally, if you have a bunch of different rectangular (and even square) tiles, it’s possible that they were meant to be laid in a Versailles pattern. Also known as a “French pattern,” this consists of four different-sized tiles.

Finally, and this should maybe go without saying, but if your tiles are square, you can lay them down in any direction. It doesn’t really matter.

But with patterns out of the way, which direction should you lay other rectangular tiles if you want more of a straight line appearance with less hassle?

The Visual Effect of Rectangular Tile

There are two general rules of thumb for laying rectangular tiles. They work in exactly the same way as vertical and horizontal-striped shirts, because of a cognitive fluke called the “Helmholtz illusion.”

Most people, however, cite folk wisdom that gets this visual effect completely wrong. For instance, they’ll say:

  • If you lay the tile vertically, you’ll give the room a longer appearance. Vertical stripes draw the gaze up-and-down. (If you wear vertical shirts, you’ll look skinnier).
  • If you lay tile horizontally, you’ll give the room a wider appearance. Unlike laying the tile the other way, your gaze is drawn left-to-right. (If you wear horizontal shirts, you’ll look fatter).

Unfortunately, that’s the exact opposite of what actually happens in practice. In fact, if you search Google for “which direction to lay rectangular tile?” then, depending on which link you click on, you might end up hearing this folk wisdom and choosing a direction that’s the complete opposite of what you want.

  • If you look closely, vertical stripes cause the box above to appear wider and slightly shorter than the other box.
  • Horizontal stripes cause the box to look longer and slightly thinner.

Should you lay tiles horizontally or vertically, then? It depends entirely on the look you’re going for.

It’s also possible that you’re not exactly going for a visual effect but rather a practical one. Vertical lines can serve to almost guide people throughout a room, pointing them in a certain direction.

Also, if we’re being completely honest, even expert interior designers have messed this illusion up in the past, citing the folk wisdom that’s the exact opposite of what they actually want. When it comes to laying down the tiles, keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that direction is a small part of the overall visuals. Color, tile size, and material are hugely important factors that can’t be ignored.

Other General Rules of Thumb

Many people also like to lay rectangular tiles in the opposite direction of adjoining floors. For example, let’s say you laid hardwood tile in your living room that runs horizontally to the entrance of the room. If you’re thinking about laying ceramic tile for the kitchen, maybe you should consider doing the opposite of what you did in the living room.

When you’re designing for a visual effect, spend a lot of time thinking about the places where you spend the most time. The kitchen is the #1 most used room in the house. While a herringbone pattern on the foyer might look great looking down on it from the stairs, it’s more likely most people will see various patterns and designs — most of the time — from the direction of the kitchen.

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Conclusion: Which Direction to Lay Rectangular Tile?

After reading this article, you might be even more confused than before. Which direction is the right direction? In general, according to the Helmholtz illusion:

  • Vertical lines make a space feel wider and shorter.
  • Horizontal lines make a space feel narrower and longer.

I know this sounds like the exact opposite of what you might have heard in the past (or, if you’re like a lot of people searching for an answer to this question, you might have heard both explanations).

The fact is that it’s complicated. There are so many factors that work together to affect the visual appearance of a room, and those factors aren’t limited to tile direction alone.

Our advice? Just lay it out and look at it first. If that isn’t an option, you could even hire an amateur photographer to photoshop each pattern onto your space.

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Phil Sykora

Phil Sykora is a real estate appraiser and copywriter based in Cleveland, Ohio. He's written for notable publications such as Collective Investing, Royal Legal Solutions, Clever Real Estate, and more. He's well versed with anything home improvement, or any topic around the home for that matter.

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