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Martha Stewart: It's no mystery: Tile 'm' for 'multipurpose'

Tile is a true MVP - that's "most versatile player." It's available in various materials, is tough and (mostly) low maintenance and it can be used to cover many types of surfaces.

Tile is a true MVP - that's "most versatile player." It's available in various materials, is tough and (mostly) low maintenance and it can be used to cover many types of surfaces.

Check to make sure that any tile you're purchasing is rated for where you intend to use it, such as in a high-traffic area or one that tends to get wet.

Ceramic tiles, made from kiln-fired clay, are the most varied and the strongest multitaskers. They come glazed or unglazed, in solid colors or with hand-painted designs and in sizes up to 24 inches. They can be used on virtually any surface in the home.

Glazed wall tiles are impervious to water and staining, making them an excellent option for kitchens and baths. These tiles come in just about every hue and finish, from glossy to crackle.

For floors, you'll need either very dense porcelain tiles (extra-fine clay fired at extremely high temperatures) or unglazed ceramic tiles. Also known as quarry tiles, unglazed tiles should be treated after installation with a sealer to prevent staining.

Machine-made tiles, sold at home centers and hardware stores, can cost as little as a few dollars per square foot. Art tiles - fashioned by artisans with special glazes, hand-painting and relief work - cost much more, are sold primarily at specialty tile shops and are usually made to order.

Stone tiles can be polished to a glasslike finish or left unpolished. Polished finishes are generally reserved for walls and kitchen countertops. A matte texture on floor tiles will make slips less likely. Like unglazed ceramic, many stone tiles are porous and should be sealed at least once a year, especially those in kitchens and bathrooms. The price of stone tiles is comparable to that of the best ceramic ones, but because they are hefty and hard to cut, installation costs may run higher.

Because glass tiles tend to scratch easily and are slippery when wet, they are usually reserved for walls, or as a border accent around a stone- or ceramic-tile floor.

Manufacturers can mold concrete into any shape or size and add pigments to the mix to provide hints of color. They also can stamp patterns into the surface to enhance the texture and visual interest, making concrete a natural for decorative elements on walls.

Concrete tiles cost about as much as premium ceramic and stone tiles. They are durable but also porous, so they require sealing.

Metal tiles - in copper, brass, bronze, zinc, as well as stainless steel - are available in a range of sizes and shapes and can function as accents in a floor, mosaics on a wall or decorative elements in a shower. The surfaces may be polished, brushed, hammered or otherwise textured. These tiles come as solid pieces of metal or as thin metal sheets bonded to a plaster base and installed in the same manner as ceramic and stone tiles. Metal tiles can cost as much as glass tiles.

Grout, the material that will fill the spaces between the tiles, locking them into place, is usually cement-based and thus susceptible to staining, so it will need to be treated regularly with a penetrating sealer.

In general, less conspicuous grouts are preferred. Contrast, however, does have its time and place; for example, black grout with white tiles looks modern.

It's important visually and functionally to keep the grout lines proportionate to the size of the tiles, especially when working with large tiles. Regardless of the width, plastic spacers should be used to keep joints uniform. *