Design WiseShelagh Duncan


flooring tilesBy Shelagh Duncan

Usually, in Costa Rica, we opt for the practical and go with ceramic when we choose flooring for our homes. Well, why not? There are ceramic tiles of almost every colour, pattern, size and style to choose from.

But what other options are there?  We know that the wood plank flooring from back home will be totally unsuitable unless we have the air conditioner going 24/7, and laminates suffer badly with the humidity too.

Some of the popular choices here are naturally the ceramic tile, porcelain tile, natural stone and concrete.

Royal Palm Interiors

ceramic tileCeramic Tile

We have come a long way from the first clay tiles that were made some 4,000 ago. Beautiful tiled surfaces have been discovered in the oldest pyramids, the ruins of Babylon and ancient Greek cities.  Some of the most spectacular ceramics can still be found at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and in the Great Mosque in Cordoba Spain.

Mexico gave us the Saltillo tile, a handsome terracotta tile with rich and rustic colour variegation. It also gave us the beautiful Talavera pottery and tiles. These can be seen in the Casa de los Azulejos in Mexico City – or in Dominical and Uvita, when the Mexican pottery truck arrives!  But I digress….

Modern manufacturing techniques are allowing ceramic tile producers to make materials which can be printed and textured in numerous ways. Solid tiles can be mixed and matched in patterns or accented with designs or motifs. They can also be printed to credibly reproduce the look of a number of hardwoods and natural stones. Finally, the tiles themselves can be cut and shaped into triangles, rectangles, and planks. They are readily available, reasonably priced, and infinitely versatile.

Ceramic Tile Pro’s

Ceramic is the best value generally , it is hardwearing, and there is a huge selection to choose from. It also helps keep a space feeling cool and is very easy to clean.

And the Con’s

They can be hard on the legs and feet with prolonged standing or walking. Qualities vary greatly, and chips can reveal the tile material beneath.


Nothing beats the look and beauty of natural stone. The naturally cool, hard surface is ideal for our warm climates and does not harbor dust or allergens. Some stone, like marble, travertine, limestone and sandstone is more porous that others, so regular applications of sealant are called for to prevent staining and pitting.

Slate is a rustic classic, and is often available in geometric pieces and irregular shapes. It is usually found in dark gray, but also in soft red, and a medium green. Flagstone is a similar, but more rustic stone and the highly textured surface is often better suited to outdoor use.


Chips will not be noticeable in this material, can be used a an accent, or in whole floor applications.


Can be hard on the legs and feet with prolonged standing or walking. Higher priced, and regular maintenance is required for the more porous materials.


Many people wonder what the difference is between ceramic and porcelain tiles, and if they are worth the higher price. In my opinion they definitely are. Not only is porcelain tile more dense than ceramic tile, but due to its through-body composition – which means the body of the tile is the same as the face – it is more durable and better suited for heavy usage than ceramic tile.  While both porcelain and ceramic are fired, porcelain is fired at higher temperatures for a longer time and contains more feldspar, both of which make it more durable than ceramic.

Porcelain clays are denser and so are less porous than ceramic clays. This also makes the porcelain tile harder and more impervious to moisture than ceramic tile.

If you want a clean and modern feel then these tiles will be a perfect choice. However, more traditional looking tiles are widely available, as well as expertly produced tiles that mimic natural stone or wood.


It’s rich beauty – porcelain can look exactly like natural stone, wood etc.  and is extremely durable with low maintenance. Keeps cool and is easy to clean. Chip the ceramic tile and you will find a different color underneath the top glaze. Chip the porcelain and the color keeps on going – the chip is nearly invisible.


Can be hard on the legs and feet with prolonged standing or walking. Heavier tile to work with and needs special cutting tools and installation experience. More expensive than ceramic tile.

polished concreteConcrete

Decorative concrete floors have been used since the 1800’s – but never in homes. Then around 1915 came colour additives and chemical stains for concrete, and the 50’s gave us stamped concrete. In the early 1990’s Europe began to embrace the new polished concrete and it became the new-best-thing. Since then there has been no looking back.

Concrete floors can be almost whatever you want them to be. They can be polished or acid washed, and can be very decorative. Created on-site, this medium can be highly customized. Your exact colours and design are integrated into your new floor to produce one of the most durable and unique flooring options around. Even here in CR, there are companies and people who specialize in these techniques.


The most durable choice, an almost endless option of colour and design possibilities. Keeps cool and easy to clean. You will have a unique and special floor.


Hard on the legs and feet. Everyone thinks they can do this. Get a professional, and get samples of the finished work. It’s not like paint, when you can just buy another can if you don’t like the finish! Prices range from reasonable to quite expensive depending on the work.

concrete tilesConcrete Tiles

Another option that gives you all the advantages of concrete but in a tile format, is concrete tiles. Costa Rica used to have many, concrete tile factories – just look at the floors in some of the old buildings in San Isidro (e.g. Bazooka’s) and in San Jose. Unfortunately the cheap imported ceramic took their business away and now we have to look elsewhere for suppliers. Granada Tile in Nicaragua produces the most beautiful and amazing tiles, (I have samples at Royal Palm Interiors) and give a crisper line than whole-floor concrete designs.


Same advantages as concrete floors, but neater looking, and less labour-intensive if you want a tile look.


Similar to concrete floor but more difficult to find.


Normally I shy away from recommending bamboo in our homes (for furniture) as it is too high-maintenance for me. However there is now a company here who offer a quality bamboo flooring that is engineered to work in our climate – and they give a 50 year guarantee. How great is that! Now we can have the look and comfort of natural bamboo flooring,  without having to use the A/C.  It uses fast-growing bamboo and a small percent of recycled materials, to create a strong, beautiful and hardwearing product. There is also an outdoor option – bamboo decking.


You can install it yourself, there are different shades available, and it gives your space a truly exotic appeal. It is kind on legs and feet, and dishes may not actually shatter when dropped! It’s sustainable, eco-friendly and beautifully natural!


Higher price range, needs to acclimatize before installation, unfamiliar product to local builders. Less water resistant and durable than all of the above.

Whichever choice you make, be sure to choose wisely. It will be with you for a long time.

Until next time..


Royal Palm Interiors – Uvita  – 2743-8323