We’re replacing the carpet in the bedrooms and the back living area with tile. Also, the tile in the kitchen and bathrooms is dated, so it’s going away, too. The floors in the rest of the house are dark hardwood. This project is quite an undertaking but the carpet is years old and stained. It’s time. We’re dreading the mess.
We go to a tile place in Bee Cave. We’ve come here before and were waited on by a knowledgeable personable salesperson and we’d like to work with her. But sadly, we’re told she’s unavailable because she’s recovering from brain surgery. So we tell the sloppy man behind the counter what our plans are and, though he seems reluctant to leave his chair, he heaves his backside up and circles around, leading us toward a corner where there are several rows of tile racks.
His nose is red and every inhalation is accompanied by a wet sniff. He wipes his dripping nose with the back of his hand and rubs it down the leg of his pants.
“Do you have a cold?” I ask with clear disdain.
“Allergies,” the sad sack tells me.
Huh. That’s what they all say. I pull hand sanitizer from my purse, use it, pass it to David.
We pull out a few pieces of tile that we like and the guy says we can take them home and bring them back when we’ve decided. We load three heavy tiles into the trunk.
“Brain surgery, hah,” I tell David as I drive from the lot. “I think she went to lunch and he was poaching her clients.”
“If so, he wasn’t very good at it.” David has no respect for salespeople who aren’t energetic, good-natured, and helpful.
On the way from Bee Cave we spot another tile store. We drop in and a lively woman named Mariah says she’ll be happy to come look at the house, bring samples, and guide us through the decision-making process. The next day she brings several tiles based on what we described, none of which we’re crazy about.
“Well, now that I’ve seen your home I have a better idea of what you’re looking for.”
She comes the next day with more tiles. She explains color variance, which is the flow of different shades through the whole tile lot. A high variance will give the floor a sense of drama and movement. David and I prefer the high, but we can’t discern the authentic range of color from only a single tile. We’re mired in indecision.
“I’ll leave them with you,” she says merrily. “You can return them when you’ve made up your mind.”
Now we have six tiles laid out across the carpet, bordering the dark wood floor, the wall, and the stone base of the bar so we can see what goes with what. Unfortunately nothing matches anything, nor does anything complement anything. And they all have too much gray, which, I’ve been told, is the new neutral.
The next day on the way to the Costco on William Cannon in Austin, we see another tile place and decide to check it out.
“Will we still be going from store to store a year from now?” David wants to know.
“So far I’m not inspired by any of it.”
“Isn’t inspiration a lot to ask of tile?”
This store is different. It sells only to contractors. We’re supposed to choose our tile and then tell the contractor which one we want. The store gives the contractor a discount, which he or she either will or won’t pass on to us. If we want to take tiles home we must pay eighteen dollars per tile and will be fully refunded when they’re returned. We choose three that we kind of like; but they aren’t inspiring. We’re given a list of store-sanctioned contractors.
I carry all the samples we’ve collected around the house, looking at them in different light, holding them up to the wall—clash, match, or blend? We take off our socks and walk on them. The no-slip one is sandpaper beneath our feet, so that’s a no-go.
In our possession we have nine tiles.
“There must be hundreds of tile stores in Austin,” I say. “We could go to them all and do the entire house with the samples.”
“That’d definitely give us a high variance.”
“Do you know which of these belong to which store?”
“I’m keeping track.”
Sure he is.