Tile may be the oldest building material known to humankind, but it is not outside the realm of innovation. From super-sized slabs to porcelain you can cook on, stoneware is as versatile as it is beautiful. Here’s what’s new and trending.
But first, let’s talk about the industry itself and how the once toxin-spewing process of tile manufacturing has transformed over the past decades to become among the greenest available options in hard flooring. Italy, in particular, is reaching new benchmarks in sustainability, considering the entire lifecycle of its products and dramatically reducing consumption in water and energy during the manufacturing process, as well as lowering dust and toxin emissions.
In July, the Italian ceramics industry announced its commitment to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by launching an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for tile production and its application. It’s a big step toward greening the industry on a global scale. The new ISO means architects, designers, builders, and end-users will compare a product’s environmental, economic and social impact no matter where it originates, whether sourcing from Italy, India, Portugal, China or another tile-manufacturing region.
Florim’s newest plant features 26,000 square meters of photovoltaic panels on its rooftop. Photo courtesy Florim
Andrea Contri, project lead for the new standard, sees the guide as benefiting everyone along the supply chain, including installers and contractors. “It’s a historical turning point,” he says. “We hope its widespread uptake will mean more demand for sustainable materials and thus contribute to a reduction of the environmental impact of buildings as a whole.”
At Cersaie, Europe’s largest tile exposition held in October each year, manufacturers revealed another notable innovation: high-resolution digital imagery. While the technology has been in use for at least a decade, it has reached new levels in quality and precision, enabling porcelain to simulate virtually any visual effect. This, too, is a shift toward sustainability, with some of the most expensive quarried surface options on the market, including wildly veined marble and smokey onyx, now readily available in tile form.
Digital advancement has also enabled companies to get creative with slabs featuring illustrative flora and fauna and other motifs more typically found in the world of wallpaper, including Victorian-era flocking, toile, damask, and gold leaf. However, the advantage here is that ceramic is ideal for damp environments, like spas, pools, and bathrooms.
Here, then, are 10 trends that capture what our interiors seem to need: products that are gentler on the environment and in touch with nature.
Fioranese’s big-chip Schegge terrazzo in ruby red.
Effortlessly popular ceramic terrazzo looks almost identical to its marble and quartz inspiration. In recent years, the more traditional tiny-chip pattern has given way to a more contemporary expression with enlarged, irregularly shaped fragments appearing to float in a sea of colour.
Stage Pink by Ornamenta, one of many nature-loving patterns hitting the market
Since the pandemic, nature has come roaring back. Tile designs have leveraged that desire with surfacing that depicts flowers, jungle palms and other atmospheric natural effects more often associated with wallpaper. Unlike paper, ceramics is well suited for wet areas like bathrooms, kitchens and commercial environments.
Romani Gruppo’s Chromagic embraces the wallpaper effect
Flocking, a 17th-century invention that re-emerged in the 1970s, has circled back as a playful, tongue-in-cheek decadence or as a counter to the reigning popularity of bare-wall minimalism.
There are no knobs or burners with the ABKstone induction system
What looks like a stovetop-free countertop is, in actuality, a sintered slab called Abkstone integrated with an induction cooking system – a seamless Space Odyssey fusion of natural material and high-performance technology.
As the pandemic lifts, designers are getting bolder with colour and materials
Florim invited designer Elena Salmistraro to create Hotel Chimera in Milan, a fictional hotel that shows off her Art Deco and Bauhaus-inspired designs. Her highly expressive geometries and bold colouring shine a light on another notable trend: tile as the focal point of any room rather than a backdrop.
Tele di Marmo Onyx, part of a new collection by Emilceramica
Advanced digital imagery of such precious minerals as onyx have a spellbinding sense of transparency, depth and richness that’s virtually indistinguishable from what is found in nature.
The pastel trend continues with shades of green. Kitchen by Ceramica Gardenia
Benjamin Moore has already announced sage as Colour of the Year for 2022. However, the soft green hue is part of a larger embrace of multiple complementary pastel tones and soft metal shades, including pink, oxidized steel and gold.
Texture Macro wall motif by Fap Ceramics
Fap Ceramics is among a handful of manufacturers tapping into the mid-century modern look of bold wall treatments. Like the one shown, full-size tile murals can change the atmosphere of a room entirely, becoming a furnishing element in their own right.
Tile slabs in an array of marble effects dominated the floor at Cersaie.
Wood planks were all the rage a few years ago. Now, most manufacturers have pivoted sharply toward eye-grabbing stone effects, particularly wildly veined marbles with a high-gloss resin finish.
Affrescati tiles inspired by Giotto by Refin
The simulation of other surface types has no limits. Tile can even take on the beautiful chalky lapis look and soft relief of the famed Scrovegni Chapel frescoes of Padua, originally painted by pre-Renaissance master Giotto in 1305.
Written by Catherine Osborne