For kitchen and bath professionals, tile is a mainstay. In recent years, these products – especially porcelain – have gone far beyond traditional floor and wall applications to outdoor decking and pavers, indoor and outdoor countertops, even exterior cladding for pros who work on whole-house projects. With increasing industry emphases on sustainability, wellness and resilience, porcelain in particular is becoming a first choice surfacing material with new applications.
Its versatility was on vivid display at the Coverings expo in Orlando in April. Attended by more than 1,000 exhibitors and close to 27,000 visitors, (rivaling pre-pandemic levels), this annual trade show of global surfaces was a bonanza of ideas, inspiration, information and education. I was one of the hosted press corps members and (for the first time), an educational presenter (on wellness design). I was there looking for the latest trends and, as always, any game changers worthy of mention.
There are always annual style trends that shift somewhat at each show (and are noted here), but since the spaces we cover – both literally and figuratively – are designed to last for decades, these seem less important than the macro trends.
Coverings Ambassador and South Florida designer/TV host Alena Capra described the style points in her press briefing, but also cited how sustainable porcelain tile is and how it contributes to a healthier home. Recent surveys from ASID, John Burns Research & Consulting, and the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) all point to homeowners prioritizing both in their projects today.
Ryan Fasan, Tile of Spain’s expert, spoke to the press group about regenerative materials as part of the sustainability conversation, and biophilia – evident across the show floor – as part of its wellness conversation.
There were two introductions I’d call game changers. Both had debuted overseas first; this was their Coverings coming out. The first could be called ‘adaptive slip resistance.’ We know that some homeowners resist the use of slip-resistant tiles because they tend to be rougher. This is particularly true for primary bathrooms, where bare feet prefer the caress of kinder materials.
What makes Spanish brand Peronda’s Cluny a game changer is its smoothness until it gets wet. The introduction of water changes its texture to accommodate slip resistance. I can definitely see this capability expand across the manufacturer’s product lines (and potentially to other brands in the future if they can model it). Given an aging population globally and new spaces for tile to extend outdoors, can you think of even one reason why it shouldn’t?
The second game changer was Iris Ceramica Group’s Hypertouch. Iris is the parent company of multiple U.S. brands, and part of the global Fiandre group from Italy. If you’ve seen the growing selection of porcelain countertops with built-in induction hobs for a seamless surface, you’ve seen a similar concept to Hypertouch.
This technology integrates lighting, climate and other controls – depending on which capabilities the homeowner is adding – into its porcelain surfacing. It was shown at Coverings in a countertop with a lamp, but is an ideal option for curing ‘wall acne’ too! Hypertouch locations can be marked for easy location or invisible. And it can be used for induction on a countertop, too, if the client wants that.
In order to avoid having to rip out a premium wall surface to address a possible future repair need, the manufacturing team suggests installing the Hypertouch kit near a doorway for easy side access. Countertop kits can be accessed from the cabinet below. The company hopes to have its UL approval in the fourth quarter of 2023, and to make it available across all of its U.S. (and global) brands. It is already available in Europe, where it debuted. Would you spec this?
We’re used to seeing porcelain on floors and walls, even on countertops, decking and pavers now. One of the newer-to-the-U.S. applications worth considering for your whole-home projects is exterior cladding. As more regions of the country are sadly designated as wildfire zones, this nonflammable, nontoxic surface becomes a resilience and wellness resource.
Flying sparks from a neighboring structure or windborne flames won’t ignite it. No dangerous chemicals imperiling humans or animals in the area will emit from its surface. And, it can potentially give residents more time to safely escape if other parts of the home burn.
If you recall the tragic 2017 Grenfell Towers fire in London, those buildings were so quickly engulfed in what some have called “towering infernos” after a kitchen fire in one unit because their exterior Aluminum Composite Material cladding was highly flammable. (One expert quoted by the BBC described it as ‘having the same fuel power as a 19,000 liter truck full of oil.’) Porcelain, a durable, low-maintenance surface, won’t explode into flames like that.
This cladding is pricier, for sure, but a safer option, too. With greater global use, its price will almost certainly decrease. Western U.S. building professionals can spur its adoption by specifying it for their high-end projects and developments. U.S.-based Landmark and Roca Tile were showing this application in their Coverings booths. Crossville offers this application, too, but I didn’t see it highlighted at the show. Mapei, an exhibitor and installation materials company, mentioned an increased demand for exterior cladding systems, and has solutions for builders to meet it, in response to my press inquiry.
You clearly can’t attend a major tile expo like Coverings, with 450,000 square feet of eye candy, without discussing style trends, so here are some thoughts on those. Yes, natural stone looks rendered in porcelain slabs still abound, but they’re more vibrant and interesting than the dominant white marble looks of recent years. Even those have been warmed with veins of gold and cream. And, there are lines like Italian Emil Group’s Level where all of the slabs are bookmatched.
Wood looks still persist too, but have also gotten a bit more interesting. Beyond some impressively realistic planks, there were parquets, herringbones and banding looks that fit neatly into a massive striping trend. Stripes dominated the graphics patterns. There were the woodsy ribs, asymmetrical and symmetrical stripes, horizontal and vertical applications, and brick-like inspirations.
There were also interesting dimensional offerings. Gently undulating tiles with deep glossy surfaces evocative of water flowed across the show floor, but two more interesting mini trends were fully dimensional, perforated tiles that could serve as room dividers or possibly updated brise soleils (ask your colleagues in Palm Springs or South Beach about those if the term is unfamiliar). There were also concave looks, oblongs and lots of chevrons.
Metallic accents and biophilia – sometimes in the same tile – were also trending. Most showcased plant life. A few celebrated animals. Some were brilliantly colorful. Others were subtle, with their biophilic properties monochromatically embossed, rather than emblazoned.
I wouldn’t call this a trend so much as an inspiration, but Sicis’ Vetrite panels backlit with LEDs for indoor or outdoor use, and its NiteLite backlit mosaics, were bellissima! Look for other glass offerings to take up this mantle if they can.
If you didn’t get to Orlando in April for 2023’s Coverings, you might put the 2024 event on your calendar. It will be coming to Atlanta from April 22 to 25 next year and should be peachy!
If your career lets you travel overseas, the Spanish tile show, Cevisama, will be held February 26 to March 1, 2024 in Valencia and the next Italian tile show, Cersaie, will be September 25 through 29, 2023 in Bologna. Both are massive events – about 10 times the size of Coverings – and massively worthwhile in terms of seeing what’s next globally.
I’ve greatly enjoyed attending the international shows, but I love that Coverings showcases the tiles coming to our shores without a passport or jet lag. ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an award-winning author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. You can learn more about her design industry presentations, books, Clubhouse events and consulting services at jamiegold.net.