Italian Tile Trends Target North American Audience

authors Janice Anne Costa | February 1, 2001

BOLOGNA, ITALY – Whether you’re looking for new and creative ideas for using ceramic tile in your bath designs, or just hoping to pick up a little European flair in terms of color and style choices, the recent CERSAIE was the place to be. The world’s largest exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings gave credence to Italy’s reputation for playing home to some of the most stunning art in the world and this was clearly evident in the displays of tile and bath fixtures, which illustrated some of the hottest new trends in ceramic tile design worldwide. Bringing together some 1,078 exhibitors from 30 countries, and drawing a whopping 108,630 attendees, the show, sponsored by EDI.CER, offered a plethora of design ideas as well as a variety of new lines created specifically with the North American audience in mind. That translates into European designs influenced by American preferences for colors and forms, according to Christine Abbate, representative of the Italian Tile Industry.

Stone looks
Some of the most innovative designs at CERSAIE showcased unique applications of porcelain and natural stone, in a wide variety of colors, shapes and patterns. To that end, stone and stone-look floors remained a hot trend this year, with slate dominating the field. Cool coal grays, coppers and blacks were abundantly displayed, many with deep clefts, while mixed shades of mossy green and earthy browns were also prevalent, echoing the American trend toward the use of earth tones and nature-inspired themes.

Other stone looks in evidence included such longstanding favorites as granite, travertine, limestone and marble, in a variety of interesting configurations.

Many manufacturers offered “rectified” porcelains, in both glazed and unglazed versions. These offer practical benefits in that the straight edges of these rectified tiles allow for installation with virtually no grout line, Abbate notes.

Terrazzo-look porcelains were another popular choice, while porcelain slabs for countertops were also in evidence, showing themselves to be a strong competitor to the ever-popular granite. Bull nosed edges, a wide array of new colors and custom sizes have all combined to make porcelain an increasingly viable countertop material, manufacturers noted, and this was evident in the wide array of porcelain countertops on display.

Lava stone, too, made an explosive impression at the show, with a wide array of designs on display, in both sink countertops and slabs. Relatively new in the U.S., yet already drawing tremendous interest among consumers who have seen this eye-catching material, lava stone may well be one of the hot materials of the future, as it has already clearly made a big splash overseas For those who like an Old World look, there were lava clay bases glazed in the rich, saturated hues so familiar to southern Italy, which offer a rustic texture that mimics the look and feel of times gone by. 

Mix and match
Just as metallic and glass finishes are seeing increased interest in the U.S., CERSAIE showcased a variety of exciting metallic, glass and glass-look tiles, as well. Sea glass and stainless steel were among the innovative materials on display, and many manufacturers showcased a mixture of these materials in uniquely beautiful mosaic formats. Indeed, “mix and match” were hot buzzwords at the show, with eye-catching combinations of everything from wood tile and recycled terra cotta to metals, ceramic and even rescued sea glass.

Even as the U.S. is seeing a surge of interest in translucent materials, many Italian tile manufacturers are working with water-colored glass to create a look that mimics the swirling movement of water.

In fact, “movement” was another theme that was highly evident at the show, whether shown in swirling color and patterns, water-like materials with a strong visual “flow,” delicate, curving, vine-like patterns that “move” the eye along the surface, or striated, painted tiles using different shades to create a feeling of visual and textural movement.

Dovetailing with the trend toward water-like patterns and materials, a trend toward water colors especially cool blues and deep sea greens was highly in evidence. In a place where art is synonymous with the country’s history, it’s no surprise that color variations were played out in nearly endless configurations. And, of course, the mix of the softer, northern Italian colors and the more richly saturated hues of southern Italy made for color shadings that ranged from mild to wild  and everything in between.

Metallic and glass accents added sparkle and flash, while continuing the “mix and match” theme.

Popular shapes
In terms of shapes, rectangular formats were more prominent than in previous years, with almost every manufacturer offering a rectangular shape, in either large or small formats. Additionally, colorful mosaics competed with modular formats both suggesting exciting design possibilities. Some of the more complex designs included a “basket weave” design, striking cut outs and a host of interwoven geographic shapes.

While some of the colors and designs were a probably a bit too flamboyant for more conservative American tastes, the wide selection of choices and resulting design possibilities suggest an interest in personalization and a reverence for beauty that needs no translation. As Abbate concludes, “Italian producers are constantly experimenting with new colors, formats, designs and materials to offer the market a fresh array of design solutions.”

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