Global Inspiration

Studying color, style and material trend forecasts for 2011 and beyond helps to better understand what the new, risk-averse, cost-sensitive, younger consumer will find delightful in the future as far as color, pattern and texture.

Several recent business opportunities have provided me with some global insights into these future trends, as international design elements increasingly impact U.S. design trends, causing us to rethink, remix and even replace our surfacing materials, creating a new design paradigm.

First, let’s look at what the marketers are saying. Trend watchers have been clear: Designers will serve younger consumers who are as comfortable being a global citizen as they are an American one. They appreciate the beauty of pattern, texture and variety created by digitalized designs applied to man-made materials. Unlike their parents, they do not care what others think of their design sensibilities. They like everything – dancing between Traditional and Contemporary – focusing only on pleasing themselves.

Interestingly, they do not plan on keeping the products they select for a long time. If it is portable, they know they can sell it on e-Bay or Craig’s List. If it’s a permanent installation and a new innovation catches their eye – they think they can simply resurface over the old. So what we can we learn from abroad that will help address this consumer of the future?

International Ideas

My research began with an international design tour in Spain. This past February, Tile of Spain (The Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association) sponsored a group of architects, designers and editors on a tour of Cevisama 2010: The International Ceramic Tile and Bath Furnishings Show. Prior to the show, attendees enjoyed a wonderful architectural tour of Granada in southern Spain. The Moorish design influence on architecture in this part of the Spanish countryside demonstrated how intricate patterns repeated in a large scale format can appear far less “busy” than smaller installations. This design observation may be useful in 2011+.

Concurrently, I worked with DuPont on its exhibit for the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (KBIS). In our planning sessions, the DuPont Surfaces team shared the worldwide color and design trends they have identified.

These two design experiences have given me new information about the changes taking place in the decorative surfacing materials category. They have also exposed me to a wide variety of new material selections that are available, providing a more diverse array of options to present to clients.

Key Style Trends

Through these recent travel experiences, I’ve noted the emergence of four key style trends that are having an impact on the decorative surfacing category.

First, sustainable and eco-friendly credentials are an expected part of product engineering, serving as the foundation of the design, not just the highlight.

The consumer of the future expects us to have taken care of all of the environmental concerns for them so that they can focus on creativity as the vital ingredient of their new space. Manufacturers in all segments are using technology to expand their sustainability efforts. The tile manufacturers focused on eco-friendly products in several ways, the major one being slimmer tiles that are also bigger in size.

The benefits of thinner tiles are various:

Slim tiles that are lightweight can be installed over old tiles.

Transportation costs are reduced.

These tiles are easier to handle and install.

The manufacturing process is also more efficient: less clay, less soil, less particulate emissions during manufacturing – even less cardboard used in packaging.

This European focus on responsible resource management is not new: it’s been evident for the last 20 years at various European trade fairs. However, Cevisama 2010 reminded me how important it is that we all actively “rethink” what our standards of sustainability are based upon. When selecting ceramic tile products (or any product), we should continually be asking ourselves what innovations are underway that do not compromise the aesthetic of the product or the functional standards – but do result in a more eco-friendly surface.

The next style trend relates to man-made materials that are considered to be as beautiful – and in some cases more beautiful – than products from nature.

In both my color research and in my visits with tile manufacturers, I was astounded at the dramatic visual impact occurring because of digitalized computing.

Consumers of all ages continue to appreciate the tactile sense of natural products, the natural variations of composition and form. However, the definition of “authentic” seems to be changing. DuPont Surfaces publishes a color forecast each year, partnering with respected domestic and international experts. One of its key findings for 2011 and beyond redefines the concept of what an “authentic” product is:

“While our appreciation of genuine craftsmanship continues, new, smarter, efficient and adaptable materials or applications stretch this aesthetic. Authentic is no longer always old. As long as it has pedigree without pretense, then it is real. The new definition of authentic is ‘genuine’ not ‘natural’.”

Therefore, authentic is no longer a concept reserved for traditional designs or natural materials. An authentic product can be an exceptional man-made product.

Let me give you a very practical application example: Our senior and Baby Boomer clients see the beauty in natural stone over man-made products. We have carefully worked with our stone fabricators and suppliers to learn how to specify, install and protectively seal natural stone materials such as marble, limestone, travertine and granite.

Yet, in the surfacing industry, the ability to use industrial inkjet printing technology partnered with computer-generated pattern variations is creating surfaces that look and feel like natural products, but are easier to care for, more consistent and simpler to install. Such innovations have made durable porcelain ceramic look and feel like stone.

New laminates and better substrates make this durable material a surfacing contender for upscale kitchens and bathrooms. Are you working with your cabinet manufacturers in considering specifications of absolutely beautiful wood grain laminate cabinetry, as opposed to natural veneers?

For some of you, this will seem like blasphemy. As a design professional, you might feel that only natural products can shine; anything man-made is simply a cheap imitation. Be ready to change that mindset as you deal with younger consumers who have never worked on a wooden Blackberry or a marble computer keyboard.

The third style trend is that design elements are getting bigger and bolder, with a grand tilt towards glitter and glamour.

Throughout the tile exhibit, in all of the new wallpaper books I look through, just about everywhere – larger patterns, more color and more texture are being introduced. Additionally, the glitter of metallic accents or the iridescence of a Mother of Pearl finish is found in many surfaces created for hard-working kitchens as well as spa-like bathrooms.

To impress your future clients, look beyond your current – comfortable – specifications for ceramics and, in fact, for all surfacing you specify.

While terra cotta tiles are the cornerstone of rusticated country environments, and we are all quite experienced at using tiny 1"x1" glass details along a backsplash and 4"x4" shiny squares to provide sanitary surfaces, here are a few new ideas:

Much larger shapes are being introduced: 18"x18", 24"x24", 8"x13" and 18"x36" are just some of the sizes that can provide a dramatic wall surface for you.

Texture in the tile surface provides abrasion but – more importantly – beauty with great depth as the surface reflects natural or artificial light. In other categories, I have seen huge, naturalistic, yet highly stylized floral patterns in wall coverings, carpets and wallpapers – not for the faint of heart!

Metallics are everywhere. DuPont just introduced a line of metallic-infused Corian surfaces at 2010 KBIS. Throughout the Spanish tile show, there were numerous presentations of elegant metallic trim pieces, accent pieces – even jewel-type crystals embedded in the tile surface itself. The shimmer of copper, the gleam of gold, the sparkle of glass is contemporary and fresh. The use of such naturalistic micas from the Earth will be a key design element in 2011+.

The fourth style trend is about accepting and embracing the changing definition of “good design.”

Consumers are searching for natural environments in urban settings. The uncertainty of life has manifested itself in a renewed appreciation of colors and textures reflecting nature.

At the same time, sleek industrial surfaces are a welcome relief to the visual of our chaotic world. An eclectic combination of design details will be a winning combination in 2011+.

The definition of luxury is also changing – and this impacts our surface selections. Consumers today want to identify a “treasure,” rather than splashing a space with overall “bling.” For an item or a room to be considered a “treasure,” it must reflect the more considered spending pattern – in other words, is must be purposeful as well as beautiful; affordable as well as eco-friendly; appropriate for its intended use as well as changeable in the future.

The bottom line is that there is a new definition of beauty.

Are you ready?