Tile Options Grow, Dazzle

Tile for today’s residential applications is offered in a plethora of materials, sizes, shapes, colors and surface treatments. Tile is no longer used only for entryways and/or the wet areas such as kitchens and baths. Appropriate tile products are available for virtually every room of every home built or remodeled.

For example, Creative Metalized Products had always worked with metal, until approximately four years ago when it began producing lightweight metal tiles.

“We restructured the company because it had been mainly doing metal architectural elements such as doors, columns and cladding for walls — not decorative tiles,” says Mario Klappholz of Ceramic Consulting Corp. and co-owner of Creative Metalized Products. “We saw a market demand for metal tiles.”

Klappholz believes that today’s metal tiles are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they also solve many architectural and design problems. The tiles are a fraction of the weight of solid metal. Solid metal veneer is only 1/32 of an inch thick, he says.

“They are used for inlays, decorative purposes for backsplashes in kitchens and bathrooms, decorative walls and for wainscots in hallways of public areas,” Klappholz says. “Basically, we make every size you can imagine — 1 in. by 1 in., 2 in. by 2 in., 4 in. by 4 in., 6 in. by 6 in. and even larger. We have all sizes and shapes for different applications. As far as design goes, what we offer is limited only to one’s imagination. We can go completely three-dimensional.”

The tiles are available in five metals, including bronze, nickel/silver, brass, copper and iron rust. These metals are offered in many different finishes — gloss, satin, antique, rust and verde, which is a greenish patina that is the result of oxidation.

“We seal all our tiles with a special sealer that we developed with a chemical company,” he says. “It offers water and UV protection, and maintains the tile at the level it had when you bought it. Once we seal the tile, it completely stops the aging and oxidation process. Sealing protects the tile’s real metal look from changing, and makes maintenance simple and easy.”

Klappholz says the tiles are not metal all the way through. “The back of the tile is a resin product,” he says. “The tile surface is metal. It’s a process that gives you real metal as you see it, but the filling and backing is resin to get much better adhesion, and it’s lighter than pure metal. Additionally, these tiles are easy to cut if necessary, making for user-friendly installations.”

Stone: not just for castles

While the entire floor covering industry remains strong, stone continues to lead the way in terms of annual growth rate for the past several years. Stone is becoming more and more important to distributors, dealers and installers, as the industry quickly adjusts to capitalize on the growing popularity and acceptance of stone, not to mention the chance for the much larger profit margins that stone products can provide.

A remarkable 50 percent of stone is imported from world markets, historically led by Italy. Several other countries are chipping away at market share each year as Turkey, Brazil, China and India enter the mix. Granite, long the most sought-after stone product, has begun to slip back toward the pack with travertine, slate and limestone’s continued rise in popularity. The No. 1 usage of stone in the United States is now exterior facades, followed closely by flooring and countertop installations. Still, the bottom line remains: Stone is one of the hottest markets in the industry today.

“The stone market is booming,” says Bill Reid, executive vice president of sales and marketing for StoneXpress in Kennesaw, Ga. “The growth exceeded ceramic, porcelain and hardwood for the past three years. Leading the way is travertine, and what is call honed. Polished marble is another new trend to look for in the next few years. Up until about five years ago, stone was used primarily as a kitchen backsplash or countertop, but now we are seeing explosive growth in upscale residential bathrooms, as well as foyers, dining rooms and hallways.”

Glass is class

The increasing popularity of tile products isn’t limited to ceramic, porcelain and stone. Glass tile’s popularity has been on a steady rise, too. More architects are specifying glass tile for its splashy colors, performance and overall versatility. Perhaps the easiest product in the industry to manufacture and purchase, glass tile not only offers unlimited design capabilities, it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other products. More American firms are creating comprehensive websites where glass tile can be inexpensively purchased online in large quantities. A popular product in residential backsplash remodels and wet areas of the bathroom, the commercial building sector is using glass tile for mosaic glass walls and artistic glass murals for entryways of hotels, restaurants and casinos.

“Since around 2002, the market for glass tile really started to grow,” says Ann-Brit Malden, vice president of marketing for Hakatai Enterprises in Ashland, Ore. “In the past two years, glass tile has really come into the forefront as a surfacing material for more than just an accent or decoration. The trend of glass tile has gone beyond more traditional uses of residential kitchen backsplashes and tub surrounds. And more architects and designers are specifying glass tile, both commercially and residentially.”

U.S. bathrooms go European

European bathroom design and consumer awareness of it have come a long way over the past few years. From the plain and necessary wet room, it clearly has developed into an area where one feels good and wants to spend time. Hence, the awareness for materials used, especially tiles, has increased considerably.

According to Paul Heldens, CEO of Steuler-Fliesen, “it is a specific aim to design and produce tiles that allow consumers to decorate, energize and personalize their bathroom with extraordinary, though affordable, tiles. They allow walls and floors to radiate and provide that extra touch to a room. We believe that high-design tiles allow bathrooms to be decorated with a classical texture making use of today’s selected collection of larger-size ceramic and glass tiles.

“Currently there is an increasing tendency for European bathroom design to move over to the United States. Tile manufacturing companies throughout Europe are committed to providing an interested consumer community with truly original and individual tiled bathroom spaces,” Heldens concludes.

Porcelain rules in a big way

In the past decade, porcelain tiles have gained ground vs. traditional ceramic tile that dominated the market for centuries. For many years porcelain tile was only available for commercial-type products and not well-suited for residential applications.

So, a technology evolved through which porcelain tiles are glazed similarly to how a glazed surface was added to traditional ceramic tiles.  This has opened the door for a limitless number of new designs and applications for porcelain. Consumers understand the advantages of glazed porcelain tiles and are in many cases asking to see only porcelain tile products. 

Paul Young, general manager of Mediterranea, says, “The process of porcelain tile production requires a higher-grade mixture of tile and higher firing temperatures for longer periods of time, all which result in a fully vitrified product. This process provides a frost-proof material that has less than a 0.5 percent water absorption rating, and is typically much more chip-resistant than traditional ceramic tiles.”

Another trend is the move to larger-format tiles. Young adds, “Where 8 in. by 8 in. was the standard years ago and 12 in. by 12 in. in the ’90s was going strong, many markets migrated to 18 in. by 18 in., 20 in. by 20 in., and larger sizes. For many manufacturers today, the majority of their sales nationwide are in these larger-format tiles. We at Mediterranea believe the simple fact that larger format tiles look better in almost all installations and that consumers prefer less grout line. Even a small 10-ft. by 10-ft. bedroom appears to be larger with 18-in. by 18-in. tiles installed than it would with 12-in. by 12-in. tiles.”

Finally, a resurgence of tiles emulating wood has been seen in the market as of late. The newer, higher levels of technologies used in the porcelain tile manufacturing process are enabling manufacturers to create incredibly realistic wood looks which can be taken beyond the place where, according to Young, “real wood could actually go — both in look and durability.” 

When considering real wood vs. tile that emulates real wood, there are a number of advantages on the tile side of mimicking wood. First, tile is said to stand up better under wet conditions. Additionally, tile is able to be used outdoors and in commercial situations that could be challenging for wood. Tile is also fire- and frost-proof and does not take the life of a tree, which meets environmental concerns. 

Waterjet cuts it

Today’s most knowledgeable designers as well as contractors and savvy homeowners know something about waterjet technology. The process is a computerized, cold-cutting procedure that can cut most materials into any two-dimensional shape. Anything that can be drawn on a computer can be cut by an abrasive waterjet system. Marble, granite, porcelain and even terrazzo are excellent materials for the waterjet process and cannot economically be cut into complex shapes, over and over again, in any other way but this.

Harri Aalto, co-owner of Fairfield, Iowa-based Creative Edge Master Shop, a waterjet fabrication facility, says, “The process is almost like making a large jigsaw puzzle out of hard-surface materials. We get a design, decide which materials are needed based upon color, availability and, of course, performance and then cut the custom project to the customer’s specifications. Today’s tile contractors know how to install waterjet-cut pieces. Basically, the process is the same as with any tile material. But to help them, we provide a large schematic indicating which pieces go where. Each piece obviously is marked accordingly.”

Waterjet murals for walls and floors, once offered only to the commercial sector, are making their way into the nation’s custom-designed homes. And the process is now more affordable.

Where it all takes place

In Chicago from April 17-20, Coverings, the largest ceramic tile and natural stone exposition in the world, takes place at McCormick Place. Remodelers, builders, architects and all qualified trade members are invited to attend for free. If you want to offer your clientele the best of the best, there is no better venue to find it than at Coverings.