Putting the Style in Tile

BOLOGNA, ITALY — When it comes to high style, words such as tweed, twill and leather would typically conjure images of runway models in Milan rather than ceramic tiles in Bologna. But, kitchen and bath design professionals attending the 23rd annual Cersaie found these images abundant among the new crop of eye-catching ceramic tile innovations showcased at the event.

Billed as the world’s largest exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings, Cersaie once again showed how designers can help put more style in their tile, showcasing a variety of daring new formats and textures. These ranged from bold uses of color and unique patterns – including animal skin looks and braille-like patterns designed to aid the visually impaired – to more sublime applications featuring modish floral prints and vine-like aesthetics that “connect” tiles to one another. And, just as color and texture remain hot trends in the kitchen and bath, these elements were highly evident in the tile selections on display.

Chris Abbate, spokesperson for Ceramic Tiles of Italy and principal for Park Slope, NY-based Novita Communications, explains: “The overall theme was definitely texture and color, but moving in a new direction. There was a lot more color across the board, with much richer, brighter colors and a lot of play with black and gray.”

The word from Italy was also clearly modernist, with many design professionals in attendance commenting on the striking, contemporary designs.

“I was very impressed at the move toward modernism,” notes Eddie Jones, principal of Phoenix, AZ-based Jones Studio. “It was expressed at the booths as well as in the products.”

For those who prefer a softer contemporary look, there was also a noticeable Asian influence reflected in many of the tile designs, including raku effects in blues, reds and grays, many times complemented by landscape and picturesque patterns.

The retro design trend that’s increasingly showing up in the bathroom was clearly evident through the tile offerings on display, according to designers attending the show.

As Carl D’Aquino, principal of D’Aquino Monaco in New York, NY, commented, “There was a fascinating attempt at the retro, throwback feel with texture. There were tiles that were pillowed and looked upholstered, and others that looked architecturally shaped and resembled pottery shapes in a way.”

Other tile designs continued the “eco-friendly” theme featured last year, while still others introduced framed tiles, extra small mosaic pieces and tiny pebbles to create unique designs.

Fabric Bonanza
Fabric was a key element with many of the tile offerings, reflecting consumers’ desire for softer spaces rich with texture. Whether mimicking animal skin prints or fine linen, the products on display definitely explored the softer side of tile.

“Manufacturers would try to make the tile look softer in the sense that they would try and mimic textiles and textures in the glazes,” notes Cheryl Sagal, interior designer, IIDA, for TMP Associates in Bloomfield Hills, MI, who attended the show. “They are also starting to mimic natural stone extremely well.”

D’Aquino adds: “I saw tiles that imitated wood grains and textures other than ceramic. In some cases, there were even tiles that were imbedded with LEDs and electronics, or tiles with cut-outs where electronics were put behind to create a lace-like or transparency effect.”

“There was a different sort of grain and texture [to the tiles this year],” Abbate agrees. “It goes back to sophisticated textures, and creating a richness to the touch as well as visually, depending on the skin and fabric you [want].”

In fact, the mix ranged from the casual (tweed or twill) to high-style (leather and crocodile skin), and unique patterns, including stripes, plaid and herringbone. Emilceramica’s “Tweed” is one example, as is Kerex’s “Kerpaper,” which mimics the look of twill.

Catering to consumers’ “wild side” was Settecento’s “Crocotile” collection, which includes a range of formats in traditional tones such as classic grey, classic dark, classic amaranth, classic tortoise and classic brown.

Simply not touching Rex’s “Ma Touche” was an interesting challenge as well, as not only did the tile draw the eye, but it featured chic, textured tiles that replicated leather, crocodile and elephant skins. Another touch-friendly tile on display was Impronta Italgranti’s “My Skin,” which features white-body wall tiles and glazed porcelain floor tiles complemented by listels in an assortment of patterns, including looping thread and undulating stitches.

The fibrous strands that stretch across the surface of Grazia’s “Prima” perhaps best exemplified the fabric-oriented theme of Cersaie, including striated patterns and a light source that can be placed behind the tiles.

Wall Aboard
Wallpapering effects were prominent, with companies such as Provenza introducing thin porcelain, large slab-type tiles with embossed patterns, giving the tile an authentic feeling of damask.

“The [damask] motif was on display throughout the show, from the walls of Bisazza’s booth to the surface of other tiles,” Abbate says.

Two manufacturers, Bisazza and Ceramica Di Treviso, even named their offerings as such, with Bisazza’s “Wallpaper,” featuring an unusual combination of flowers and stripes, and Ceramica Di Treviso’s series utilizing slender planks with an embossed leaf motif. For a modern twist, Gruppo Majorca offered “Decoro Fiori” from the “SoHo Urban Life” collection, which features a delicate, lacey surface mixed with mod floral graffiti, “making it the perfect wall covering for a city slicker,” Abbate notes.

For a more natural look, Marca Corona took advantage of the appeal of wood to add new designs to its “Philosophy” collection. For example, “Philosophy Paper” combines 10"x18" and 5"x18" planks that emulate wood with Boontje-esque floral decors.

Indeed, wood and stone looks continue to grow in popularity, as evidenced by the many displays incorporating these looks. Several new introductions also underscored this theme, including Colli’s “Woodline,” and Century’s “Yosemite” – all inspired by original timbers. According to Abbate, three other standout collections that mimic stone include Ceramic My Way’s “Rock Glass,” a new recycled glass block with the rustic look of stone; Ricchetti’s “La Porta dello Zodiaco,” a glazed porcelain line with a rough-hewn texture; and Coperative Ceramica d’Imola’s “Onykos,” series.

Color Guard
Of course Italy is renowned for its vivid, richly infused colors, and these colors were clearly evident in many of the tile collections on display – much to attending designers’ delight.

“There were ambitious colors, so you could work in any parameter, whatever your viewpoint,” says D’Aquino. For instance, fiery oranges and reds continued to be a hot trend, while vibrant pinks and blues popped up as well, Abbate notes.

“Colors were generally strong, plus black and white,” she adds.

She cites Viva’s “Lineaire” collection, which uses a rainbow of colors, as a good example of color trends. “And, the striped tiles can be laid to form continuous or fragmented patterns, creating a textured, almost three-dimensional illusion.”

For a more modern, avante-gard type of aesthetic, Viva’s “Joy Time” features a sleek combination of hues. Blending strips of color with a meandering leaf and flower design was Ce.Vi’s “Fasce Colorate.” The company also introduced “La Vita e Bella,” which features stark shades of black and white.

Also pushing the envelope with black-and-white contrast was Fioranese, which showcased a variety of designs from its “Charoscuro” collection and La Faenza, which offered a wood-like series “XXX” in a neutral palette of black, white and gray.

Likewise, botanical motifs were more prominent, as well, as designs continue to “bring the outdoors in.” For instance, flowers and neutral colors were featured prominently in Ceramica Di Treviso’s “Fiore d’Acqua,” while Rex’s ceramic tile bathtub displayed floral insets created by waterjet technology and illuminated by a lighting system.

“The other thing that struck me were tiles that had been formatted to work vertically on the wall to form patterns, as opposed to across the wall,” notes Sagal. The raised metallic buds, leaves, flowers and sunbursts of Naxos’ “Composite X-otic Fascia Etoile” caused quite a stir among visitors, as did Marco Corona’s “Summer,” a sleek combination of bright colors and the retro, pop-art look of the 1960s and 1970s.

While these aesthetics certainly drew crowds, many of the tiles had practical applications as well, such as Casalgrande Padana’s eco-friendly “Titano” series, which should appeal to the environmentally friendly.

Designer Tile
Another key trend was the collaboration among tile manufacturers, architects and designers in creating the tile designs. Just as “name designers” are increasingly adding prestige to kitchen and bath products in the U.S., products created in conjunction with name design professionals in Italy seemed to do especially well at the show.

For instance, renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas worked with Cerdomus to develop “Sculpture,” a 10"x16" porcelain tile series that features a corrugated surface that can be laid vertically or horizontally. Modish flowers – another big trend at the show – highlight Tord Boontje’s “Primavera,” the result of a commission by Italian manufacturer Bardelli. Part of a new compositional series offered by the company, “Primavera” features a soothing palette of platinum and spring-like colors to reflect a strong sense of nature.

Bardelli also partnered with architect, designer and commentator Nigel Coates to offer “Bodypark,” an eye-catching vision of platinum-colored, life-size human figures in motion, created with computerized scanning.

Bisazza worked with designers Carlo Dal Bianco, Marco Braga and Marcel Wanders to develop 11 new mosaic collections. The collections – which mix antique and modern, East and West, and minimal and baroque styles – feature the influence of 1950s upholstery, embroideries and classic textile patterns, such as “Chester,” “China Birds,” “Corallo” and “Paisley.”

Likewise, architect Marco Rosin designed Trend’s new collection “Brick,” which is a modular system consisting of transparent glass tiles with an interlocking plastic mechanism. “The ‘bricks’ can be easily joined together to form stunning room dividers, screens and panels without using cement, mortar or sand,” Abbate concludes.

Asian Appeal
Complementing the sense of nature at Cersaie was a noticeable Asian influence.

In fact, there was a preponderance of picturesque landscapes, natural patterns and raw-glaze techniques seen on the show floor, with companies such as Impronta Italgranti showcasing plenty of Asian flair. The company’s “Rhus Le Leche” line, in particular, paid homage to imperial dynasties.

For even greater authenticity, Bisazza created two lines – “China Birds” and “Corallo” – using the ancient technique called raku, a practice often reserved for Japanese pottery.

Indeed, many manufacturers tried their hand at this practice, as evidenced by Cerdisa’s series called “New Raku” and Antiche Fornici D’Agostino’s “Fusioni,” which was created using fired clay and lava from the Amalfi Coast.

A revolutionary application titled “Piazza Italia,” was introduced by Del Conca, Abbate notes. The tiles, created in response to the recent disastrous earthquake in Kobe, Japan, are frost-resistant and feature a signature blue color that will not fade.

DaVinci Code
Seemingly inspired by morse code, there were countless variations of dots, dashes and lined patterns at Cersaie this year.

For instance, “Rays” and the laser-etched “Rows,” from Provenza’s “Endless” series, captured the theme with a mixture of mysterious abstract patterns.

Remarkably, one Italian manufacturer, Casalgrande Padana, even pioneered a collection designed to aid the visually impaired. Called “Loges,” the tiles act as a guiding path for the blind, offering a through-body porcelain look that incorporates modular elements created by computer codes to provide directional cues.

Framing the Future
With so many designs unveiled at Cersaie, what might designers expect in the future? If this year is any indication, it could very well come in the form of emulating picture frames, says Abbate.

“Whether flat or in high relief, these borders add an architectural element and a new dimension to ceramics,” she describes.

Notable selections include Cotto Veneto’s “Carre,” 12"x12" glazed ceramic tiles that come in mango, mint, sand and egg with a paler border, and the company’s “Stuoie,” which feature glazed terra cotta tiles to emulate the look of burlap!

Jones concludes: “I walked away from the event with the impression that I could do anything [design wise], which is a little bit scary. [Cersaie has taught me] that, with ceramic tiles, the possibilities are almost unlimited.”