Tiling Trends Take a New Direction

by Stacey Sheppard in News & Noteworthy

There was a time when tiles were more or less a purely functional addition to the home, reserved to the kitchen and bathroom where their primary function was to protect areas of high water use or moisture.

However, in recent years, these previously unadventurous surfacing materials have undergone somewhat of a transformation as advances in material innovation and surface finish have enabled us to reinvent the humble tile making it into much more of a design statement.

‘People like to surround themselves with more personal things. The economic downturn has made consumers appreciate pieces that create a more homely feel.’


Nowhere was this more apparent than at the International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings that was held in Bologna, Italy in September last year. Cersaie, as it is also known, is an annual event where the latest in technological innovation collides with the most cutting-edge of design trends. There to explore the latest and greatest that the tile market has to offer was Jon Newey, Managing Director of Surface, who was accompanied by Karen Howes, CEO and Founder of leading interior design practice Taylor Howes. Together, the pair explored the latest market trends that we can expect to see making their way into the homes of the style-conscious in the not too distant future.

Newey and Howes identified five key trends to look out for: Timber, Patchwork, Texture and Relief, Subway and Mosaic. ‘As with all trends they are influenced by the wider world and the trends we see in fashion, furniture and interiors generally,’ says Newey, explaining that advances in technology are also a big enabling factor.

‘With many of the latest replica stone surfaces that are all the rage at the moment,’says Howes, ‘it is hard to tell the difference between real stone and the technically evolved one. It is quite mind blowing what technology can do these days.’

Take for example the trend for ceramic tiles that look like wooden floor planks. Howes says that this is a prime example of how consumers drive a trend for a fashionable surface that is practical at the same time. She says: ‘Consumers are more savvy and demand more durable, fashionable and flexible surfaces.’

For Newey it is the timeless appeal of wood that has made it a prime candidate to be reinvented in the form of a ceramic tile. He says: ‘Certain shades come in and out of fashion but wood never really dates, so it is a great investment. Now that inkjet printing has become so convincing, it’s often hard to tell the tile from the wood, so it becomes an even more attractive prospect to customers.’

Of course there are also practical benefits to installing ceramic tiles that look like wood as opposed to the real thing. ‘The advantage is that you can now use it wherever you want,’ says Howes. Newey elaborates explaining that porcelain has many performance advantages over wood, particularly in wet areas such as bathrooms, showers and spa environments. ‘It is waterproof, it does not need to be stained or sealed, it’s scratch-proof and stiletto-proof, and can be used with underfloor heating,’ he says.

The other design trends identified can be seen as a direct response to our desire for a more decorative approach to our homes, according to Howes. She says: ‘People like to surround themselves with more personal things. The economic downturn has made consumers appreciate pieces that create a more homely feel.’

Newey agrees with this and believes that the trend towards more decorative tiles has resulted from the trend for interiors becoming softer and more feminine. ‘This could also be a backlash against the very hard-edged, symmetrical, minimal designs that dominated in the 90s and noughties in high-end interiors,’ he says.

This can be seen in the multitude of tiles that feature texture and relief. Originating from the stone industry and based on the 3D manipulation of the surface, Newey says that these techniques are now bringing ceramics back to their heyday. ‘Interiors have become softer in recent years, so the demand for more texture and relief is in line with this. Tactile finishes and 3D tiles that reflect the light no longer look like hard surfaces and the linear boundaries generally created by walls become blurred,’ he explains.

Mosaics, another ancient art form, are also experiencing a comeback this year and Howes is a particular fan. She says: ‘We loved Sicis’ take on mosaics, combining stone with glass or mirror and creating stunning patterns that evoked luxury and glamour without adding too much bling or becoming vulgar. One can imagine using these types of mosaics in a hotel entrance hall or beautiful bathroom.’

Newey also appreciated the fact that mosaics provide an infinite palette and can be used virtually anywhere. ‘Curves and softened corners are a big trend in interiors and mosaic is the perfect luxurious cladding material,’ he says. ‘Mosaic is evolving into art and there are so many options with colours, materials and designs.’

However, the trend that seemed to excite both Newey and Howes the most was one they called patchwork. ‘This is a trend that is not to everyone’s taste as it is quite quirky and fashionable, but I loved it,’ says Howes.

Newey believes that the trend has largely grown out of the current trend for vintage. He says: ‘It’s great for creating ‘rugs’ within neutral floors or as feature wall panels in many different spaces from dressing rooms to bathrooms. Using different patterns, repeated or jumbled, it is possible to create designs that, although may be sometimes geometric, become fluid and organic.’

He cites the new Azulej range by Patricia Urquiola for Mutina as a stunning re-interpretation of traditional encaustic flooring but with much higher performance ratings. ‘With its slightly nostalgic feel, the design can work equally well in modern spaces, for example on a kitchen floor, or in period properties such as Victorian hallways and conservatories,’ he says.

Howes believes that it won’t be long until we see these trends being incorporated into interior design schemes. ‘The trends can serve as good inspiration to any designer, be it to only open the eyes to all of the opportunities out there,’ she says. ‘Textured stone and replica stones will make good surface materials for feature walls, especially in commercial or residential lobbies. Replica timber floors will be a great alternative to the real thing in kitchens. Mosaics can be used anywhere a little bit of embellishment is needed or one wants to create something special like master en suites, feature walls or entrance halls.”


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