When it comes to doors, knobs, floors, molding and such for the home, discussions typically focus on the history of styles. But when it comes to tile, the conversation is about what's happening now.
Aided by new technology, tile today is more eco-friendly and more widely available in a vast range of finishes and textures.
As a hard, watertight surface applied to floors and walls, ceramic, stone and porcelain have been commonly used for thousands of years. In some ways, not much has changed.
What has changed is the technology for making ceramic and porcelain tiles bigger, harder, thinner,and available in an wide array of colors, textures and patterns. And while many homeowners still go for the classic black-and-white marble look that's been around since the ancient Romans, recent improvements in digital scanning and printing now allow for tiles that look like stone.
Kyle Gahan of Chesapeake Tile & Marble says that much of the industry's innovation is coming from Italy and points to Rex Ceramics, which has a new line — I Bianchi di Rex — that simulates real stone. To create the look, real stone is scanned using a high-quality digital scanner and then the image is printed onto the the tile. The end product "has the hardness, ease of maintenance and cost of porcelain, with the look of stone," says Gahan.
Other new technologies are being used to help create textured tiles, super-thin tiles and tiles that are more eco-friendly.
One advancement making tile projects easier is the production of thin tiles, which can be installed on top of existing tiles. "Typically, porcelain has been 1 to 1.5 centimeters thick," says Gahan. New tiles available in 3-millimeter and 4-millimeter thicknesses allow for remodeling with new tile without ripping up the old.
On the aesthetics front, it has been a slow few years, notes Gahan, as much of the design emphasis has been on making tile greener. Art of Board tiles, for example, are made from recycled skateboards, and no two tiles are the same.
"It's our newest tile product," says Don Wernecke of Hunt Valley Tile & Stone. "It is really unusual and quite eye-catching. It would be perfect for a feature wall, and right now I would have to say it's my new favorite."
Even with the new products, however, people's tastes haven't changed much. Still, industry pros are noticing a bit of stylistic movement among their client base. Glass tiles, which started becoming popular a decade ago, remain top sellers, as do classic looks that would bode well for resale.
"A lot of people are staying put and renovating rather than moving to a new home," says Lora Potts, an interior designer with Chambers. "Clients are concerned with getting the best look for the best price. For the most part they are moving away from the 'Tuscan' look."
Some of Potts' favorite new contemporary looks are metal or oversized tiles up to 40 inches used to create a focal-point fireplace wall.
"One tile that simulates brushed stainless steel is soft yet very modern, classy and elegant. It's perfect for a loft space and juxtaposing with brick walls," says Potts.
She also sees textured products, basket weaves and even gemstones becoming more popular.
"Textures that look like crocodile, elephant skin, fabric and wood-grain plank tiles that mimic the hand-scraped and weathered look and texture of real wood are very popular," says Potts. "But my absolute favorite new product is a semiprecious gemstone mosaic slab material."
The mosaic, which comes in a variety of stones ranging from amethyst to quartz, can be applied to floors, countertops or walls. "They create the most breathtaking, eye-catching surfaces I've ever seen," says Potts.
Popular colors also skew classic. "We are still seeing a lot of neutral and earth tones," says Gahan. "The white-and-black combo is also popular right now, and it works well for both traditional and contemporary looks."
Still the tile landscape isn't all just black, white and beige.
"Manufacturers are showing tiles that lead to a very metropolitan look with invigorating color palettes including orange, honeysuckle pink and purple," says Potts. "Popular right now are bold, bright reds and yellows in combination with monochromatic white, black and gray kitchens and baths."
Other trendy colors evoke a more classic, natural earthy spa vibe, she says. "Rich browns, blacks and grays emulate the natural beauty of exotic hardwoods and charcoal," says Potts
To get the pop of color without going over the top, Wernecke suggests spicing up a neutral scheme with hot colors for accent tiles. Mixing field tiles with accents is also one way to stretch a budget.
"People are looking at what they can get within a limited budget," says Wernecke. "We see high-end accents being used with reasonably priced tiles to add interest and intrigue without stretching the budget too far. A little can go a long way."
But when people are willing to spend, they want the product to be unusual.
"At the high end, interior designers and builders are looking to go completely custom," says Gahan. "…The days of the really large homes are gone, but people are doing renovations, and they are going toward high-end, custom, handmade products that are fully customized to what they want."
Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.