Cersaie: The Global Tile Show
By Darius Helm
Cersaie, the International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings, is not only the largest ceramic tile show in the world, but it is also the leading forum for ceramic design and innovation. This year’s show featured a broader range of design than ever before, thanks in part to innovations in glazing technology and also thanks to collaborations with some of the world’s most prominent designers, including Karim Rashid, Patricia Urquiola and Tokujin Yoshioka.
The show, held annually in Bologna, Italy, near the heart of the Sassuolo region where the bulk of the nation’s ceramic and porcelain is produced, featured 1,012 exhibitors from 33 countries in a space of nearly two million square feet. Total attendance at the show was 83,286, up just 0.2% from 2009, though the number of international visitors was up nearly 8% to 24,960.
Highlights of the show included a keynote lecture by SOM’s David Childs, whose firm is building New York’s Freedom Tower at the Ground Zero site, as well as an address by Enzo Mari, one of Italy’s most prominent architects.
At the international press conference, chaired by Confindustria Ceramica’s Franco Manfredini, the focus was on an apparent turning of the tides. While Italy’s total exports were down nearly 21% last year, the numbers have been improving since then, going from down 11% in the final quarter of 2009 to up 1.7% in the first quarter of this year and up over 5% for the second quarter. Last year, the U.S. was Italy’s worst export market, with sales down 33%. However, sales to the U.S. were up around 18% for the first two quarters of this year.
While China is the biggest tile producing nation by volume, accounting for 28.7% of the market last year compared to Italy’s 16.3% and Spain’s 13.7%, Italy is easily the biggest player by revenue. Last year, Italy accounted for 32% of the ten billion euro ($14 billion) global ceramic tile industry, with China second at 19.7% and Spain third at 16.5%. Those differences between volume and value percentages reflect the price differential of Italian tile, driven by its cutting edge designs and innovations, compared to Chinese tile, which is largely a commodity product.
Trends at Cersaie
There were several clear trends at this year’s Cersaie, some long-term and some brand new. Perhaps the most aesthetically alluring trend came in the form of soft felt-like textures. For a few years now, tile makers have been experimenting with texture, and some of the leather and fabric designs have managed to soften the look of tile.
This year, the surface technologies that create those textures reached a fuller expression of their capabilities in the form of tile that looked so soft you had to reach out and touch it just to make sure you weren’t being fooled. The best was probably from Mutina—Net and Trace, designed by Patricia Urquiola. Coem’s Pietra Serena is another example. In the case of Mutina’s offering, the effect is achieved through what looks like a merging of concrete and fabric looks, with irregular striated patterns pressed into the tile—Net and Trace share the same texture, with Net featuring a gently carved geometrical web-like pattern.
Surface textures have also been put to good use in wood looks. Coem took it to an extreme with its Axis Graffito tiles, featuring rough milled wood looks in plank formats. However, one of the most trendy wood look lines came from Florim’s Casa Dolce Casa in the form of the Belgique collection, a line of reclaimed wood looks, some with a smooth texture and some with a rough, distressed surface in a range of cool, fashion-forward colors. Wood looks were prevalent throughout the show, often with surface textures, including a handful of more abstract looks that captured the spirit of hardwood but with looser interpretations, like Marca Corona’s Eclipse.
While these wood designs do better in Europe than in the U.S., they are increasingly specified in the U.S. market for applications that ordinarily could not handle real hardwood due to moisture issues, like restaurants and bathrooms, along with other high traffic applications that would scratch real wood.
Along with wood and concrete looks, another longer-term trend is large formats, both square and rectangular. The largest tile we came across was Challenge, a 48”x48” color-body tile from Century, part of the Fincibec Group. Casa Dolce Casa’s Nera was about the same size.
In terms of colors, the story was largely about a movement toward cool neutrals like greys and understated pale earth tones, sometimes livened up with subtle hues. One color that kept cropping up was maroon, with both red and purple shifts, sometimes pale and dusty and other times rich and saturated. One color largely absent compared to recent years was black, though there were several deep charcoals.
There were plenty of marble looks at the show, driven largely by one of the most important innovations in the ceramic industry—precision digital inkjet technology. In past years, a marble look was convincing as long as you viewed it from a few feet away, but today’s looks survive even the closest scrutiny.
Inkjet glazing technologies found expression not just in marble, but in stone and wood designs and in fabric patterns like damasks. In addition, manufacturers also showcased a range of precision patterns outside of faux looks, including abstract patterns for both wall and floor tile.
While there were plenty of metallic looks at the show, the oxidized industrial look pioneered by Tau in its Corten line was harder to find this year, though Tagina offered a good one called Mineral Liqua. But in general those weathered, industrial designs have shifted more toward low gloss or honed concrete looks.
Thin tiles, pioneered by Laminam, were also a significant trend at the show. Floor tiles are traditionally about 11mm, but these new tiles come as thin as 3mm or 4mm, for floors as well as walls. Cotto D’Este showcased Kerlite Plus, a 3mm floor tile with a 0.5mm fiberglass backing, and Del Conca’s Zelo tile is 5mm thick and comes in sizes as large as 16”x32”.
Though these thin tiles are surprisingly strong, it’s recommended that when it comes to flooring they be installed over flat, well finished surfaces. In fact, one of the ways these tiles are being marketed is as a system to cover an existing floor. The thin tiles also offer a strong environmental story, since one of the biggest issues with ceramic tile is its weight and the cost of transportation.
Also on the environmental front, the use of recycled glass was big this year. Firms like Trend offer products with up to 75% post-consumer recycled content, with glass bottles replacing the silica component traditionally derived from feldspar and sand. Appiani’s Ceramica Vogue also came out with a line in a broad color palette using post-consumer glass.
The Concorde Group, whose brands include Refin, Supergres, Caesar, Atlas Concorde and Marca Corona, entered into a partnership with Remedia, an Italian firm that collects and recycled electronic appliance waste, to use glass from televisions (cathode ray tubes) in its products. At the show, Marca Corona showcased Eco-Marble, which features 20% post-consumer TV glass, and Refin also offered a similar collection.
Other trends included collections with both indoor and outdoor, slip-resistant surfaces, and what’s so impressive about these dual collections is that to the eye they look identical.
There was also increased interest in anti-microbial tiles, including Panaria’s City Life collection and Lea’s Arenaria collection, which are infused with Microban. Both brands are part of the Panaria Group, which for now has exclusive rights outside of North America for Microban branded porcelain, though in the U.S. Daltile holds the license. Also, Casalgrande Padana came out with Bios, which features a mineral treatment developed by the firm in collaboration with the University of Modena. In addition, The Tile Doctor introduced an antimicrobial surface treatment called Shield made of carbon, nitrogen and silica.
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