Cersaie 2021: Ceramic styling is taking on an identity of its own - Nov 2021
By Jennifer Bardoner
With enhanced manufacturing and inkjet technology capabilities, ceramic tile has perfected mimicry to the point that you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and what it’s imitating, whether that be natural stone, hardwood or metal, concrete or terrazzo. The addition of texture has only enhanced its replicate capabilities. But at the Cersaie tile expo held last month in Bologna, Italy, it seemed the category may be ready to return to its roots and rely less on looking like other materials in favor of playful or dramatic variations that only tile can pull off.
Bologna is just up the highway from Sassuolo, the center of Italian ceramic production, though the convention welcomes producers from around the world. This year’s Cersaie featured 623 exhibitors, 361 of which were dedicated to ceramic tile, spread across more than 490,000 square feet of exhibit space. Due to Covid travel restrictions throughout much of the world, including at the show which had vaccine checks and mask requirements, attendance was down to 56% of 2019’s, reversing the trend of increasing attendance over the last few shows. But while the number of international visitors slipped from its benchmark of roughly half of overall attendees, it remained strong at 38% of this year’s 62,943 total visitors, and the exhibit halls were filled with energy, not only for the products on display but for the opportunity to gather again after last year’s convention was canceled amid Covid precautions.
Around the world, ceramic tile is seeing a strong rebound after dipping in 2020. Overall consumption in the United States grew 23.7% by volume year-to-date in the second quarter of 2021, according to the Tile Council of North America. More than two thirds of the ceramic sold in the U.S. is imported, and while Italy came in second in terms of the import volume sold through August 2021, it retained the top spot in terms of dollar value. TCNA figures show Italy accounted for 30.6% of import sales in the U.S. in Q2 2021, while Spain and mexico the other top players, accounted for 24% and 10.8%, respectively.
This year’s Cersaie didn’t just focus on the design capability offered with ceramic products. A new element was the Contract Hall, devoted to networking between producers, architects and clients. Ten design firms and 30 related companies hosted exhibits in the roughly 6,500-square-foot space, focusing on different aspects of interior and exterior design and featuring everything from a complete kitchen concept that transforms appliances into usable space through movable panels to HVAC units that could stand in for artistic wall hangings.
Cersaie’s lineup also included a full schedule of seminars, including one on sustainability that introduced the brand-new ISO 17889-1. Passed in June, the voluntary product standard is the first global benchmark for sustainability, though it is unclear how it will dovetail with existing standards like North America’s Environmental Product Declaration. A second part of the ISO still in development will be specific to installation materials such as membranes, adhesives and grout.
Because it is adhered to the subfloor, there hasn’t been a way to truly reuse tile in new flooring installations. But that could soon change. Lea Ceramiche, part of Panariagroup (which also owns Florida Tile), unveiled a patented dry-lay system called Slimtech Easy. Previously released in Europe under a sister brand, it is being rolled out this year in the U.S. through Lea, which has its North American headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The system, which comes with a ten-year warranty on both the installation and the tiles, includes a soundproofing mat and specialized 5.5mm or 6mm tiles which are then sealed with either a silicone or polymer grout, depending on the environment. The laminated porcelain stoneware is reinforced with fiberglass and can be laid on pre-existing floors in residential and light commercial spaces. It comes in a variety of natural stone looks and finishes, with slab sizes up to roughly 4’x9’.
Realistic stone looks were prominent at just about every booth this year, with marble taking center stage. Wood looks, which reigned for years, were often far from the spotlight, although it’s worth noting that they are still popular in America, and it can take a few years for the trends set at the world’s premier ceramic show to reach our shores. Also, large-scale chains account for 40% of the ceramic tile sold in the U.S., according to Market Insights, so inventory decisions can often come down to mass appeal. Of the natural wood looks on display, patterned applications-herringbone, parquet, hexagonal, for example-were some that stood out, following a trend in the overall category, but there were fresh, bold takes as well, an overarching theme for the show.
Amid the digital reproductions on display were hints of a new direction-one that is distinctly tile. Whether achieved through overly dramatic visuals, saturated and unnatural color schemes or the incorporation of contrasting materials, many of the exhibitors showcased products that capitalized on the unique artistic capabilities of ceramic. This year’s ADI (which stands for Industrial Design Association) Ceramics Design Award winners are indicative: Fusionart, an irregular wood plank visual, by Ceramica Sant’Agostino; Kintsugi, a bronze-veined concrete look that can be interspersed with fabric patterns, by Fioranese Ceramica; and Attitude, an exaggerated terrazzo look achieved by pressing together real pieces of aggregate through a brand-new process, by Leonardo, a brand of Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola.
The other trends evident were not necessarily new, but the nearly universal focus makes them noteworthy. They are detailed below, along with corresponding examples of products available through Italian companies with an American presence.
“A worldwide trend is going to larger sizes,” said Olympia Tile vice president George Gal, whose Toronto-based retail chain-named North American Distributor of the Year for Italian ceramic-offers a wide range of tile products for customers across the United States and Canada. When the race to the top in tile began in 2014, 5’x10’ was considered large. Now, it’s fairly standard, and its typical 6mm thickness offers greater durability as a flooring choice thanks to product advancements since those early releases. Smaller sizes were more popular in actual installations, however, with many, like this stone look by Iris Ceramica, focusing on patterning opportunities. It’s part of the new Elementi collection, which offers limestone and concrete looks between its three lines, available in various earth tones and sizes up to 4’x4’.
“After a long period of Covid-related issues, people want more color,” said Paolo Mularoni, president of Del Conca. His company responded with a new brushed concrete-look collection called Timeline featuring earth tones like Sun, a mustard yellow; Nightfall, a smoky blue-grey; and muted patterns including Tropical, which capitalizes on the botanical trend seen over the last few years, especially in wall tiles. This year, the saturation of colors, predominantly blues and greens, on display at many booths speaks to the energy people are now seeking in their home décor, and such strong colors pair well with ever-popular earth tones. Timeline through-body tiles are appropriate for indoor and outdoor use and come in a variety of sizes and additional colors/patterns.
The marble slabs in the spotlight spoke to the seeming desire to set ceramic apart. While there were still plenty of soft, elegant reproductions of the real thing, those taking center stage tended to be dramatic interpretations with heavy veining, unusual patterning or striking color schemes-ethereal hues like aqua or blush, rich blends incorporating gold or stark contrasts, or statement pieces in black. If veining wasn’t prominent, the slabs often took on the look of an unearthed geode.
Fiandre unveiled nine new colors for its Marmi Maximum collection, offering an ultra-contemporary take on marble that illustrates multiple aspects of the trend. The 6mm slabs are available in a range of sizes up to 5’x10’ and usable for flooring, walls and creating custom elements like sink surrounds or tabletops.
Second to marble looks were concrete looks, many with a brushed appearance or a textured surface. Positioned as both wall and floor coverings, they were nearly ubiquitous in outdoor installations. For indoor use, they sometimes got a boost from the incorporation of color: pale earth tones or charcoal/black.
Earthtech, a new collection from Florim’s Floor Gres brand, offers a hybrid concrete/terrazzo look. The through-body product comes in a brushed-concrete look called Ground and a terrazzo look called Flecks. It can be used indoors and out and comes in six colors and a range of sizes up to 4’x8’.
After a year of being closed off from each other, connecting through computer screens instead of hugs and handshakes, ceramic producers offered a touchpoint through the incorporation of texture. This took many forms: embossed flower outlines on botanical wallpaper-like slabs; 3D geometrics, which were prominent; hand glazing; gritty or etched surfaces. “I was surprised by the tactile quality,” said Cristina Faedi, head of promotional activities for Confindustria Ceramica.
Atlas Concorde spoke to this through two of its new offerings: Aplomb, a wall collection which uses embossed dots and lines to create visual interest even on solid-color slabs (though a range of decorative motifs are available as well); and Boost Natural, a floor/wall collection that offers the look and feel of raw clay. Building on the brand’s popular Boost concrete-look series, Boost Natural can be used indoors and out and is available in a range of earth tones-including cobalt, following the color scheme trend-and sizes up to 4’x9’.
While stone looks reigned supreme, ADI gave an honorable mention to a metal look birthed as an antithesis, Panaria Ceramica’s new Zero.3 Blade collection. “We followed the feedback of customers: ‘We need something new, not only stone,’” said Panaria Ceramica brand marketing manager Alessandro Golinelli. Taking its inspiration from oxidized metal, the 3.5mm laminated porcelain collection-which can be used for both floors and walls-comes in five colors with matching damask designs or woven patterned textures, and three sizes.
At the other end of the spectrum from large-scale slabs, and just as universal for wall tiles, were playful shapes and patterns: chevrons; herringbones; hexagons, both elongated and traditional. Amid these familiar iterations, which have been growing in popularity for years, were whispers of arches reminiscent of Art Deco designs.
The chevron was probably the most popular pattern for flooring, followed by traditional hexagons, though there was also a focus on mosaics, especially ones juxtaposing different materials-terra cotta and concrete, for example. Marazzi’s oak-inspired Vero was presented in chevron, a new look for the collection. Suitable for indoor and outdoor use, Vero is available in four colors and several sizes, and even comes in a 20mm variant that can even be dry-laid.
Luring guests in at nearly every booth were large-scale wall tiles that offer the effect of wallpaper along with advantages in terms of installation, durability and hygiene. Botanicals were abundant, from soft, Victorian-looking florals to dramatic jungle interpretations, an emerging trend.
Naxos, a brand of Fincibec Group, showed several collections of wall tiles featuring patterns from funky geometrics to lush florals. Its Tuscany collection bucks the “big” trend with its single-size format (roughly 12.5”x31.75”), while capitalizing on another one: the ability to customize the design.
As its win illustrates, Olympia Tile has a handle on trends and consumer preferences. It serves Canada and the United States through a network of nearly 40 locations, with roughly 75% of its sales coming from ceramic. Gal said the most unusual thing he saw at Cersaie were wallpaper tiles, which he wasn’t personally drawn. But he noted that “the trends in Europe always come here eventually.”
In terms of what he brought back and we could therefore be seeing next, he referenced the possibility of tile beginning to push the envelope through the samples he sourced: “different-looking concrete, different-looking cement, different-looking marbleized, wood looks…made a little bit funkier.”
MOVE OVER, MICROBES
Though not overly hyped, a notable trend was the addition of antimicrobial treatments as the world wrestles with Covid-19. Previously targeted at communal spaces like hotels, restaurants and hospitals, they are gaining traction in residential applications, said Panaria Ceramica’s Alessandro Golinelli.
Panariagroup and many others partner with Microban, which uses a patented process that adds small amounts of silver to the material as it’s being manufactured (as opposed to a surface treatment) to inhibit bacteria’s lifecycle, though a notice on Microban’s website reports that it has not been shown to be effective against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.
Iris Ceramica Group takes the technology a step further with Active Touch, a patented “self-cleaning” ceramic that incorporates silver and light-activated oxidation properties that make the ceramic not only anti-bacterial but also anti-viral and anti-fungal when exposed to natural or even LED light. According to Fiandre’s website (Fiandre is a brand of Iris Ceramica Group), verified tests by independent parties showed that 94% of SARS-CoV-2 was eliminated after four hours of exposure to low-intensity UV light, and Active Touch has been shown to be 99% effective against other common viruses.
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