Cersaie 2023: Technology takes center stage, elevating tile for more applications – Nov 2023

By Jennifer Bardoner

The world’s largest international ceramics show celebrated its 40th birthday in September with an energetic exhibition of the latest in tile trends and technology. Many of the looks this year were revived classics, reinvented for the modern age. Italy is the world’s number one ceramics producer in terms of value, and its category-leading technology was the real star of this year’s Cersaie introductions.

Filling 15 separate exhibit halls in Bologna, Italy, 633 companies displayed their new releases in ceramics, bathroom furnishings, installation and related services. Packing the nearly 1.6 million square feet of occupied exhibition space were over 99,000 attendees, a figure that is beginning to rival pre-pandemic numbers-in 2019, the event drew 112,000 attendees-and nearly half of them (48%) were foreign this year, another sign that the event is returning to business as usual.

The business itself, however, is still far from what used to be coined “usual.” While the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and intertwined global supply chain disruptions have largely abated, the war in Ukraine’s impact on natural gas prices is still being felt, and the inflationary pressures brought on by both of those seismic events are taking a toll. Due to price increases, largely driven by the energy crisis, 2022 was a record-breaking year for the Italian ceramics industry, which saw 16.5% growth year over year for a total of 7.2 billion euros in sales. But the market has shifted amid rising interest rates, with the first half of 2023 down 14.4% year over year for the industry, reported Emilio Mussini, vice president of Italian trade association Confindustria Ceramica.

Italy and other European producers-which are responsible for roughly half of the world’s supply of ceramic tile-are bearing the brunt of natural-gas cost increases. Though prices in Europe are a fraction of the peak seen last summer, they remain more than double pre-pandemic costs. The situation is having a lasting impact as manufacturers eye new energy sources. According to Mauro Rullo, head of sustainability for Confindustria Ceramica, the capacity of Italy’s photovoltaic plants will more than double by the end of the year, and the conversation is now turning to hydrogen-powered models.

In the meantime, technological advancements on the styling side of the industry continue to differentiate Italian ceramics and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Many of the year’s introductions centered on new surface finishes. Providing slip resistance coupled with a soft-touch feel seems to be the new frontier as manufacturers seek ways to make their products more applicable in more environments. Cotto d’Este’s Safetouch, Ceramiche Refin’s Matt-Pro and Atlas Concorde’s Velvetech were among the related new introductions. While these achieve a velvety hand to varying success, the finishes offer enhanced cleanability and a natural-looking matte appearance-which is becoming more sought-after-and allow for seamless transitions between indoors and out.

3D technology is not necessarily new, but more producers are joining the movement, and the finishes are getting more sophisticated. Many of this year’s hyper-realistic 3D surfaces were virtually impossible to tell apart from the material the product was mimicking. It seemed that every major manufacturer had products with realistically textured veining, but Del Conca’s new Dinamika introductions stood out. One of the pioneers in 3D technology, which the company debuted in 2022, Del Conca added marble looks that don’t just capture the texture of the veining, but of the overall surface, taking the technology a step further to mimic marble finishing techniques including sandblasting, acid etching and brushing. Many exhibitors, including Del Conca, also employed 3D technology to seemingly mix formats and finishes in a single product, giving the illusion of a mosaic comprising different pieces.

Meanwhile, advanced through-body technology is expanding opportunities in the kitchen and bath segment. Decorative slabs with realistic through-body veining-a growing request from designers, according to several different brand representatives-are being fabricated into countertops, tables and vanities, another avenue for growing ceramic sales. Mirage entered the arena with its new Bathmood line and Atlas Concorde’s Habitat program added tables to its mix, while Casalgrande Padana’s new Aquatio line of bathroom furnishings enhances the application with a built-in antimicrobial treatment. Many of the lines offer the ability to choose from the company’s overall selection of slabs-another touchpoint for new technology.

Large-scale panels are not only getting bigger, they’re also getting thinner while maintaining the same performance characteristics. Imola was among the host of manufacturers adding a 6.5mm 110”x48” format. Europe aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 and slimming a panel down from 9mm to 6mm reduces the product’s global warming potential (GWP) by 41%, Rullo said, noting that companies are currently going the route of dematerialization to reduce their environmental impact as alternative energy solutions are explored.

Iris Ceramica’s booth encapsulated the various kinds of cutting-edge technology at play in ceramics today. The fixtures were made from Iris’s “4D” through-body ceramics, debuted at Coverings, and embedded in those panels was the company’s proprietary Hypertouch technology, allowing visitors to wirelessly connect to the integrated power source to charge their phone or wave their hand across a different sensor to change the meeting room’s window from transparent to opaque.

The booth also displayed a brand-new technology, Attract. The dry-lay installation system utilizes a magnetic underlayment and backing, and guests crowded around the DIY workstations set up to showcase the new approach. The magnetic matting can be attached to the back of any product and removed and reused indefinitely, according to UK specification manager Margherita Giannoni. It produced a strong enough grip that the demo cutouts along the booth’s back wall were held securely in place, and Giannoni said the company is working to enhance the technology so that it can be used for showers and exterior applications, in addition to interior floors and walls.

Travertine: By far the most predominant visual, it took on different looks, from soft crosscut iterations to crisp vein-cut aesthetics. Both are seen here in Casalgrande Padana’s Pietra Tiburtina in Palatino.

Ceppo di Gre: Essentially the natural version of terrazzo, this chunky stone look seemed to be an emerging visual. Seen is Gardenia Orchidea’s so-named visual from its La Geoteca collection.

Honey-toned wood: After several years, warm wood looks were back, often in a chevron pattern or a slatted-looking format.

Earth tones: While pastels and jewel tones were still present, earth tones provided the main color palette, especially terracotta- and green-based shades. Ceramica Fioranese’s Italian Landscape collection offers both.

Decorative concrete: The classic material got an upgrade through faded decorative motifs and subtle oxidation-like overlays that didn’t overtake the aesthetic. Pictured is Morgana by LaFaenza, one of Imola’s brands.

Elegant marble: Sophisticated versions based on luxe materials replaced the maximalist aesthetics of a few years ago. Pictured is Atlas Concorde’s Marvel Meraviglia in Calacatta Bernini (fireplace) and Grigio Elegante with the new Velvetech finish.

Luster: Luxe often came in the form of subtle iridescence as well as more pronounced metallic-inspired sheen. Pictured is Cotte d’Este’s Wonderwall in Gold Leaf.

Retro: The ’60s and ’90s converged for an, at times, quirky blast from the past. Pictured is Caleido by Ceramica Bardelli.

Curves: The inspirations included everything from Art Deco arches and mod designs to air- and wave-inspired patterns. Seen is Panaria’s Lamatière in Glaise and Harmonie in Sable.

Linears: From vein-cut travertine to trompe de l’oeil graphics, the incorporation of linears was varied but striking, like Ceramiche Coem’s Moiré in Clay.

Small formats: Penny round and 1”x1”-square mosaics were a popular throwback, but the “KitKat” format showed up in a pronounced way, often in a 3D treatment. Pictured is Gruppo Bardelli’s Cromatica.

Mosaics: Perennially popular for walls, the approach was extended to the floor through combinations of different materials and interesting cutouts. Seen is Appiani Pastelli’s Fruttivendolo.

Tile industry consultant Joe Lundgren, designer Steve Clem and tile producer Scott Jones, director of product management and development for Crossville, weigh in on the trends and their takeaways from the show.

• Jones: “Strong marbles will continue to play, and classic marble will continue to play, but travertine will do well. I saw some very elegant travertine that could certainly work inside and really speak to the overall idea of ‘inside to outside.’ Three or four years ago, I saw a lot of travertine. It has cycled back, but in an elevated way. They’re continuing to up the game in terms of visuals and the realism of looks.”

• Jones: “It surprised me to see some wood starting to show up again. It had really gone away, and everybody focused on cement, marble and abstracts. We’ve seen the impact of LVT on tile, but there are purposes for different materials, and this may be a bit of a rebound of people realizing ‘Maybe tile is my preferred choice.’ I have started to hear more rumblings about needing wood. I think it is something we will see grow in the U.S. again in tile.”

• Clem: “Texturally, it now feels like it’s not a print but like it’s got grain to it, and their color accuracy was just superb. I’ve got a couple jobs where we’re putting in [real] European white oak, and the biggest challenge is coordinating the consistency of it.”

Other materials
• Lundgren: “Rapolano was big, and it’s beige, so Americans will love it, and you can decorate around it. Metals are also coming back here. It’s nice-looking if it’s soft.”
Realism and texture

• Jones: “The biggest trend was texture. It’s been evolving, but it got pushed out there in a big way. There was a very strong focus on technology to bring texture to tile. This showed up in a 3D-geometric way but even more so in an enhanced-realism way and really aligning texture with the natural visual and putting that natural visual on steroids.”

• Clem: “Going beyond digital print and just a matte or a textured finish and getting dimensional is really a game-changer. In some cases, you can hardly distinguish between natural stone and the realistic format, except for the fact that you’re able to get it [tile] in large dimensions. And I saw several places using raised graphic patterns, including Lea Ceramiche. Del Conca’s byzantine mosaic floor and texture on walls was fantastic. The trend was intriguing, and the good news is it can also be used on the floor as a textured walking surface.”

• Clem: “A couple years ago, all you could get was a rustic matte finish and a polished finish. Now, you can get a textural matte finish, and you can also get a satin finish that’s low glare, medium sheen so you don’t see the window or lighting reflected in the panels. That was something I was looking for. Infinity had a super satin finish. In some of them you could still feel a little texture on it, but this one was elegant, and you could still see great depths of color.”

• Lundgren: “Walls equal higher margins, and every year I see more and more wall tiles here. This year, I noticed a lot of small-unit wall tiles, especially in an elongated subway format. I think large-format panels are going to be great in America, but we’re not there yet. The market is all going to come down to installers. And slabs are harder to transport. When they got thicker, they got heavier.”

• Jones: “We’ve been doing panels for some time, and I think the market is certainly heading that way. It’s almost a split: We see a move to large panels on the wall, which makes sense from an installation standpoint, trying to downplay grout and seams and have a more consistent visual. And then at the opposite end of the spectrum, we see a lot going on with smaller and smaller things on the wall. But large panels do have a place on the wall.”

Through-body fixtures
• Jones: “I thought that was pretty smart. It is another way to use the material, and it is a way to tie the overall theme of a kitchen or bath together. It will be interesting to see how and when it translates to the U.S. It’s really almost a completely different market, and it sets it up as a broader offering than somebody selling tile, because now you’re involving plumbers and things like that. When tile expanded to the outdoors, it involved landscapers, so there is precedence, but we will have to understand the needs of the contractor base.”

The production cycle of ceramic tiles is an energy-intensive process that accounts for most of the products’ GWP. Hydrogen is being touted as the next big thing in the industry, but many note that the gas is not readily available or affordable.

Still, companies are trying to find ways to make it work. Iris Ceramica is poised to become the first ceramics producer to do so. Its hydrogen-powered plant is set to begin production in 2025, with capacity initially dedicated to its 4D through-body panels. At the outset, the plant will be powered by a blend of green hydrogen, sourced from water, and natural gas, which solar panels on the roof will eventually replace.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

Related Topics: CERAMICS OF ITALY, Coverings, CERSAIE , Crossville, Mirage Floors