Coverings 2022: This year’s ceramic expo highlights manufacturers’ strategic business moves alongside new design trends – May 2022

By Jennifer Bardoner

Back to its normal programming after co-locating with the National Wood Flooring Association’s show in Orlando, Florida last July, which saw reduced attendance at both shows due to the pandemic, this year’s Coverings was on par with previous years’ shows in Las Vegas, drawing more than 750 international companies and a healthy number of attendees. While the biennial events in Orlando are typically better attended due to Florida being one of the country’s largest tile-consuming states, anecdotal reports said a high level of business was conducted at this year’s show.

Hosted by five ceramics associations-the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, National Tile Contractors Association, Ceramics of Italy and Tile of Spain-Coverings is the ceramic industry’s largest North American trade show, displaying new looks and trends from the industry’s leading domestic and foreign producers. Though the U.S. is a major global market for tile, consumption per capita here is far below that of the other exhibiting countries, where the category is a traditional part of the culture and community. Differences in aesthetics were evident between each country’s concentration of exhibitors, but there was some overlap-the European suppliers tend to lead the way in popular new styles, which eventually make their way to America.

With ongoing supply chain challenges and soaring energy costs disproportionately affecting European production, this year’s show was marked by a focus on available supply and related investment announcements.

“We’re having people come in from all over the world asking, ‘Will you export?’ and it’s only day one [of the show],” Landmark Ceramics sales manager Andrew Patrizzi said while showcasing new products in the Tennessee-based manufacturer’s booth. In general, the North American pavilion seemed to have much more foot traffic, and Portobello’s booth, an anchor in that pavilion, was consistently crowded as the Brazilian manufacturer prepares for the 2023 opening of its U.S. headquarters and factory in Baxter, Tennessee.

Coverings spokesperson and certified master kitchen and bath designer Alena Capra worked with the various tile associations represented to compile the year’s new and unique tile trends from around the globe:

• Baroque: Traditionally defined by a sense of movement and grandeur, today’s representative tiles are full of exuberance, particularly when produced on floor-to-ceiling porcelain slabs.

• Bas Relief: From rounded edges that simulate ancient stone to low relief that adds depth and structure, manufacturers have invested heavily in new technologies this past year to create ceramic and porcelain tiles that break through the third dimension.

• Captivating Colors: Anchored by an earth tone palette punctuated by cool natural colors, from jewel tones to pastels, this trend also incorporates finishes and patterns that honor ceramic’s rich and artisanal history, combining with the colors to offer a grounded connection.

• Crisp & Clean: During this new era of ceramic design, a more delicate approach will run parallel with artisanal textures and organic materials, utilizing smooth compositions, hushed textures and minimalistic patterns to lend a sense of balance.

• Golden Arches: Curvaceous forms of arches and softly rounded rectangles that characterize Art Deco design are finding a niche in 2022’s design language.

• Murals: With extra-large sizes and super-thin profiles, ceramic tile is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to wallpaper, showcasing the artistic capabilities of designers combined with the durable advantages of porcelain.

• Plaster Looks: Thanks to the current trend toward nature and earthy elements, textured wall treatments are having a resurgence. Most notable are the textural appearance and subtle color variations that replicate the artistic layering of plaster.

• Polarized Marble: While white marbles still reign supreme, this new approach retains the organic variation of a veined stone with an overall aesthetic that is more homogeneous, coupled with a symphony of texture, finish and effects.

• Shapes Scaled: As last year brought oversized hexagons, 2022 brings various other oversized shapes, such as triangles, diamonds and parallelograms, as well as their counterparts-pocket-sized hexagons and polygons-configured in eye-catching patterns.

• Warm Stones: With the general warming up of color palettes the past few years, it should only follow that stone looks are also heating up color-wise.

The TCNA pavilion hosted more than 130 booths, a mix of distributors/manufacturers and sundry suppliers. Amid the established trend toward concrete and natural stone looks, marble aesthetics were the focal point. Many companies sought to offer realistic representations of classic looks like Calacatta, though the neutral-based selection was augmented with products featuring rich veining and black fieldstones. The concrete and other stone looks, primarily limestone, were often used in outdoor formats, with a growing focus on outdoor living.

On the decorative side, a trend toward mosaics was prevalent, with many offering a throwback vibe, both to traditional European designs and midcentury modern aesthetics. In many cases, inherent elements like joints were used to add extra flair through the incorporation of a contrasting material or finish, with a notable emphasis on luminescence and texture, a nod to the current maximalist trend. Shapes were often stretched to offer a unique look, the primary being hexagons in small to medium formats. Squares-traditionally used as the base of mosaics-were another primary shape in both 1”x1” and 6”x6” sizes, though penny round seemed to be making a return, and elongated subway tile was still everywhere.

Amid the representations of different types of stone were several showstopping collections of the real thing, including a new 14-product line of exotic marble from Anatolia Tile, which specializes in ceramic. “Everything around us is about indulgence; there’s a sense of luxe,” said Anatolia CEO Cengiz Elmaagacli. “Diving into a larger program of more unique, niche and premium stones felt right. We’ve been told by some of our customers, with the cost increases on the ceramic and porcelain side, it’s making natural stone more viable than it has been in the past.”

Crossville focused its booth on “things people can get right now,” said vice president of marketing Lindsey Waldrep, adding, “It’s such an issue at the top of everyone’s mind.” That included two new collections: Classic Grooves, a five-color line of limestone looks with energetic yet subtle striations and corresponding mosaics, and Stone Friction, a forthcoming line offering a travertine look. Both feature the firm’s textured “exterior finish” for enhanced traction, making them suitable for wet installations as well, Waldrep said, and their neutral color palette and natural visuals enhance the indoor/outdoor possibilities. 

In November, the Crossville, Tennessee-based manufacturer debuted Owen Stone, another muted stone-look collection with the option of the exterior finish or the firm’s first leathered finish. Achieved by running diamond-tipped brushes across the fired tile, the new finish offers a soft touch without compromising dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) performance, according to the firm. Crossville president Greg Mather has said indoor/outdoor products-which are seeing growing interest in residential applications-represent an opportunity and focus for the company moving forward.

The three new launches are also suitable for commercial environments. Historically the bulk of Crossville’s business, the segment faltered during the pandemic as stores, offices and hotels were temporarily closed.

Debuted domestically earlier this year, Kerlite Easy’s premiere at Coverings represents Florida Tile’s first real push for a dry-lay installation system. The specialized mat, silicone joint sealant and corresponding selection of gauged panels were initially introduced by Italian sister brand Cotto d’Este, and the domestic distributor sees it as a revolutionary new offering, especially in light of the U.S. market’s ongoing labor challenges. Following the live demo of Kerlite Easy at Coverings-featuring marketing personnel as opposed to installers-several general contractors came to the booth to learn more, said brand marketing manager, Sandra Bunn.

Launched with ten varied looks, the selection of corresponding tiles is already in consideration for expansion based on the feedback received, she said.

Amid the broader looks on display, the marble aesthetic was in the spotlight with the feature installation of Alustra, a luxe line with five marble visuals in three sizes with the option of corresponding mosaics. The panels themselves, suitable for floors and walls, can be lined with a gold or silver inlay, a touch present in some of the brand’s upcoming new lines teased at the show, as well as at other booths across the show floor. 

Launched two years ago, porcelain veneers have become a new focus for Landmark Ceramics, which already has the biggest offering of colors and sizes of outdoor pavers in the U.S., according to business development coordinator Davide Scacchetti. Building on the company’s Veneer World line of ledgestone looks, which gained a new color, Alpine, Landmark introduced a new line of primarily concrete looks: WallPlay. Available in a multitude of colors and sizes, the new veneer line is organized by palette and includes contrasting accents.

The company’s growth strategy seems rooted in the outdoors. Its roughly 60-color collection of porcelain pavers, most of which have an interior match, grew this year with the introduction of six new colors. Noting the limited availability of concrete pavers due to labor shortages, hardscape sales manager Travis Smith said, “We’re getting specs flipped to us.” He estimates the total domestic hardscape business at around two billion square feet and counting.

Landmark is investing more than $55 million to expand its capacity by adding a new kiln and equipment, growing its warehouse to one million square feet and creating a logistics center, all at its Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee production facility. 

Milestone, the brand of Florim USA, gained a collection of six marble looks with its release of Jem. The new collection adds a 48”x48” format-already popular in Italy, where Florim is headquartered-to the brand’s portfolio. The 48”x110” gauged format, another of Jem’s five available sizes, offers the option of bookmatched panels, a new offering for Milestone, which was also noteworthy among the European brands represented.

Milestone’s +One collection also saw the addition of 48”x48” options, collectively coined “MAX.” To accommodate the new format, Florim USA is adding a fourth kiln, dedicated to large formats, at its Clarksville, Tennessee facility, said Jana Manzella, senior vice president of sales and business development. It is expected to be operational in January. Offering the ability to rectify tiles in place, it will further expand the possibilities in terms of size.

Milestone also debuted the industry’s second carbon-neutral offering, building on its November launch of Plaster 2.0. Whereas that first carbon-neutral collection featured concrete looks in various sizes, Native offers popular wood visuals in “one eco-friendly size” (8”x48”), while reaffirming the brand’s commitment to be completely carbon-neutral by 2030. Among its other sustainability (and strategic) efforts, Florim USA will build a 350,000-square-foot warehouse next year that will be completely covered in solar panels, Manzella said.

Along with an array of ceramic and porcelain products, MSI, which was also one of a handful of exhibitors showcasing LVT, debuted an engineered wood collection, W, at the show. A new category for the company, the launch illustrates the established tile distributor’s efforts to diversify its portfolio beyond its stone and tile origins. Having introduced LVT to its portfolio several years ago, MSI added several dedicated factories last year.

Amid the desire for spaces that seamlessly transition from indoor to outdoor, the firm’s complementary LVT and tile products have gained traction, said creative director Emily Holle, offering dealers another avenue for sales while meeting the needs of today’s open-concept home designs. On display was Cyrus, a 5mm LVT featuring a 12mil wearlayer and attached pad, and Arterra, a wood-look porcelain tile with visuals so closely matched that even the transition was nearly imperceptible to the eye.

Recently rebranded from American Wonder Porcelain to simply Wonder Porcelain, the Lebanon, Tennessee-based manufacturer had many marble looks on display that spoke not only to the current trend toward opulence, but also to the company’s evolving capabilities, said marketing director Patricia Acosta. “We really feel this represents a new path forward for us,” she said of Adagio, a luxe marble visual with rich veining offered exclusively in 12”x24” and 24”x48” formats.

Even more impressive, and unique in the North American pavilion, was the firm’s debut of Era. Capturing the luminescence of onyx, a common sight in both the Spanish and Italian pavilions, such looks are becoming popular in the trend-setting Miami market, reported regional sales manager Joseph Osle. 

For most of the country, however, “bold marble is what customers are interested in,” Acosta said-and the company will be actively working to grow its overall sales. “Now that we’ve turned a corner [design-wise], we’re in growth mode in sales,” she said. “We’re adding personnel.”

Ceramics of Italy, Tile of Spain and Anfacer, the Brazilian tile association, each had their own space on the floor. The respective international pavilions hosted 56 Italian, 85 Spanish and 11 Brazilian companies’ booths. The looks on display were anchored by statement marble-characterized by boldly colored fieldstones, in contrast to the more classic looks in the TCNA pavilion-with an emerging focus on onyx. Positioned alongside the exotic marble visuals, the onyx looks offered an even greater sense of opulence. It is worth noting that both are typically sold as gauged panels, a big push especially from European manufacturers, but there is still limited use in the U.S. due to the technical aspects of their installation.

At the other end of the spectrum were small-format pieces with a retro feel: elongated subway tiles with midcentury modern shapes in bas relief or protruding joint accents; 1”x1” squares in primary colors; mosaics with modernist and historical roots. As in the TCNA pavilion, texture was a focus, both through contrasting components and on the surface of the tile itself.

Known for its high-design lines, ABK Group’s booth stood out for its overtly fashion-forward feature installations, which garnered it the show’s Best Fashion Meets Function award. But what was perhaps most noteworthy was the group’s debut of new 3D technology between several of its brands (ABK Group comprises ABK, Gardenia Orchidea, Flaviker, Ariana and Desvres), providing a varied-texture surface that gives it not only a hyper-realistic look but also touch. Called FullBody3D or 3D Tech, depending on the brand, it mixes different materials for variable texture that perfectly aligns with the graphics and penetrates the surface, giving an authentic feel through the contrasting striations and pockmarks. 

The company is investing in a third line dedicated to large slabs, featuring “revolutionary and yet-to-be-unveiled new technology,” according to the firm.

Del Conca’s new Dinamika line, which also offers authentic texture through the incorporation of various natural materials, includes several striking options that take that surface texture a step further. Achieved by the joint processing of the structure and graphic design-the result of a more than €2 million investment and several years of research-the four natural stone looks are enhanced with an etched surface option that lends a more decorative element while honoring traditional stone processing and the stones’ fossilized nature. Available through Del Conca’s Italian brand, the company is now investing in a new Continua line for its Del Conca USA plant that will be capable of producing hyper-realistic texture that corresponds with the visuals.

Though a niche product, Aparici’s new Tropical series of 12”x12” floor tiles (displayed as a wall installation) underscored Spanish producers’ elevated design aesthetic and capabilities, achieved by applying multiple glazes to a single product. In this case, glossy finishes make certain elements-the outer shading on a palm frond, for example-stand out against the matte yet multilayered background. The alluring dimensional effect is the result of multiple fires, each adding its own textural and artistic element. 

Codicer’s bold mosaic options encapsulated the maximalist trend, combining quirky shapes and patterns for a unique effect that felt both familiar and fresh. Many of the patterns also spoke to the trend toward strong geometrics, while lending a midcentury modern aesthetic. Other installations channeled tile’s origins, mixing timeworn designs with contemporary shapes, such as elongated diamonds or arabesques.

Phil Neufeldt owns a high-end flooring store in Wichita, Kansas. He was at Coverings to source product he thought would do well with Neufeldt’s Flooring customers, with a focus on Italy’s industry-leading designs.

“Edimax Astor was the winner of my heart,” he said, though adding, “It seems everyone is busy trying to show off their amazing technology to make porcelain panels, but they are missing out on the opportunity to sell me tile. Tile can be big-48”x48” is plenty large-but panels are not going to be our day in, day out sellers.

“The outdoor (2cm) product and installation was on my radar this go-around, and I found lots of help and enough suppliers to get me going.”

Copyright 2022 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Crossville, Florim USA, CERAMICS OF ITALY, Coverings