Tile Files: Generational solutions through new ceramics technology – June 2023
By Ryan Fasan
Writing and speaking on prevailing trends in the Spanish ceramic industry is one of my absolute favorite things. This year is an exciting one because, while most macro themes from previous years remain constant, technology has drastically advanced, making way for a new generation of ceramic solutions and applications. The following are some of the exciting advances in ceramic technology and capabilities that are driving the latest trends and products coming to the marketplace, as exhibited through examples from Spanish tile companies.
Ceramic as a Natural, Renewable Resource: Ceramics are one of the best examples of biomimicry, forged in a similar process to when the Earth propagates stone. In the organic process, natural minerals build up layer upon layer and, with heat from the mantle, fuse into a stone. Ceramic manufacturers have mimicked and perfected this technique, producing a full range of products in hours instead of millennia.
The recipe for ceramic products has remained unchanged for more than 4,000 years. Multiple clays mixed with one of the most abundant minerals on Earth, feldspar, fuse with silicates and other mineral oxides with immense pressure and heat to sinter into a manmade stone.
Ceramics are 100% natural; they inherently promote the health of the occupants in buildings. The added value of this material is a generations-long service life. To address the biggest issue of ceramics, environmental impact, is top of mind for leading countries of origin. The carbon footprint of heating ceramics in energy-efficient kilns is being addressed by manufacturers worldwide. Spain, for instance, has a plan in place to reduce emissions 55% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050.
This long-term perspective also has a lasting impact on emerging trends.
Color Trends and Lifespan: With ceramics, there is a very different approach to design trends compared to other decor materials, since there is a strong focus on generational solutions that add value beyond a single human lifespan. Ceramic artisans have a long view because tiles are going to be in situ for the lifetime of a home, which can, and arguably should, outlive the original occupants.
When it comes to color, paint companies or the Pantone Color Institute are top of mind with designers and homeowners, drawing on colors of the year and spectrum forecasts for inspiration. In ceramics, however, there is a broader approach to color selection, opting for hues that will be in vogue for decades. Tile-makers will select a common throughline and then develop complementary tones from the more transient shades. Ceramic trends are looking for symbiosis with design, not domination.
That becomes incredibly important when it comes to incorporating the kind of technology that is being utilized today to create not just color but also texture and finish. Advanced printing capabilities are now imbuing ceramic tiles with volume, variance, reflectivity and surface finish. Color space is three-dimensional, engaging with reflectivity to manipulate how much light is absorbed or reflected from the surface, giving variance to what the eye takes in. That is what truly natural spontaneity is-there are no solid colors in nature because of the variance that happens in natural materials.
MEGA TREND: BIOPHILIA
The biophilia trend focuses on creating a reflection of nature or simply a space that supports its inclusion.
Monochrome, Texture and Biophilia: Texture in a monochrome installation gives the feeling of natural forms and natural textures, using light and shadow the way nature does to result in a subdued theme of biophilia.
Tonal Echo: Tonal echo references a trend where one begins with a base of something inherently natural, like stone or wood, and then overlays it with a slightly different echo of a natural form. Where this becomes incredibly exciting and revolutionary for ceramics is in the ability to decorate with glaze, which allows the manipulation of reflectivity to modulate the light and adds texture to the piece.
Third Fire: Third fire is coming back to the forefront of production for a lot of the most decorative products. During this process, ceramics are fired a second or third time in the kiln at a much lower temperature to lightly sinter very delicate minerals. While these collections tend to be more expensive, the design benefits are immeasurable, adding value that other products really can’t achieve. Value-adds have much more power in premium categories because the value equation is starting from an already elevated place.
Micro Tessellation and Wallpaper-Like Collections: Think back to M.C. Escher and the ability to use geometry to tessellate and create a three-dimensional image. Much like Escher, Spanish manufacturers are doing just that, but pairing it with natural forms. This style is one that can be found in the latest wall collections, where ceramics mirror the look of wallpaper. Unlike preceding wallcoverings, tile cladding is more durable, longer lasting and better than the actual material, with textures you can see or touch.
Contextual: Oxidized metal that shows weathering has natural color, texture in the rust tones and organic expression in golden tones. These contextual ceramic pieces look good with plants and vegetation and are becoming ubiquitous in both indoor and outdoor spaces because they are being true to the soul of the material that they’re showcasing.
MEGA TREND: ORGANIC
The organic trend focuses on raw forms and minimally worked materials, allowing things to be what they are and celebrating them for their attributes rather than trying to “optimize” them.
Reflectivity: Reflectivity can be created with glazes used in the background of digitally printed tile, providing a high sheen against a satin or matte image. This is natural variance that can be found in the outside world, within the scope of one piece of ceramic material. Consumers value authenticity over embellishment today. Whether manufactures are creating ceramics that look like ceramics or ceramics that look like something else, they’re able to craft some of the most authentic forms, given the technology in Spain today.
Raw Earth and Patina: Raw earth tones, colors and structures continue to grow, emulating an enveloping hug from nature. One profound expression of this is in recreating sometimes millennia-old patinas that develop from natural mineral glazes and weathering over time. Printing that coating digitally, using both color and texture, offers a greater picture of what a patina truly is.
MEGA TREND: ADAPTIVE USES & CONTINGENCIES
The adaptive uses and contingencies trend focuses on materials that are protective of and responsive to our busy lives.
Real World Solutions: Not every solution has to be high tech. This simple 2cm decking tile uses the shape of a wooden plank to create drainage channels within the body of the tile because it’s extruded. Spanish manufacturers are also creating edges that are interlocking tongue-and-groove so that the tile can be dry laid but create a cohesive, unified system that allows for drainage.
Seamless Performance: One of the reasons we’re seeing a lot of growth in the ceramic industry is because of its seamless performance from indoors to outside. During the pandemic, the importance of leveraging outside space was fully realized in both residential and commercial settings. Now, unifying those spaces from inside to outside drives the need to have flooring offerings with cohesive performance and a uniform look that marries both spaces. Ceramics are uniquely able to bridge the gap, as opposed to wood or vinyl, since tile can vary in thickness, anti-slip or other performance variables while maintaining a cohesive look. One recent advancement in ceramics is the ability to produce a higher slip-resistance value when tiles are wet. The tile is easy to clean in both environments, and it has been engineered to respond to both in an optimized way.
Augmented Reality: Augmented reality is something most of us are familiar with. This is also something that can now be done with ceramics because of progressing digital capabilities, like the ability to add true metallic glazes in third fire or non-metallic metal glazes with a high sheen on a floor in a way that will withstand high traffic. Today, companies can augment reality to create looks that are durable, anti-stain and safe for high-traffic use, such as a marble that won’t stain in a busy kitchen or an exterior paver that can withstand all the elements.
MEGA TREND: HISTORY
The history trend plays upon how new technology and cultural perspectives allow for new takes on relatable classics.
Memory Illusion and Cornucopia: Over the past couple of years, in addition to the Midcentury Modern trend that is still very relevant, there has been a rise of Middle Ages Modern, which lends itself to raw, hand-done touches paired with more contemporary materials. Ceramic engineers and designers are taking a look at a cornucopia of human artistic talent and blending it all together into this wonderful form that we have in our capabilities today.
Intelligent Leverage: Despite the breadth of capabilities seen in manufacturing today, not everything has to be melded together into one piece. In some cases, just a dose of reflectivity and a hint of volume can be seen. In other cases, maybe four or five different effects are needed. The restraint that a lot of Spanish manufacturers are using, despite the huge range of capabilities that they have, is an art in itself. In the end, what can be achieved in this industry is truly shaping the future, with references to our past.
Design Equals Benevolence: Design today truly equals benevolence. Design is there to solve an immediate need-but with future generations in mind, because creation truly has consequences beyond the now.
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