Tile Files: Key issues are affecting the ceramics industry, and the industry is responding – Feb 2022
By Ryan Fasan
The past two years have forced the biggest shift in views, values and perspective in our lifetimes. While many of the shifts favor a growth in ceramic finishes, they are also causing large swings in trends-a difficult course to navigate for a product that can easily outlive generations. Several key factors are influencing direction for product development in the rich field of ceramics.
Logistics have never been more difficult to predict. In both costs and timelines, the world has struggled to keep up with the shifting issues impacting the global supply chain and shipping industry. Importers of every kind of material are having to stretch their inventories to bridge these gaps and invest in heavier stock loads to do so.
In the world of ceramics, expect to see safer programs with broader market appeal in the coming years, though that doesn’t mean boring! Some of the most detailed and stunning novelties we’ve ever seen in the industry have come in the past couple of years. Thankfully, creativity tends to thrive in periods of turmoil.
Hospitality, namely hotels and restaurants, were hit hard over the past couple of years. Due to the typical refurb cycle of these properties, along with their hygiene standards because of their public service function, they lean heavily on ceramics for their material finishes.
The recent slowdown in refurbishment and new builds within hospitality means ceramic manufacturers are shifting focus to address residential markets. Expect to see more “bridge” collections that can address mid-market residential work while appealing to hospitality clients on the rebound. Also, look for creative solutions that offer hospitality projects the ability to better leverage their outdoor spaces to regain some lost revenue, while also serving residential clients looking to create outdoor rooms and kitchens. Flexibility and cross-market appeal are the major goals with novelty collections outside commodity price points.
We’ve long been focused on open plans in both commercial offices and our homes. The need to distance in the workplace and carve out a space for concentration in the home is throwing a monkey wrench in that trend. There’s a realization that open spaces are good for our headspace as they make a confined area look bigger, but some way to compartmentalize is necessary. Expect to see more partition walls and roll-away room dividers enter the workplace and homes. Finding ways to keep visual continuity through the space when open, but having avenues to compartmentalize, is key.
Leveraging tile’s UV resistance and unified performance and cleaning regimen will be a factor in addressing the need for flex spaces. Expect a return to classic patterns and timeless looks that fit with multiple design languages aimed at these flex zones.
LIVING IN RELATIONSHIP
I’m not talking about your family or partner here; it’s our relationship with the environment and other life forms that has come into laser focus for many at this time. We’ve all heard of biophilia over the past couple of years, and being composed of essentially baked dirt, tile is a natural fit for this trend.
This year’s offerings are taking a more ephemeral approach. While we are still seeing a rise in literal earth tones of natural clays in terracotta, there’s a subtler shift that’s creating a whole swath of earth tone-adjacent programs. Expect to see charcoals with a hint of coffee browns and warm French greys come to the foreground in a lot of these mid-market and even luxury introductions.
THE CERSAIE TIE-IN
The following are some key trends that emerged from the ceramic novelties launched at Cersaie this September and aimed at the 2022 market.
• Polarized marble: There’s been a shift happening in marble that preceded the pandemic. We started to see more aggressive stones with a broader color range in not just their veining but in overall tone as well. While white marbles still reign supreme, we have begun to see more interesting varietals, like Macchia Vecchia (an off-white with rich rust and golden tones) and other obscure forms that feature deep blues or greens, join the more benign ranks of Calacatta and Statuary.
The aggressive and interesting stones continue this year, but a counterpoint has emerged. The other end of the spectrum in marbles is quite refined and minimal while retaining the organic variation of a veined stone. The overall aesthetic is more monochromatic, but there’s a symphony going on in texture, finish and effects being applied to these more minimal programs. The use of “carving” inks and dry frits to add relief or bas-relief texture to complement the visual graphics engages our sense of touch as well as sight. The most successful marble looks for 2022 feature digital augmentation beyond the visual spectrum.
• Chip off the old block: Keeping pace, and in a similar vein (sorry, had to), with polarized marble is the shifting look of terrazzo. The emerging style is so much broader than the classic Venetian terrazzo. While we still see some of the iconic terrazzo style, there is emerging a wider range of chipped materials embedded in a largely monochrome matrix. Many of these new aggregate styles offer a subtler approach, with aggregates in sections of the tile flowing in organic randomness rather than an all-over approach.
This new category is a Swiss Army knife for designers and acts as a bridge for a broad array of material references and colors. With multicolored chips in varying degrees of color variation, these aggregate collections work with traditional marbles, woods and ceramics alike, as we’ve already seen. Drawing on the myriad tones in the chips as color and material references, these programs invite designers to add layers to their compositions while keeping a cohesive feel.
• Golden arches: Art Deco influences are here again in the form of arches and rounded corners. Recalling organic shapes while retaining the straight gridlines of a tile matrix, these Art Deco nods bring a sense of whimsy and approachability to even the most austere and luxurious aesthetics. The rounded corner offers the reassurance of protection from the hard edges of our reality, so it’s no surprise to see it coming to the fore at this time.
• Strength of earth: The rise of earth tones will be solidified this year with an expansion from literal embodiment in the rusty tones of terracotta clays to include all ranges of warm-inspired neutrals, from deep neutral browns to warm greys and, perhaps especially, off-whites. These earth tone-adjacent collections are tipping the scale of our schemes to the warm side, while our accent colors continue to favor cooler green and blue tones in counterpoint. These warmer tones also lean into accompanying the raw and minimal timber looks that have grown in strength over the past few years, adding layers of materialism and texture to the inviting feel that encourages accents in the form of living things, like houseplants and “green walls.”
• À bientôt: The ubiquitous reboot for the year is the Versailles pattern, named for the patios and verandas of the iconic pre-revolution French palace, and featuring a tumbled edge. This leans into the need to create flex spaces and delineate our space at times, which can be incredibly difficult with a minimalist modern grid of tile. The modular, multi-format Versailles programs have become popular for just this reason, allowing for blurred lines to reconfigure a space as needed for multiple-use cases. The tumbled edge’s rounded corners and softer lines also speak to the Art Deco references above.
• Crisp and clean: With all the earthiness and softening of harsh lines, you might think we’re heading into another boho-chic era, but nothing could be further from the truth. While we will see a lot of the classic elements of this style, like natural fibers, global patterns and bold color accents, we’re seeing the ingredients combined in a fresh way to create something completely different. The rough-spun artisanal textures and natural materials are contrasted, even complemented, by simple, crisp textures, grid lines and geometries. These clean and modern references are often seen in a simple, single material reference that is a cohesive, completed thought.
The seeming dissonance in style serves to highlight and celebrate the differences with a harmonious palette running through the compositions. The polarization and conflict over the past find us seeking ways to showcase unlikely compatriots in our designs, and the harmony we’re finding in that is illustrative and a balm in these uncertain times.
• Aleluia azulejos: With digital technology progressing to a point that multiple finishes, structure and volumes can be digitally applied, the industry is circling back to some intriguing classics from centuries past-ceramics that aren’t trying to mimic anything but instead celebrating the rich and artisanal history of this material and industry. We’re seeing weathered edges, classic glaze techniques and patterns in a wonderous revival reaching back a century and a half toward the birth of ceramics in Europe. This celebration of ceramic roots plays beautifully with all of the aforementioned trends and is the perfect harmonic accompaniment to it all.
If recent history is any kind of guide, 2022 will be another year for the history books. The tile industry is offering solutions in a world filled with issues. It’s exciting to see how the ceramicists and designers of this industry are taking the current zeitgeist and incorporating it into a timeless answer with a product that can and often will outlive its owners.
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