Reports from Italy: Trends in Tile
I spent last week at Cersaie, the annual trade show held each year in Bologna, Italy, featuring the latest in ceramic tiles and bath fixtures. When my hosts told me ahead of time to pack comfortable shoes in preparation for walking "miles of tiles," they weren't exaggerating—Cersaie fills dozens of football field-size exhibition halls, buzzing with over 100,000 people who come from around the world to survey the fruits of one of Italy's most prized industries. Having returned from my trek and soaked my feet a while, I've rounded up a handful of trends spotted at Cersaie that you're likely to see in tile in the coming months.
We heard many times that innovation is a defining characteristic of good Italian tile. While a growing number of manufacturers around the world are competing on price alone, churning out cheap versions of high-end products and selling them at mass market rate, the Italians emphasized that quality and innovation take precedence in their product. This year's most notable innovation was the 4 millimeter tile. Some companies integrated radiant heat into their thin tiles, while others simply boasted a lighter product that requires less material and weighs less in shipping. Lea was among the companies featuring ultra-thin ceramic tile.
Recycled Glass with TV Tubes
While I have seen plenty of recycled glass tile in the last few years, many of the Italian companies were specifically using recycled cathode ray tubes from the interior of old televisions. Apparently the recycling program for discarded TVs is better there than in the US, and tile manufacturers are capitalizing on a waste product that makes a perfect material for reuse. Refin's line Tracce utilizes CRTs, and is certified by European and American environmental standards for use in sustainable building projects.
On the first day at Cersaie, I might have believed that this was also a wood flooring show. I soon came to realize that all of the wood I was seeing was in fact tile, printed to resemble wood. It certainly fooled me. There were all sorts of stain colors, grain patterns and "plank" widths. I couldn't help but wonder why one would choose this tile over simply laying wood itself—certainly the warm look of wood is not matched by its softness or warmth in this case. The tile is likely more hard-wearing but I am interested to dig deeper into whether there's a sustainability argument here. While wood-printed tile may save trees, it would take some research to establish how the contextual energy and resource expenditures compare. Emilceramica's Golden Wood line features tiles that look like oak, teak, and wenge.
Inkjet Printed Tile
The wood tiles fell under a broader umbrella category of inkjet-printed tiles. We saw brilliantly colored floral designs and subtle, textured-looking damask. This technique, too, exhibits Italy's commitment to innovation. The printing is a high-tech approach to tile design and produces very precise, elegant patterns. Between tiles that looks like wallpaper and others that resemble wood, you could easily create the illusion of multiple materials in a room using nothing but ceramic tile. Ragno's contemporary collection features tiles that look like thick woven textiles, and Viva's more dramatic prints look almost like complete works of art against simpler tile mosaic.