Tile Tactics

by Kacey Larsen

Reports indicate the earliest examples of decorative tile are Egyptian and date back to 4,000 B.C. Obviously, much has changed in the manufacturing and installation process since that time, but at the core, tile is still used for the same purpose today as it was then—to beautify spaces.

Saloni Cerámica’s Unit tile revives a traditional ceramic brick with a contemporary style.

Today, tile is offered in a seemingly endless range of possibilities, including myriad colors, textures, sizes and even uses. As Christian Barenca Nehar, export area manager for Saloni Cerámica, notes, “The concept of ‘design tiles’ has been substituted for the traditional ‘ceramic tiles,’ and now is an expression by itself of an amazing world of possibilities and alternatives for designers, architects and final users.”

It would be remiss not to mention that technological advancements have brought about changes to the design and production processes of tile. “As tile manufacturers, what we have been doing all those years was basically imitating nature, and providing a similar look with higher standards and lower price points,” explains Semih Susleyen, Ege Seramik’s sales manager. “Thanks to rapidly developing tile printing and production technology, we are not only making much better imitations that are finer in detail, but we are also going beyond what is available in nature as a floor covering material.”

While design and technology are both important pieces of the tile narrative, the availability, installation and durability of tile stood out as having the most impact on remodelers.

Where and When

Much of remodeling is the waiting game of designing a space, ordering products and then waiting for materials to become available. The time waiting is used to work on other projects and installs, but any delays or longer-than-usual lead times can have quite an impact.

Artistic Tile notes three trends: metal within a stone pattern, seen (above) with Gatsby; wood look tiles with special elements, seen (middle) with Kaurie Beige; and 3-D tile, seen (left) with Michael Aram Leaf Bronze.

“We believe in having current products in stock and can have most things delivered to a jobsite within a day or two, depending on location and freight,” says Nancy Epstein, founder and CEO of Artistic Tile. “Pickup at our headquarters is always an option for same-day delivery for those that are able.” The company offers its Tailored To program, which allows clients to customize patterns and sizes, and depending on material selection, lead time can be anywhere from two to six weeks, she notes.

Daltile has more than 250 company owned and operated sales service centers that present and stock best selling product offerings in addition to 10 company owned and operated manufacturing plants in the U.S., Mexico, Italy and China. Gregg Link, senior director of product management, notes the company also has more than 25 stone showrooms and 10 tile and stone galleries.

“They don’t necessarily stock the material and we don’t take orders at those [showroom and gallery] locations, but they are strategically located in major markets with design districts that allow custom homebuilders, architects, designers, etc., to have access to our full complement of offerings,” he says. “Then what those stores will do is aid that customer in reaching out to or finding the closest store location to them, where they can proceed with placing the order and making sure that their order is in that store for fulfillment.”

Created specifically for the North American Market, Ege Seramik introduces its Road Collection as a combination of textile and cement trends—but in a matte-finished porcelain tile.

Ege Seramik distributes Turkish ceramic and porcelain tiles to the U.S. and Canada, and bases its stateside headquarters in Georgia. “We are servicing distributors all over the country. They can come across our products in any tile showroom,” Susleyen says. “We receive quite a lot of emails and phone calls from consumers and contractors asking where they can purchase our products. Depending on where they are located and what product they are looking for, we provide them with the contact information of our distributors carrying that specific product in that area.”

While Saloni Cerámica is headquartered in San Juan de Moró, Castellón, Spain, the company serves customers on five continents. “In the U.S., most Saloni products are available in importers’ stores as they are retailers or distributors,” Nehr says. “The typical lead time if the product is not stocked is less than six weeks from the date of the purchase order.”

Walker Zanger is similar to other manufacturers in that it has 14 branded showrooms around the U.S. and then relies on a dealer network—approximately 180 across the country. “We are kind of unusual in the luxury tile market in that we inventory most of the products we sell,” explains Jared Becker, vice president of design and marketing. “If you go on our website, most of the products you see will be stocked in either our distribution warehouse in New Jersey or Los Angeles, so most of that product can be purchased and shipped the next day.”

Installation Matters

Durability is a benefit of porcelain and ceramic tile, which manufacturers reiterated repeatedly. Installation, though, can be a challenge. “Tile is a great surface for lots of purposes and is really the opposite of fragile. When you drop a piece before you install it, yes, it breaks. But once you properly install it, it’s a very durable surface,” Becker notes. “I think it’s really important for a remodeler to know what their installer is proficient at. You wouldn’t want your Toyota mechanic to work on your Porsche—you want to make sure your installer can do that job well.”

Ryan Fasan, technical consultant for Tile of Spain, says multiple seminars surrounding the proper specification and installation of tile are available from

Tau Ceramica expands with its Concept+ collection, which includes new stone effects.

In its latest Vives Azulejos y Gres collection—Dolce Vita—Vives merges periods and styles.

Tile of Spain. The 09300 Handbook for tile and stone installation produced by the TCNA (U.S.) and TTMAC (Canada) can also be a valuable resource. “The most important thing that is often not given appropriate attention these days is proper preparation work to ensure a sound and successful installation of modern large formats,” he adds. “Residential clients would do well to budget in time and money for appropriate prep work to be done prior to installation of tile to ensure a maximum return on investment.”

Daltile’s Link continues along the same lines. “The amount of engineering that goes into the products in general today is, of course, advancing as technology continues to improve. The process in the manufacturing is continually being refined to produce products that are more durable and longer lasting all the time,” he says. “What is paramount for the installer to remember and realize though is the tile is, to a certain extent, only as good as the substrate they’re putting it over. I also want to emphasize how critical preparation—substrate preparation and floor prep—is to making [tile] installation really meet all the intended performance characteristic that it can.”

Providing accurate and user-friendly technical information and installation guidelines is important to Artistic Tile. “We work hard to create deeply detailed literature for all our products, which can be provided by our sales team and downloaded from our website. Our literature includes DCOF ratings [where appropriate], recommended uses, and appropriate grout and setting material options,” Epstein says. “Our website also contains information on recommended installation procedures for some of our specialty products that require a bit of extra attention, but most of our tile follows a standard set of guidelines.”

Size It Up

Daltile’s Director of Product Design Massimo Ballucchi notes homeowners are trying to bring  “experiences into their homes.” He says this point is a possible motivation behind the growing popularity of large-format tile in residential spaces after becoming more and more commonplace in hotels and spas. He sees it mostly used in floor applications, especially with a mixture of matte and polished finishes.

Two trends Walker Zanger’s Becker notes are the combination of shape and texture in the same tile, seen (above) on Andalucia, and interest in brighter colors, especially different shades of blue.

Becker from Walker Zanger says he thinks the large-format trend is perhaps being driven by European manufacturers, since much of the tile in the U.S. is imported. “I think up to now we’ve mostly seen [large-format] adoped for commercial applications, but we are starting to see it residentially for flooring tiles out of porcelain,” he adds. “The common size up to now had been 12 by 24 inches for a porcelain floor tile; we’re now seeing 16 by 36 inches become sort of the popular size for more high-end remodels.”

“Compared to the other parts of the world, the U.S. market is very conservative when it comes to sizes, colors and look,” Ege Seramik’s Susleyen notes. “That being said, we see an increasing demand in larger sizes for wood planks and polished tiles.”

Saloni Cerámica sees its North American customers continuing to have a preference for  smaller sizes—like 10 by 16 inch, 12 by 24 inch and 10 by 29 inch—for walls. Barenca says, for flooring, 6- by 24-inch, 6- by 36-inch and now 8-by 48-inch sizes are becoming the most popular. “We are seeing in areas like New York, Miami and Los Angeles that customers like to use big wall tiles, such as 12 by 36 inches and 16 by 48 inches,” he adds. “That is the trend now, and in the future we think these big sizes will become more and more popular.”

Fasan of Tile of Spain concurs, “The workhorse format for North America has been 12 by 24 inches since the early 2000s, but current trends are showing a preference for 18 by 36 inches and 24 by 48 inches While large formats are on the rise, there is still a huge resurgence in classic subway looks or small-format walls for backsplash and bathrooms.”

Epstein from Artistic Tile says, in antiquity, mosaics were once used on large floors, but today’s technology has allowed tiles to grow in size while still maintaining a standard thickness of 3/8 inch. One of the company’s best-selling sizes, she adds, is the 12- by 48-inch format. “Tile size is really a personal choice, which is why we carry a wide variety of formats for our customers. There is not one most-appropriate size when it comes to designing with tile,” she says. “A beautiful tile will sell in any size. The look of the product is more important than its dimensions.”

Eye Catching

Epstein notes the biggest trend Artistic Tile is seeing currently is the use of metal within a stone pattern or as an accent. “White stone with gold is a sophisticated combination requested more and more with our residential customers,” she says. Textured, carved and 3-D tile are growing in popularity

Gayafores offers its Melange collection in three color varieties and two sizes.

and can create a focal point and/or distinctive aesthetic. Wood-look porcelain tiles continue to be popular, but Epstein says she looks for wood-look tiles with a “special design element.” Blue, in a variety of shades, is expected to be popular throughout 2017, and she predicts green will be in high demand as well.

Walker Zanger’s Becker references similar color predictions. “I think we’re seeing a transition to brighter color for tile for residential use. We’ve been in a white and gray color moment—which is beautiful, classic and traditional—and that’s not going away,” he says. “But we’re seeing more interest in brighter colors, especially blue.” He also sees rising interest in black and shades of green, as well as green stone and white marble that has more colored veining.   

For Ege Seramik, the biggest portion of its U.S. tile sales are natural stone looks and wood looks. “Wood has always been a popular floor covering product in the U.S. market. Therefore, no matter how many [wood look tiles] are out there, more will be coming in larger sizes and finer details,” he says. “We believe we will see a lot more textile looks this year in the market. But those will not be simple textile looks and will offer different combinations such as cement and textile, natural stone and textile, metal and textile, etc.”

Daltile’s Ballucchi also sees textile as a growing trend. “You’re bringing natural into your home. You had the wood, the stones and marbles, and you’re bringing textiles [for walls or floors],” he says. “We do have emerging trends too, like that industrial look—a softened industrial look I would say. It is a blend between cement looking tile with that oxidized, metallic feel.” |QR

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