When one goes into a home that hasn’t been updated in the past two decades and compares it to newer houses, one sees a lot of changes in building materials. Tile and stone may very well have evolved as much or even more than other interior products.

There are many reasons for that, but perhaps the two most profound are that ceramic tile is no longer selected for today’s homes as a wall or floor covering just for the “wet areas” (kitchen and bath). And stone, which always was considered a luxury item, today is much less cost-prohibitive and easier to obtain and install.

But even more importantly, tile and stone have evolved from being not just background “field” products, but rather, very focal design elements. There are five areas that are popular and of which today’s professional remodeling contractor should be up-to-date.

Don’t Pass on Glass

Glass tile has made an incredible comeback in the past 20 years. The benefits it offers are many: It’s colorful and the way light plays off of it elicits a cheerful, bright feeling. Glass tile is completely nonporous; water cannot get through it and, thus, start damaging the substrate behind or below it. According to the Anderson, S.C.-based Tile Council of North America standards, glass basically installs via the same procedures as ceramic tile, though there are new specific adhesives for glass tile. Lastly, the design potential with glass tile is limitless. Sizes, shapes, colors and textures are constantly being introduced and, in many cases, glass tile materials may be installed in conjunction with ceramic, stone, metal or even wood finishes. Glass tile can brighten up the smallest bathroom or add some energy to a dull kitchen as a multicolor backsplash.

Bring the Outdoors Indoors 

To augment living spaces, today’s homeowners like to move from indoors to outdoors, or vice versa, by continuing with a flooring product from one area to the other. Calibrated, durable granite tiles make a strong case for this when the outdoor tiles have a different surface finish than those indoors. For example, a homeowner in South Carolina has a large den with polished granite tiles interspersed with occasional flamed, rougher surface versions. One walks out of the sliding doors from the den to the outdoor deck and the same flamed tiles continue there, up to and around the pool. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, it makes sense as the face of these outdoor tiles has been treated to be more slip-resistant, which is a wise design decision relative to safety.

Whereas North American stones many not be as colorful as what we’ve seen from Brazil or Scandinavia, Earth-tones and natural textures are growing in demand. With today’s newer ways of slicing stone into thin veneers and, with leading manufacturers coming out with masonry/veneer installation systems that are fully guaranteed, homeowners can bring a lot more natural stone indoors than ever before, not worrying about it being so heavy that it will somehow fall off their walls and land on their kids or pets.

Fireplaces are becoming more omnipresent in American home remodeling projects, and a stone fireplace in many people’s minds is still as good as it gets.

Bulletproof Waterproofing

No matter how nonporous the tile or stone is, no matter how good the shower door or how leak-proof the shower pans may be, and no matter how neat the cook is in his or her kitchen, one thing is certain: Floors will get wet. Before tiling any kitchen or bath, every homeowner should have their “wet area” floors waterproofed. It’s a very simple process that can be as easy as brushing down or roller-applying a waterproofing, anti-fracture membrane that cures quickly—usually in about two hours—and is ready to be tiled over, using the exact same methods as if the waterproofing product were not used.

With more Americans with smaller homes retreating to their basement entertainment areas, what would the reaction be if water dripped through the kitchen floor and wreaked havoc on flat-screen TVs and surround-sound systems? A good friend in the building trades told me once that waterproofing a kitchen or bath is like “taking out a very inexpensive insurance policy.”

Designing with Water

There are so many incredible tile and stone design products out there today, choosing exactly what one wants is tantamount to having dinner at the Las Vegas Bellagio’s famous buffet, but with a small, restricted time limit. If one really wants to spiral down into a state of total cognitive dissonance relative to these decisions, think about adding waterjet fabrication to the mix.

Via a computer-driven, robotic arm that shoots tiny jet streams of water faster than the speed of sound, virtually anything that can be drawn in 2-D can be cut into large or tiny pieces via this technology and reassembled as a hard-surface jigsaw puzzle to the most exacting of tolerances. Maybe someone loves the look of Persian rugs, but can’t be around them because of dust mites and allergens, and thus, wants a tile or stone floor. With the waterjet process, a natural stone “rug” can be cut, assembled as tiles in the exact same size as the field material surrounding the rug and installed no differently than if just plain tile was being put down. There is no limit to what can be designed via this process when one considers the multitude of hard-surface materials to be used for the waterjet project’s palette. Just like with today’s tile and stone products, this “luxury” process is much more affordable than in the past. (To learn more about computer-driven tile and stone design, see “Timeless Designs.”)

Is it Wood or Porcelain?

Wood flooring is popular; it looks good and it’s a product of nature. But there are some climates, especially in the hot and humid states, where wood isn’t suitable. So what does one do, if one really wants that look? In the past few years, some manufacturers of porcelain floor tile have come out with planked “wood-look” flooring. Via a high-definition inkjet printing process along with a scanning process to emulate texture, veining and even knotholes, there are a number of very high-quality porcelain tile lines that look very much like wood. And these high-quality, rectified modules are now being produced in sizes such as 6 by 36 inches and 2 by 24 inches, alongside more traditional tile sizes.

For flooring, porcelain is most popular when we’re talking about manmade tile. Porcelain is a molecularly dense material, incredibly strong and generally has less than 0.05 percent porosity, which is less than most natural granite.

The tile and stone sectors of the building industry may have been down these past years, but they’re far from out. When the dust clears and it’s a reality that this recession is over, watch for tile and stone in the fast lane.



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