January 24, 2018
by Pamela Young
Wine, opera, and motor scooters are among the exports most North Americans associate with Italy. But if you have attended the annual CERSAIE trade fair in Bologna, you understand the extent to which Italy is also the land of ceramic tile. In late September, CERSAIE 2017’s 869 exhibitors and more than 111,600 visitors transacted innumerable deals in 156,000 square metres of exhibit space. While there is also a significant bathroom fixtures component to CERSAIE, ceramic tile takes centre stage at this show.
In monetary terms, Italy remains the product category’s leading exporter, with 32 per cent of the global market; China (26 per cent) and Spain (15 per cent) rank second and third. However, China now exports twice as much tile as Italy does, accounting for 32 per cent of the volume, compared with Italy’s 16 per cent and Spain’s 15 per cent. In this increasingly competitive market, Italians are investing heavily in technology to manufacture innovative higher-end products. Several North American architects and interior designers I spoke with at the show said they specify a lot of Italian ceramic tile because it convincingly emulates the look of materials such as stone, wood, and concrete, while offering impressive durability and ease of maintenance. Tile can offer weight and savings as well. But in all applications, aesthetics is a huge factor, including for these following trends at CERSAIE 2017.
THICK AND THIN
A major recent development has been the introduction of very large ceramic tile slabs in dimensions of up to 320 x 160 cm, yet only a few millimetres thick. Now that advanced printing technology makes it possible to simulate materials such as marble with great fidelity, the industry has seen demand from designers for thicker versions of these oversize slabs to install as countertops or on cabinetry doors, for example–applications in which a veneer-like thinness would compromise the illusion of stone. For this reason, manufacturers such as AVA Ceramica and Florim are now offering 320 x 160-cm slabs in chunkier thicknesses (12 to 20mm) as well as an ultra-thin profile of about 6 mm.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Collections such as Florim’s burnished metal-inspired Flowtech are suitable not only for wall and floor installation, but also for indoor and outdoor environments. In Europe, ventilated facades, or rainscreens, are becoming a popular means of minimizing problems that include thermal bridging and condensation. Assembly involves applying insulation to the exterior of a perimeter wall, affixing an air gap-creating framework to the wall, and attaching panels to the outer edge of the framework. The websites of companies such as Porcelanosa and Marazzi provide detailed information about these systems, which are not as yet widely used in Canada.
Florim, CERSAIE 2017
Weathered stone, metal, concrete, and wood looks are plentiful, and options such as Tagina’s Ilcottotagina glazed porcelain tiles would complement the material palettes of adaptively reused industrial spaces. In addition to timeworn effects, many new collections mimic the imperfection of handmade objects. One subtle and ingenious example is Drawn, by the Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek for Decorati Bassanesi. Instead of being perfectly rectangular, each of the plain, serially produced 20×25-cm tiles has the slightly irregular edges of a hand-drawn shape. Installed in multiples, they lend a touch of wabi-sabi to what would otherwise be a clinically pristine surface.
Ceramic tile can look like everything from terrazzo to crocodile leather, but there’s a lot to be said for tile that looks like tile. To get a sense of Futura, a collection of 15×15-cm glazed porcelain tiles from 41zero42, imagine throwing a bit of Bauhaus, a splash of ’50s modernism, and some ’80s graphics into a blender. End result: a set of upbeat, compatible patterns offering a Lego-worthy quantity of satisfying combinations. Another standout was Confetti, a 25 x 25-cm glazed stoneware collection from Ceramica Vogue: this series melds ’50s and the ’80s motifs into small-scale patterns that somehow have a progressive vibe.
SEE IT IN 3D
Dimensional surfaces – raised or incised, or both – offer striking textural effects that beg to be paired with artful lighting. Options in Atlas Concorde’s 3D Wall collection range from the faceted geometric diamonds of Stars to the subtly rippling horizontality of Flows.
PLAYING THE ANGLES
Triangular and hexagonal tiles from companies such as Flaviker and Cotto Etrusco expand layout possibilities beyond the 90-degree angle. Meanwhile, many tiles that are rectilinear offset the fact with skewed or fragmented patterns. Effects range from the tone-on tone subtlety of Resina Shades from Casalgrande Padana (in 45 x 45, 45 x 90, 90 x 90 and 90 x180-cm sizes), to the voluptuously hued, hand-painted “paper airplane” shapes of Ceramica Bardelli’s 20 x 20-cm Corrispondenza tiles, designed by Dimorestudio, which were inspired by old, folded letters “that had been preserved like origami artworks from times gone by.”
Neutral expanses may dominate the show floor (and walls) at CERSAIE, but bold ideas are out there. Saltus from Vallelunga & Co.’s Decorandum collection amps up the fabric-inspired trend of recent years by printing a toile pattern on 50X100-cm tiles. Meanwhile, in his Cementiles collections for Bisazza, David Rockwell manipulates line weights, transparent effects, and chromatic intensity in engagingly theatrical ways.
For Best in Show, I nominate Marazzi’s Grand Carpet, designed by the Milan-based studio of Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel. The collection’s 120 x 240-cm slabs have a blurred, intermittent pattern inspired by oriental carpets, ephemeral South Indian floor decorations (Kholam) created with rice flour and chalk powder, and Mehndi henna tattoos. The line’s designers position it as a response to “the paradox that often afflicts decoration in architecture, which must be neutral and yet still reinforce the project’s character and aims.” Suitable for wall and floor applications, indoors and out, Grand Carpet earns bravos for compressing utility, grace and aesthetic ideology into porcelain stoneware slabs that are a mere 6mm thick.
Pamela Young is a Toronto-based communications manager and writer on architecture and design.