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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: The beauty of large-format wall tile

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.09.05 AM Large-format wall tiles are becoming increasingly popular in today’s interiors as more modern homes opt for contemporary styles. Industry standards categorize large-format tile as any tile or stone with at least one edge greater than 15 inches.

Retailers cite three main advantages of having large-format tile: narrow grout joints, ease of maintenance (it is typically much easier to clean the face of the tile than it is to clean the grout) and room size perception (bigger tiles make the room appear larger).

When installed correctly, dealers note large-format tiles create a room flow that is especially effective in open plan living spaces. “Large format is a big chunk of what we are selling,” said Emily Hagan, lead designer with Palm Tile, a Sacramento-based flooring dealer. “The 12 x 24 format seems to be ‘a happy medium’ among consumers these days.”

Advancements in digital inkjet technology have allowed manufacturers to achieve almost infinite design variability with large-format tile. The standard inkjet machine is capable of decorating about 30 12 x 12 tiles in a row before a design has to be repeated.

Innovation is evident in almost every large tile collection. Emser Tile’s Artwork, for example, is a large-format glazed ceramic wall tile featuring a hexagon-patterned surface in white, black and metallic silver tones. Another new collection is Surface, a wall tile that achieves unique textures replicating plasterwork, textile and waves in a 12 x 24 format.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.11.22 AMStephanie Gasway, an Emser sales representative, just remodeled her own home in Reno, Nev., with several Emser large-format wall tiles. She chose Artwork in a white hexagon in her guest bathroom, Surface in ripple white on an 11-foot tall by 16-foot wide wall, Alchemy Silver on the bathtub wall and Ambiance Palau by the fireplace.

“People just lose their minds when they see it,” she said. “It looks fantastic in my home. I love contemporary and it is really beautiful.”

Carin Atterburg, interior designer for Surface Works, a Portland, Ore.-based dealer, said the marketplace is searching for creative, cost-effective alternatives and large-format porcelain provides enduring aesthetic appeal with modest grout joints.

She explained that factories are focusing on larger porcelain tile for many reasons including lower production costs, less waste and supply and demand. “Nine out of 10 jobs today use large format in some fashion.”

Among the trends Atterburg is seeing now are color body porcelains, which are tiles created with continuous colored stains from the glaze surface throughout the body of the tile. “They are making a statement in the market due to their flexibility in finish coat options and low cost to produce. Traditional full through-body porcelain is getting some strong competition as factories improve the fashion and durability with manufacturing methods that save cost and time in the kiln—not to mention attempting to save cost and [environmental] resources that the market is demanding.” Through-body porcelain (sometimes referred to as unglazed porcelain) tiles are produced using colored raw materials that permeate the entire line, incorporating uninterrupted color and pattern features seen on the surface all the way through the tile body.

In terms of colors, Atterburg said the market is trending toward classic looks with rich gold tones. “Not shiny brass of the 1980s, but brushed luster in venetian classic style like pastel pinks with notes of navy and linen tied together with a ribbon of gray.”