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Ceramic: Making the most of mosaics

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By K.J. Quinn

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.47.31 PMThe latest varieties of mosaic tile options provide even more creative freedom than ever before as some coordinate with traditional tile products while others allow designers to match virtually any theme.

“Tile companies are expanding the décor options in their collections to provide a whole range of coordinating tiles for one project,” said Vittorio Borelli, chairman of Confindustria Ceramica, the association of Italian ceramic tile and refractory material manufacturers. “With decorative trends becoming softer and lighter, mosaics are the perfect accent to complement plain tiles.”

Mosaics—made from materials such as porcelain and glass, which are then mounted on a backing for ease of installation—are now utilized to create works of art on walls and floors. “Designers are being given more input on the creativity of the tiles they select and even have the ability to design their own mosaics,” noted S. Lee Wright, owner, S. Lee Wright Holistic Interior Architecture, New York.

Traditional mosaics were made in 1 x 1 and 2 x 2 formats and available in solid color tiles. These days, manufacturers are starting to explore a wide variety of shapes and sizes. “We are seeing combinations of glass, porcelain and natural stone that coordinate with a wide variety of porcelain and ceramic products,” said Angie Clarkson, registered interior designer at LWPB Architecture, Oklahoma City.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.47.18 PMOne of the primary drivers increasing demand for mosaics is the rise in organic forms in modern architecture. Subsequently, many factories are deepening their capabilities for post-firing manipulation of ceramics by adding water jet or traditional cutting processes. “The decreased demand in the market for decorative bars—also called listels or listelli—is also increasing the need for more subtle, complementary accent options, which is increasing the desire for corresponding mosaics,” said Ryan Fasan, technical consultant for Tile of Spain, USA. “As the production technology is reaching a plateau, there is a need for manufacturers to differentiate their products and dress up lines with mosaics.”

New water jet cutting technology is enabling fresh, more delicate lines of mosaics. “Often these all would have been handmade and less uniform,” Wright pointed out. “Now the price, albeit still higher than ceramic, is a lot less than handcrafted tiles.”

Another trend impacting mosaics is the growing popularity of large-size field tile. As patterns get bigger and more diverse, the need for a more subtle decorative element is expected to grow as well.

The fact that mosaics offer so much design flexibility also stimulates demand. “The bold color and texture are a perfect design solution for an accent area,” Holistic Interior Architecture’s Wright said. “Since mosaic tiles are small, they can be applied easily to curved areas, along ceilings and in other challenging areas.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.47.25 PMThe broad range of mosaic finishes, sizes and colors allow consumers and commercial end users to create one-of-a-kind floor designs involving different media. For example, you can replicate an area rug on a wood floor and utilize different mosaic tiles to create a border to separate rooms or transition from another surface. “Mosaics are very versatile materials; they are slowly moving out of the background and becoming the centerpiece of the design,” said Peri Peng, associate at CallisonRTKL, Chicago.

The robust assortment of mosaics creates a differentiation for retailers who sell these products. “The higher cost/value of mosaics helps increase the average sale as well as opens up opportunities for a broader range of applicable specifications, increasing overall market share,” Tile of Spain’s Fasan said.

While mosaic tiles can be pricey—uninstalled square-foot pricing for glass tile flooring runs from around $7 to $10 for low-end materials to $15 to $35 for high-end, specialty products—there are many ways to use smaller sections for visual impact. “An inexpensive, 12 x 24 field tile can be easily dressed up with an accent band of glass or stone tile,” Clarkson pointed out. “By injecting sparkle or natural stone in a mesh-mounted mosaic blend, designers can get a lot of bang for their buck and make an installation look higher end without breaking the bank.”

While price plays an important role in the decision to select any flooring material, other factors may contribute to keeping installed costs within budget. For instance, in small spaces, a higher price may be justified because it takes less time to install. “Due to the popularity with mosaics in general, the installation costs have decreased as contractors are more familiar with them and expected to install the more complicated tile projects without hiring a specialist,” Wright said.

Installation challenges often depend on the type of mosaic and its complexity. They are often no more difficult to install than field tile, although layout planning can be even more critical, especially with irregular-edged sheets. “Where some problems can occur is when you mix a different mosaic medium with the surrounding field,” Fasan said.

“In most cases, the challenges are not insurmountable,” he added, “but proper forethought and surface preparation are the keys to success.”