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Ceramic: Technology expands tile’s design possibilities

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Megan Salzano

 

Advancing technologies have had a vast impact on most major flooring categories for the past several years, and perhaps none more so than tile.

In the past decade, technological advancements—some adopted from other industries—have led to major design innovations for the category. Advanced digital printing, for example, forever changed tile’s aesthetic capabilities while new sizes, shapes, textures and thicknesses also helped shape its future in the home. Due in large part to those technologies, tile is no longer relegated to the kitchen and bath but has expanded into new areas both inside and out.

Domestic and international manufacturers have capitalized on those technologies to help bring the category to new heights, launching new products and product lines that tout innovation across the board. “During the last few years, technological advances in decoration and sizes have totally transformed the ceramic tile industry,” said Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of marketing, Dal-Tile. “Manufacturers now have the ability to offer greater realism, more sophisticated designs, new sizes, shapes and thicknesses and increased performance.”

With so many new design options, these technologies have helped drive the category forward and also led to market growth. “The versatility of indoor and outdoor usage, the enhanced technical characteristics that create grip finish options and an unbeatable life expectancy along with the wide array of designs has spiked growth in both the residential and commercial market,” said Jana Manzella, private label, key accounts and marketing manager, Milestone.

Digital printing
The implementation of advanced digital printing has no doubt had the greatest impact on the tile category. According to Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks, digital printing has transformed the industry over the past several years, and manufacturers are now able to produce even more sophisticated products that better meet the needs of the customer. “The evolution of printing technology has led to manufacturers being able to create unique patterns, designs and vibrant colors on individual tiles, similar to natural materials, which we are replicating with incredibly high degrees of authenticity,” she explained.

More specifically, Noah Chitty, Crossville’s director of technical services, said bringing this technology into the tile industry has allowed manufacturers to design tiles in Photoshop using the skills of graphic artists to create and replicate looks. “Now we can take natural stone or wood, or just about anything, put it on a flatbed scanner, take the resulting image and repro- duce it in very high definition onto the surface of a porcelain or a ceramic tile,” she said.

In addition to the trendy wood, stone and concrete looks driving the market today, digital printing has also ushered in the creation of new hybrid designs. “These futuristic printing technologies allow us to mix mediums,” explained Alp Er, general manager, Ege Seramik USA. “For example, we can have one tile created by intertwining two types of natural stone or combining a concrete look with a linen look, wood with stone. These ‘fusions’ are not normally seen in nature, but now tiles are bringing them to center stage.”

In addition, Mark Seal, vice president of supply chain at Emser, noted beyond producing 2-D replicas of these scans in ceramic inks, the latest generation of inkjet printers can print colors and glazes as raised 3-D textures, as sublimation colors that penetrate the surface of unglazed ceramic tiles and as metallic inks and lusters.

Tile manufacturers agree, in addition to aesthetic and textural innovations, new printing technology has advanced the entire manufacturing process. “The whole printing process has accelerated production,” Ege Seramik USA’s Er said. “The ink-jet printers themselves are in a constant evolving state. In the past, we had printers whose heads would clog and we’d have to stop production to clean and/or replace them to avoid a ‘tracking line’ going down the face of each tile. Now, the printers are self-cleaning. This is very time-saving and efficient for quality control.”

Through it all, manufacturers noted that perhaps the most important shift brought about through the innovation of advanced digital printing is the drive to differentiate. “As more and more tile manufacturers have embraced digital inkjet printing, competition between them has resulted in development advances, which continually push the looks that can be achieved using this technology,” Emser’s Seal said.

Shapes and sizes
New technologies have not only impacted the surface designs of tile but the shapes and sizes of those entering the market as well. These technologies allow manufacturers to create everything from mosaics in hexagons to rectangular shapes and even large-format porcelain slabs. “Technology has allowed us to go bigger, thicker and thinner,” Crossville’s Chitty noted. “We’re creating larger size formats and leaner profile thicknesses than many of us would’ve ever imagined years ago.”

Large-format tiles continue to gain popularity both in residential and commercial design. From 24 x 48-inch planks to 5 x 10-foot porcelain panels, the advancements in size have helped the category evolve considerably. However, it isn’t just about the size. Thicknesses are also playing a major role. “Thin tile is an innovation gaining traction that presents a unique opportunity for the marketplace,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn- Brooks said.

Market growth
New looks, sizes, shapes and textures equate to more than just excitement within the tile industry. These new designs—and the technologies behind them—have ushered in nearly a decade of growth for the category. “Technology and the subsequent improvements in both quality and aesthetics that it creates are opening up whole new market opportunities for tile,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks said.

One driver behind this market opportunity is the expansion of applications. “New properties and features available in tile allow it to be used in areas where it previously might not have been considered,” said Mara Heras, vice president of marketing, Emser. “These new technologies are stretching the boundaries of historic design.”

The development of large-format, thin tile, for example, has allowed for a greater number of tile applications both residentially and commercially. Thin tile, Emser’s Heras noted, allows designers to design with the beauty of tile in places where its weight and thickness traditionally limited options.

In addition, due to its durability and performance, these tiles can replace materials that were traditionally specified. “Larger format tiles and plank tiles afford us to compete for market share from wood and LVT,” Ege Seramik USA’s Er said. “We are seeing the larger format tiles moving from the walls and floors to countertops and backsplashes. The capabilities are endless.”

Milestone’s Manzella said the use of these sizes is only going to increase moving forward. “Large-format tile production is just beginning to take hold in the U.S. market. We’re going to continue to see this trend grow as consumers are finding new uses for porcelain tile.”

Outdoor living spaces have also expanded tile’s usage and application. Consumers today demand a continuation of their interior design aesthetics when bringing the inside out but also need materials that can boast superior breaking strength, durability and frost resistance. New technologies are contributing to the outdoor renaissance. “The creation of slip-resistance technologies allows tile to be used even in exterior spaces,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks noted.

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Ceramic: Lower consumption keeps growth rates in check

June 24/July 1, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 1

By Megan Salzano

 

For the ninth consecutive year since the fallout of the Great Recession, the U.S. ceramic tile market registered growth. However, the growth witnessed in 2018 was not on par with the 5%-6% increase the category experienced in both volume and sales since 2016. In fact, many industry observers noted a significant slowdown in 2018.

“In the past year, we saw growth in both residential and commercial segments for ceramic tile,” said Raj Shah, president, MSI International. “That said, the growth was the lowest we have seen since the economic crisis.”

FCNews research shows the category saw about 2% growth in volume from 2.426 billion square feet in 2017 to 2.474 billion square feet in 2018. Sales were relatively flat for the category, registering less than 1% growth from $2.921 billion in 2017 to $2.935 billion last year. “It is important to note there was a lot of buildup of inventory, especially from China, during last quarter of 2018 in anticipation of higher tariffs scheduled to start January 1, 2019,” Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president of Dal-Tile, explained.

Even with the slowdown, the category still held strong in 2018 as the third-largest sector in flooring in terms of dollars and volume, representing 12.8% of all flooring sold in 2018—although down from 13.3% in 2017—and 12.6% of total industry volume, slightly up from 12.35% in 2017. Only the carpet/rugs and resilient categories accounted for more volume and sales.

Commercial gains
The commercial market saw a slightly better outcome in terms of growth when compared to residential. Commercial projects and spending continued on the growth path they have experienced since 2015. FCNews research showed ceramic’s share of the commercial market increased slightly to 15.4% last year, up from 14.1% in 2017. This was driven by strong growth in the hospitality, corporate, retail and assisted-living segments. Multi-family construction also rose in 2018.

Tile suppliers noted the ongoing success of wall tile within the commercial market and the possibility of its future growth within both the commercial and residential segments. “We have seen a renaissance in wall tile happen with all kinds of new formats and aesthetics being popularized in the market,” Shah said. “Long term, I believe the percentage of wall tile to floor tile will continue to grow as wall tile is not as susceptible to product substitution and due to the innovation in formats and aesthetics.”

Imports vs. domestic
U.S. imports in 2018 comprised about 70% of tile consumption in square feet, up from about 68% in 2017. In 2018, the U.S. imported 2.2 billion square feet of ceramic tile, up 4.7% from 2.1 billion square feet in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

China remained the largest exporter of ceramic tile to the U.S. (in square feet), a position it has held each year since 2015. Chinese imports made up 31.5% of U.S. imports in 2018, the highest annual percentage China has ever held of the U.S. import market. The 10% tariff increase on Chinese ceramic tile imports imposed by the Trump administration took effect at the end of September but, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), was unlikely to have a meaningful impact on China’s market position.

Despite the peso’s significant decline vs. the U.S. dollar over the last six years, losing nearly half its value, Mexican ceramic tile exports to the U.S. have fallen each year since 2015, the TCNA reported. In 2018, tile from Mexico comprised 17.3% of U.S. imports vs. 18.9% the year prior, the lowest share since 2006. Italy was the third-largest exporter of tile to the U.S. in 2018, making up 16.4% of U.S. imports, down from 18.1% in 2017. The next largest exporters to the U.S. were Spain (14.1%) and Brazil (7.3%).

In terms of dollars (including duty, freight and insurance), Italy remained the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2018, comprising 30.9% of U.S. imports. China was second with 27.3% and Spain was third with 15.6%.

Compared to 2017, U.S. shipments of ceramic tile in 2018 were down 5.4% to 911 million square feet. This marked the first year-over-year decline in domestic shipments since 2009. Even still, domestically produced tile is still the tile of choice for consumers as it accounted for 29.3% of all U.S. tile consumption in square feet in 2018. The next highest countries of origin were China (22.3%), Mexico (12.2%) and Italy (11.6%).

In dollar value, 2018 U.S. FOB factory sales of domestic shipments were down 4.4% to $1.39 billion, vs. $1.45 billion in 2017. (FOB port means the seller pays for transportation of the goods to the port of shipment, plus loading costs. The buyer pays the cost of marine freight transport, insurance, unloading and transportation from the arrival port to the final destination.) Domestically produced tile comprised 37.7% of total U.S. tile consumption by dollar value. The per-unit value of domestic shipments increased from $1.51 in 2017 to $1.53 in 2018.

U.S. ceramic tile exports in 2018 were 29.7 million square feet, up 4.4% vs. 2017. Most of these exports were to Canada (79.6%) and Mexico (4.5%).

Ongoing challenges
Industry observers cite several challenges that led to the reduced tile consumption in 2018. Among them: tariff wars, a less robust housing market, competition from other categories and continuing labor/installation woes. “Generally speaking, it was a strong economy throughout the year,” MSI’s Shah said. “That said, beginning in the second quarter a lot of confidence began to deteriorate with the threat of trade wars between China and the U.S. Section 301 tariffs did get set at 10% with a threat of 25% for most of the year, which hurt overall confidence. The third and fourth quarters of 2018 were dramatically slower than the first half of 2019 for ceramic tile.”

One key indicator for the health of ceramic tile is that of the housing market, which continued to have heavy implications for 2018. “After the end of the recession, the ceramic tile market increased quite a bit, but last year the increase became very small compared to previous years,” said Donato Grosser, industry consultant. “The main reason is the housing market is not moving—it’s basically flat. Housing is a very important factor for ceramic tile. During the recession housing starts fell by more than 70%, tile declined 30% and you saw that immediate decline.”

Grosser added that while the remodeling segment of the housing market is doing fairly well, “we don’t sell as much tile in remodeling projects as we do with new projects.”

Competition from other categories, namely resilient, also put pressure on tile. “LVT is widely reported to have been the largest growth category in flooring in 2018, taking significant share and putting pressure on other categories of flooring,” said Jeff Daniel, vice president of sales support and planning, Emser Tile.

The novelty and low cost of LVT—and its WPC/SPC brethren—were major factors for its growth, observers said. “It’s a new product, it’s inexpensive, it’s easy to install and people are not looking at which product is superior; they’re looking at how much they’re spending,” Grosser explained. “People look at the first thing— cost. Then, the second—looks. That’s basically what affects the whole market and part of ceramic tile.”

In order to push back against LVT, suppliers said continued innovation within the category as well as adding value will be key. Some also noted several advantages tile already has in the market that should be better leveraged. For example, MSI’s Shah noted the growing popularity of new looks in tile vs. current LVT visuals. “LVT is still primarily a wood-look category,” he explained. “We are starting to see more non-wood visuals coming to market. The aesthetics available in ceramic tile that are non-wood still are significantly higher quality than can be found in LVT. In addition, with LVT there are technical difficulties with certain looks that are available in ceramic tile. This remains an opportunity for the LVT market, but at the same time it seems ceramic tile has a large head start in these looks.”

Emser’s Daniel focused on the upside—the belief that ceramic tile has not been as heavily impacted as other flooring categories by LVT’s growth. “Based on our view that the tile category continued to grow year over year, the market share pressure was likely hardest felt in soft flooring and wood categories.”

Another challenge the category continues to struggle with is the shortage of qualified installers. “This problem continued to be present in 2018,” Shah said. “This definitely accelerated the push toward LVT, which has a faster and lower install cost.”

Emser’s Daniel agreed, adding: “It is certainly impacting the cost of the final delivered product to the owner/buyer of both residential and nonresidential builds. There are issues with delays due to labor, but most issues appear to be pressures on the installation cost side due to competition for qualified labor. Innovation in products that require less labor to install will help offset labor time and cost.”

Looking ahead
While the ceramic tile market slowed its growth in 2018, sup- pliers are hopeful about the category’s potential for the remainder of this year and into 2020. “Innovation will continue to be the key to growth in the future,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said. “Advancements in decoration technology and impressive sizes such as 5 x 10-foot porcelain slabs are examples of how tile has been an innovation leader in the flooring industry.”

Pre-recession numbers remain on the minds of industry observers. For the category to return to its heyday, some believe both commercial and residential construction will have to continue on the path of stable growth. “Despite the long post-recession recovery, many would argue we are still falling 10%-15% short of the annual residential starts number to support population and demographics,” Daniel noted. “Affordability aside, that supply shortage would aid to the growth in the category when realized.”

Overall, ceramic tile has its inherent qualities that keep end users—both big and small—coming back for more. MSI’s Shah noted that ceramic tile continues to be the flooring option that has the highest longevity, least maintenance and most décor options.

“As an industry we can continue to see growth in ceramic by making it affordable and accessible,” he explained. “This specifically means making sure there is inherent value in all of the positive aspects ceramic tile has to offer while bringing more innovative aesthetics and performance that consumers are looking. At the same time, we have to take into account the relative value and competing products.”

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A look back at 2018’s top introductions

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Lindsay Baillie and Ken Ryan

 

In a marketplace plagued by “me-too” products, it is up to manufacturers to develop standout flooring. Whether it’s carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile or resilient, suppliers have had to step up their game in style, design and performance to excite flooring dealers and customers alike.

In 2018, the industry saw a plethora of new products enter the scene. Following is an overview of those products that stood out to flooring retailers.


Terra Linda by Anderson Tuftex

About the product: Terra Linda is a 100% Stainmaster Luxerell BCF nylon carpet with textured styled. Available in 24 colors the signature product also features A/T’s Softbac Platinum Backing.

Sierra Nevada by Audacity from CFL
About the product:
Audacity’s water-resistant laminate floors are available in five collections—Classic Naturals, Hearthside, Lodge, Monticello and Vintage. In the U.S. and in Canada, Audacity Flooring is sold exclusively through select Armstrong Flooring distributors.

Adventure II by Engineered Floors
About the product:
EF’s Adventure II is a 5.5mm luxury vinyl plank with a 22-mil wear layer and a ceramic bead finish. Available in nine wood-look visuals, the 7 x 48-inch plank can be installed floating and comes with a 10-year commercial warranty and a lifetime residential warranty. What’s more, Adventure II is Floorscore certified for indoor air quality.

Sono by Inhaus
About the product: Sono is a 100% recyclable, PVC-free flooring that is made up of 60% mineral powder and 40% polypropylene. Sono is waterproof, easy to install and highly stable under both humidity and heat. The company continues to invest in its digital printing to ensure quality, on-trend visuals.

RevWood Plus by Mohawk
About the product: 
RevWood Plus is a revolutionary wood floor destined to make consumers rethink the wood category. RevWood Plus planks offer reliable durability that resist stains, scratches and dents. Thanks to its 100% waterproof flooring system, spills, accidents and tracked-in-stain-makers are kept on the surface for quick, easy cleanup.

Sweet Memories collection by Mirage
About the product: 
Mirage’s Sweet Memories collection features the manufacturer’s exclusive staining and brushing processes to create floors with the charm of yesteryear. Variations, knots, cracks and other natural characteristics help to create the collection’s authentic appearance.


Titanium by Karastan

About the product: Karastan’s Titanium rug collection is grounded by a careful combination of both traditional and transitional patterns. The collection is meant to satisfy a craving for contrast with a fashion-forward fusion of matte and sheen finishes.


Acrylx by Raskin

About the product: Acrylx is a solid surface waterproof floor available in three collections: Premier Home, Premier XL and Premier G-Core XL. Acrylx’s high-density core is made of pure materials and minerals that are tightly bonded with polymers to create a solid core that is more impact resistant and denser than other floors.


Great California Oak by Republic Floors

About the product: Great California Oak is an extra-wide, pure SPC floor with beveled edges and realistic grains. The 100% waterproof flooring carries a limited 25-year residential warranty and a limited 10-year commercial warranty. What’s more, it features the company’s new antibacterial EVA underlayment padding.


Bellera by Shaw Floors

About the product: Created with a holistic approach to meet the design and performance needs of consumers, Bellera is a top-to-bottom innovation known for style and durability. With Bellera, Shaw’s new Endurance high-performance fiber is combined with proven technologies such as R2X soil and stain resistance and LifeGuard backing to create a worry-free carpet.


Harbor Plank by Southwind
About the product: 
The Harbor Plank series features planks 6 x 48, with a high-density wood plastic composite core and a Uniclic locking system. Attached to each luxury vinyl plank is the Southwind IXPE underlayment pad, which is impervious to water, hides subfloor imperfections, provides added sound absorption and comfort underfoot.


COREtec Pro Plus by USFloors
About the product: 
The COREtec Pro Plus Series consists of two collections: COREtec Pro Plus (5mm total thickness) and COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced (7mm total thickness). COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced includes all the features of the Pro Plus collection coupled with a four-sided enhanced bevel for added realism.


Radius by Stanton Carpet

About the product: Stanton’s Radius broadloom carpet is available in Stanton Street, the company’s Decorative Commercial line. Radius is a cut-pile nylon and is crafted for residential to heavy commercial application.

TruTEX by Tarkett
About the product: With its unique textile backing, TruTEX luxury sheet flooring resists mold and mildew while adding superior strength against rips, tears and gouges. With 20 realistic, high-definition stone and wood designs, TruTEX is easy to install over existing floor coverings, greatly reducing the time spent preparing subfloors.

 

 

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Coverings 2019: Premier tile and stone event going strong after 30 years

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Steven Feldman

 

Orlando, Fla.—Against the backdrop of a slowing ceramic tile market, a sold-out Coverings celebrated its 30th anniversary here April 9-12 with 1,100 exhibitors from more than 40 countries showing their latest and greatest in response to a variety of trends.

At 480,000 square feet, Coverings is ranked as the 35th largest trade show in the U.S., according to Trade Show magazine. That’s up 3% from 2018, said Jennifer Hoff, whose company, Taffy Event Strategies, has been managing the show for the past three years. To put that in perspective, Surfaces, the flooring industry’s premier event, is ranked 42nd in terms of exhibit space. The good news is Coverings continues to grow despite U.S. ceramic tile consumption more or less stalling in 2018, increasing just 1.5% to 3.11 billion square feet, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). Consumption increased at least 5.1% in each of the three prior years.

Eric Astrachan, executive director, TCNA, pegged the U.S. ceramic tile industry at $3.69 billion, up just 0.4% from 2017. Imports grew as a portion of the market from 68.8% to 70.7%, an increase of 4.7%. On a dollar basis, Italy remained the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2018, comprising 30.9% of U.S. imports. China was second with a 27.3% share and Spain was third with a 15.6% share. In terms of square footage, China remained the largest exporter of ceramic tile to the U.S. with a 31.5% share. Next is Mexico with a 17.3% share, its lowest percentage since 2006. This despite the peso’s significant decline vs. the U.S. dollar over the last five years, losing nearly half of its value. Italy was the third-largest exporter of tile to the U.S. in 2018, making up 16.4% of U.S. imports.

What is impacting ceramic tile in the U.S.? For one, acronyms, namely LVT, WPC and SPC. The waterproof/rigid core revolution has impacted every category of flooring, and ceramic is not immune to that competitive pressure.

But it’s more than just the competition from LVT. Donato Grosser, consultant for Ceramic Tiles of Italy, acknowledged that Italian imports of ceramic tile to the U.S. in 2018 was down about 7% in dollars and square footage. “Ceramic tile in general has been down,” he said. “As for Italian tile, there is a lot of com- petition from Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian manufacturers, particularly the Spanish over the last couple of years; for some reason their FOB prices went down from $15 per square meter to $12 per square meter. We don’t know how this can happen so abruptly, but you have a situation where their products are cheaper than even the Chinese.”

Grosser also identified large companies like MSI, Bedrosians and Emser—all of which are very heavily invested in China. “They also import from other countries, but they buy mostly from China. And they offer good service, the product they sell is good and comparable to everything. So the price is not the only thing; otherwise, Brazil would have a much larger share of the market.”

Despite all of this, Hoff noted that Coverings attendance was trending ahead of last year with the hope that 26,000 people would make the trip to Orlando. Attendees run the gamut from architects and designers to fabricators and contractors to distributors and retailers.

Following are some of the key trends FCNews spotted at Coverings:

Classic polished marbles, sometimes mixed with retro elements
Matt Kahny with Ideology from American Olean.

Reflective tiles
Vetri collection from Refin

Patchwork tiles Opus collection from Casalgrande Pagana

Wood-look tile for indoor/ outdoor applications
Primewood from Sant’Agostino

Ceramic wallpaper by virtue of high-resolution digital printing technology
Kontinua collection from Casalgrande Pagana

More refined wood looks
Coby McDougal, director of non-slab sales, MSI, showcasing Caldera.

Geometric-inspired looks
Rhombix, Hexagono and Georama from MSI

Black and white retro looks Retro Revival from MSI

AT THE TILE OF SPAIN PAVILION...

Color is back in a huge way; pink was especially prevalent at many Tile of Spain booths.

Art deco and art nouveau, both geometrics and florals and organics both in small, repetitive patterns and super-size graphics.

Marble looks feature more aggressive veining with greater variation.

Squares are coming back, both on their own and in pairings with rectangles.

 

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Ceramics: Functionality, style drive TISE 2019 tile introductions

March 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 20

By Megan Salzano

 

Las Vegas—While the tile and stone category has its challenges—think price points and installation—its evolution within the home has helped drive sales and the category’s overall value. No longer are consumers relegating tile and stone to kitchen and bath builds, they are looking to the category to support evolving home design trends such as decorative wall features, indoor/outdoor living and minimalistic design.

To fulfill these needs, tile manufacturers at this year’s Surfaces event showcased new collections that support 2019’s top design trends.

Indoor meets outdoor
Tile has wound its way across different surfaces within the home, but now it’s venturing outside as well. Manufacturers at the show were more than happy to oblige the current trend with new product collections boasting outdoor-rated products with matching indoor styles. Manufacturers were also quick to remind retailers of the growth opportunities this new trend is poised to bring.

MSI, for example, launched three indoor tile lines with coordinating outdoor pavers. “This is a whole new area, and we are trying to help the retailers see the opportunity,” said Manny Llerena, director of sales and marketing, MSI. “They traditionally think the outside is for the landscapers. We are telling them not anymore; not with porcelain. That really belongs to you now when you can connect the indoor to the outdoor.”

Some manufacturers added that while indoor tile may sell for $4 per square foot, outdoor tile may sell for twice as much. “It’s a great earning opportunity for the retailer,” Llerena added. “We think this is something that is going to really take hold and continue to grow, and we want to help them bring it along.”

‘Wood’ you look at that
When it comes to trending design, tile manufacturers agree wood looks are major sellers. What began just a few years ago as a nuanced style born out of advancing printing technologies has evolved into a full-fledged force to be reckoned with. With those advances in technology came not only the look of wood, but now the feel of hand-scraped or natural knots replicated on plank styles both large and small. This year, Emser tapped that technology to an even greater extent and partnered with Gensler to introduce its Yakedo collection.

“Wood looks are still an important part of the business, you can’t get away from it,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer, Emser Tile. “So, what we do now is look at new technologies, new techniques—different sizes, textured feels, the right color blends and price points. Yakedo is a really special product for us. It’s based on the Shou Sugi Ban technique. They take hardwood, burn it and then install it, and it gives it a certain dimension, texture and strength. We’ve set up different lines of the manufacturing processes because we know these different looks are important.”

Black and blue
When it comes to trending colors within the tile category, manufacturers agree that both black and blue are beginning to reign. However, even wood-look planks with stark black colorways are growing in popularity. In addition, manufacturers agreed black and blue colorways are shifting from just a trend to an applied trend, with consumers and designers using a stark black shade within their applications instead of just admiring its possibilities.

“The black falls under the dark interiors trend—art deco, Victorian, gothic atmospheres and minimalistic design,” said Laura Grilli, senior product development manager, Daltile. “We are definitely starting to see these dark colors; and this is the inspiration behind Geometric Fusion.”

Daltile’s Geometric Fusion features nine patterns designed to be installed randomly, which creates an intentional deconstructed, geometric look. Each tile features a decorative blend of metallic, matte and glossy finishes. It’s available in four distinct colors, including a stark black called Obsidian.

Concrete ideas
One product trend show attendees were certain to notice was the focus on concrete looks within the tile category. Manufacturers big and small launched traditional concrete looks in square sizes while others incorporated terrazzo looks. Other suppliers stepped outside of the box with planks.

Crossville, for example, launched its Reformation collection at the show. “The name Reformation came from reforming your thinking about what concrete should be,” said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing. “When we started to consider doing a concrete plank so many people [thought], ‘But concrete comes in a square, it should be a square.’ But who said it has to be a square? Why don’t we think outside the box and do something a little different? Now that we’ve done it, people are in love with it. We have 24 x 36, 6 x 36 and 12 x 36 in the four colors—warm and cool neutrals, and I love the dark colors.”

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Ceramics of Italy identifies overseas tile trends

Bologna, Italy—Ceramics of Italy recently unveiled its tile trend report, which highlighted new trends the organization saw during Cersaie, the international exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings held here. Following are seven of the biggest tile trends, according to Ceramics of Italy, as seen in the hundreds of new collections from member manufacturers at the 36th edition of Cersaie.

Systems
For years, Italian tile manufacturers have been expanding the definition of a product, offering specifiers a whole suite of surfacing tools around a single idea or design. At first, it was a range of colors, finishes, and sizes as well as complementing decors and trims. Now, with continued investment in production equipment, many companies are expanding their range of thicknesses—and thus applications—with tiles ranging from 3-30mm including a new 12mm thick porcelain tile specifically designed for kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, tables and outdoor kitchens.

Tile play
From three-dimensional tiles that look such as giant Lego bricks (Marca Corona Bold) to popular cartoons illustrated on ceramic (Del Conca Felix the Cat), when projects call for playfulness, Italian tile answers in full. Companies are continuously experimenting with color, size and patterns to create one-of-a-kind surfacing for architects and designers. They also offer tailor made solutions such as Ornamenta’s ability to print large porcelain slabs in any Pantone color.

Lunar marble
Moving beyond common varieties of stone such as carrara, statuario and travertine, Italian tile producers are scouting quarries throughout the world to find obscure marble full of color and character or digitally manipulating the look of natural stone to create something that is literally out-of-this-world. For Sicis’ ever-evolving Vetrite collection, the enchanting magic of 13 gemstones are captured and amplified in between giant sheets of glass to create lunar-like landscapes for the Gem Glass line. Meanwhile, Refin Stardustcombines the nebulous veining of alabaster with elegant metallic surface effects to create a line of porcelain tiles inspired by the nighttime sky.

The blues
Whether soft or electric, blue is one of the hottest hues in tile design this year, offering a revitalizing pop of color to a variety of interiors. Some, such as Cedit’s Rilievi sculptural ceramic wallcoverings, are the kind of hyper blue associated with contemporary artists Yves Klein and Frida Kahlo. Others, such as Refin Creos and Provenza Vulcanika, conjure the feeling of vacation and the shallow teal waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Big patterns
Italians are known for their rich artistic heritage, which are now rendered on big porcelain slabs with minimal grout lines to create the alluring effect of wallpaper with the technical benefits of ceramic. In fact, some companies are even marketing their products as ceramic wallpaper, offering an expansive catalog of patterns digitally printed on tiles up to 5.25 x 10 feet. One example is ABK who introduced Dark Edition as a capsule collection inspired by the Gothic side of nature for its ever-expanding Wide&Style line. Another company is Fuoriformato who offers an explosion of color and pattern on large ceramic surfaces that can also be used as furnishing elements.
Neu surfaces
This year, it wasn’t just the patterns and sizes that impressed with their seemingly endless variety and sense of inventiveness. Tile producers have completely upped the ante in terms of surface design, which can be seen in dozens of awe-inspiring, new finishes and textures designed for aesthetics as well as functionality. Two collections that artfully demonstrate this trend as well as ceramic tiles’ chameleon capabilities include Ceramica Sant’Agostino Lakewood that conjures oiled wood planks with a hand planed surface and Vallelunga Cavawhose marble design and satin finish looks such as an ancient European church floor.

Tradition
From ancient forms and 18th century patterns to tiles inspired by charming places seemingly stuck in time, Italian tile manufacturers are finding creative ways to make the old feel new again. Mixed and matched patterns, such as those of 14oraitaliana’s Folk and Ceramica Sant’Agostino’s Vita collections, evoke the imagery and vibrant colors of Italy’s most famous and beloved territories. Fioranese’s Liquida slabs resemble 1950’s-style wallpaper, while the earthy tones and textured surfaces of Provenza’s Terraquea collection recall traditional terracotta ware. Designed with nostalgic sentiments, each of these collections combine the aesthetic and cultural qualities of the past with the technological innovations of today.

Many of these and other new tile lines available in the U.S. market will be showcased at Coverings, taking place April 9-12 in Orlando, Fla.

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Ceramic: Bigger sizes, bolder colors drive tile trends for 2019

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Megan Salzano

 

The tile and stone category is expected to see growth in the coming year, and retailers looking to capture that sales potential should stay ahead of the coming trends. However, that becomes more difficult as tile continues to evolve its place in the home—no longer banished to the bathroom or kitchen floor. “It’s not just for the residential kitchen backsplash or the hotel bathroom anymore,” said Lindsey Waldrep, director of marketing, Crossville. “There are more options for countertops and other horizontal applications.”

As such, FCNews tapped some of the categories top vendors to bring you the most sought-after product features that will drive tile production and trends in 2019.

Bigger and better
The large-format trend continues to reign, and “planks and rectangles remain king,” said Emily Holle, MSI’s director of trend and design. Multiple vendors agree that large format will continue its upward trajectory—in both sales and installation—in the coming year, with sizes such as 18 x 24 remaining popular while even larger sizes, some measured in feet, continue to gain ground in floor and wall applications.

In addition, these large-size tiles will push boundaries in terms of color and design. For example, Marco Fregni, CEO of Florim USA, said advancements in extra-large tiles being used as wall to floor coverings has resulted in something quite intriguing: ceramic wallpaper. “Creative designs like geometric patterns, floral and tropical patterns and art-deco motifs are really allowing designers to come up with concepts that are only limited by their imaginations.”

Functional in all forms
MSI’s Holle noted that consumers today want waterproof, pet-proof and kid-proof flooring. “We are seeing function and performance get closer to the top of the list when a homeowner is shopping.”

What’s more, non-traditional tile applications, such as three-dimensional wall tile or chevron looks, are expected to reign. Other vendors agree that tile’s move from the kitchen and bathroom to these unconventional applications throughout the home is enabled by its evolving functionality.

Fregni said Florim USA is devoting significant time and effort into creating porcelain that can be used as a countertop surface but remain impervious to stains as well as run from ceiling to floor and seamlessly transition to outdoor patios without fear of being damaged by the elements. From walls and countertops to outdoor pavers, retailers should be on the hunt for versatile functionality.

Pattern and color go bold
Vendors agree encaustic prints, retro and modern geometric looks and graphic bold patterns will dominate. Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of marketing, Dal-Tile, also noted the impact cultural influences will have on tile patterns. “The decorative art found in Moroccan culture will play a large role in surfaces, and countries in the Far East will make an impact as well, inspiring origami and tangram geometric patterns,” she said.

When it comes to color, Emser Tile said wood looks will range from classic warmth to more contemporary cool tones featuring brushes of blue, while mosaics will see bright blues, greens and whites. Crossville’s Waldrep added that new collections will include richly nuanced surface visuals with layered and saturated colors and details.

On the surface
In addition to the growth of both polished and matte finishes, vendors expect the growth of textured tiles. Due to advancements in digital printing, vendors are now able to mimic not only the look of other materials but also the feel. These realistically textured tiles—or those that give the illusion of texture—can add depth and dimension to a project, helping to spur tile’s popularity with consumers and projected growth in the coming year. “Offered in several shapes and sizes, textured tiles can make a statement on their own or be combined into exciting combinations,” Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks noted.

Vendors said textured tiles will complement the forecasted pattern and color trends for 2019 with bold colors and encaustic patterns high in demand.

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Executive forecast: Tile—Commercial sector, larger formats to lift category

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Megan Salzano

 

Modest, single-digit growth is expected for the tile and stone category in 2019, according to some of the sector’s top executives, with demand in the commercial sector poised to stimulate that growth. Large-format tile and planks have also hit their stride and remain an opportunity for the category. However, a shortage of skilled installers and higher interest rates could prove challenging moving into 2019. 

Marco Fregni
CEO
Florim USA

What is your projection for category growth in 2019? All the indicators show a very shy growth around 3%. This is due to the rise of higher interest rates on mortgages and the housing market showing a very modest growth.

Which segments/products will fuel that growth? The commercial segment is where we can gain potential growth due to the very strict requirement for maintenance and durability. The distribution channel would be the most challenged and controversial, since the offering in this segment is higher than the demand itself.

Where do you see opportunity within the category? Challenges? I see great opportunity in the A&D market. Through our Milestone brand, which is produced in our Clarksville, Tenn. facilities, Florim USA is uniquely positioned to capitalize on increased interest within this market. [The category] is facing several challenges, including a shortage of truck drivers and installers in the U.S., competing products such as LVT and heavy competition from foreign products.

What are your biggest initiatives for 2019? Our biggest initiative is the continued launch of our new Milestone brand—the rollout and numerous unique product launches we have planned for 2019. The big achievement in 2018 was completing the EPD process. Our next challenge will be earning Greenguard certification. These initiatives are a sign of our commitment to the environment, to our employees and to our customers and end users.

 

Barbara Haaksma
Vice president of marketing
Emser Tile

What is your projection for category growth in 2019? We expect to see single-digit growth from 2018 to 2019, and we are thrilled to be on the cutting-edge of creating design-forward products with versatile applications.

Which segments/products will fuel that growth? New home builds and commercial installations continue to create new opportunities for tile and stone. Outdoor tile is growing in popularity, as well as gauged porcelain and modern ceramic wall tile.

Where do you see opportunity within the category? Challenges? There are infinite circumstances for statement-making design: bold colors and dynamic, eye-catching textures. We are excited to bring the classics that consumers love, mixed in with several new ideas in 2019.

What are your biggest initiatives for 2019? Emser will bring more than 20 introductions to TISE and IBS in early 2019 with a bevy of aesthetics. We have also launched an online platform for our existing partners and are excited to be a part of digital platforms such as Material Bank. We also offer Emser University to our partners—a customized program that shares the latest product knowledge, manufacturing processes and selling strategies.

 

Raj Shah
President
MSI

What is your projection for category growth in 2019?We expect to see between 4% to 6% growth in the tile category in 2019.

Which segments/products will fuel that growth? Large-format tile and planks will remain popular. We also believe the wall and outdoor products will have disproportionate growth in 2019.

Where do you see opportunity within the category? Challenges? Opportunity is endless. The biggest thing we need to do as an industry is to continue to inspire the consumer. MSI’s Augmented Reality app is a perfect tool to enable this. Visualization continues to be the consumer’s biggest hurdle, and as tile variation and sizes are increasing, tools are required to keep up with the growth rate. Finally, the continued transition from soft flooring and even hardwood to tile is an opportunity.

What are your biggest initiatives for 2019? Our goal as a company is to continue to make dream surfaces attainable. This becomes a larger challenge in an inflationary and slowing economy, but the MSI team is very well suited to do this. We will be investing heavily into new products, inspiration tools and finding ways to offset inflationary pressures.

 

Lindsey Waldrep,
Vice president of marketing
Crossville

What is your projection for category growth in 2019? The tile market is growing. There’s increased demand across both commercial and residential sectors, and competition has grown to meet demand domestically.

Which segments/products will fuel that growth? Large-format and porcelain tile panels are fueling growth. Field tile dimensions upwards of 36-inches are popular, even residentially. Then there’s porcelain tile panels—tiles measured in feet, not inches—that are earning more specifications in commercial and residential projects. The material is so versatile, including its ability to be installed tile-over-tile, making it a great alternative for a range of surfaces.

Where do you see opportunity within the category? Challenges? The need for qualified labor to install the tile is an ongoing challenge. We will continue our expansive installer training and education programs—including industry partnerships and in-house workshops to ensure installers are trained and ready to answer demand.

What are your biggest initiatives for 2019? We’re gearing up for a busy year with product launches that exemplify the latest innovations in our industry. A primary focus for us is deepening our solutions for those who select and specify tile. For example, we just launched a new website that was designed based on extensive research in the A&D community.

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Ceramic state of the industry: On the heels of a strong year, suppliers brace for change

November 26/December 3, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 12

By K.J. Quinn

 

The ceramic tile industry can best be described as a two-sided coin: one side shows a business thriving from a healthy economy and consumer preferences trending toward floors resembling or made from natural materials; but on the flip side, a projected decline in new housing starts and unfavorable macroeconomic issues threaten to stymie growth.

“I predict that by the end of the year, the overall consumption of ceramic tile [floor and wall] will be flat with the previous year,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing, Dal-Tile. “New residential applications should be positive thanks to new home construction, while residential remodeling could be slightly negative.”

When you look at the numbers, ceramic is a steady performer, posting eight consecutive years of sales growth through 2017. Sales rose 5.8% and nearly topped $3 billion for the first time while volume rose 5.5%, according to FCNews research. The U.S. remains fertile ground for tile makers, as the amount of ceramic sold is significantly less than other parts of the world.

“Products continue to get to market through tile distribution and dealers’ showrooms, though e-commerce continues to grow, as well,” noted Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing for Crossville.

In 2018, the category benefitted from numerous factors ranging from a strong economy and new housing market to high consumer confidence and low unemployment rates. The remodeling market remained busy, observers report, as more people chose to remain in their homes and update them to accommodate evolving needs.

“Many homeowners are compelled to upgrade materials in their homes,” Waldrep said. “We always aim to guide homeowners and the remodeling professionals they are working with to choose the right tile products for the applications at hand.”

Meanwhile, the category expanded usage into key commercial sectors— namely hospitality, healthcare, education and corporate offices—and new high-end homes saw greater quantities of tile specified. “Consumers are still extending the use of tile in applications outside of traditional kitchen and bathroom floors,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer and vice president of business development, Emser Tile. “Wall, decorative accents, indoor/outdoor, external landscaping and cladding are all growth areas.”

But the eight-year winning streak for tile is expected to end soon. Rising prime lending rates, tighter mortgage qualification criteria and rising real estate costs are among the factors expected to impact demand in 2019. For example, Dodge Data & Analytics projects single-family housing starts will slide 3% to 815,000 units in 2019 while multi-family starts drop 8% to 465,000 units.

“Total housing starts will decline 5% to 1.28 million units,” stated Kim Kennedy, manager of forecasting at Dodge Data & Analytics. “In dollars, single-family housing starts will remain flat in 2019 at $232 billion, and multi-family housing starts will fall 6% to $87 billion.”

New housing is one of the biggest markets for tile consumption. Residential construction data, however, can be skewed by peaks and valleys in key regions. For example, the South region, the largest in terms of building activity, saw housing starts decline by almost 14% through September. Unforeseen situations—such as the recent fires in Northern California and Hurricanes Florence and Michael in the South—impacted flooring choices in home improvement projects as well as new residential construction, according to published reports.

Emerging issues
A major issue affecting the builder business is affordability, as declines in home ownership persisted well into the market recovery and recent gains have been restrained, Dodge Data reported.

Limited increases in income, large spikes in house prices and rising mortgage rates are combining to hamper affordability, particularly for first-time homebuyers. “Home affordability issues within key markets are driving a push towards lower square footage,” Emser Tile’s Baldocchi said.

From a product perspective, LVT is reportedly expanding into commercial and residential spaces previously occupied by ceramic. What some industry members find worrisome about this trend is that tile is a superior product on paper, as it is a natural product offering an inert and impermeable surface with zero VOCs, is more durable and offers arguably better looks. “So it must be cost to the consumer that is a primary deciding factors, which includes everything up to and including installation,” said Ryan Fasan, Tile of Spain consultant and tile specialist.

Tile costs are slowly climbing with the average per-square-foot price increasing from $0.95 to $1.20 in the last decade, according to FCNews research. Rising tariffs and transportation/freight expenses contributed to higher sticker prices for a product among the priciest of floor coverings. Suppliers are cognizant of this, and adjusting to decrease landing costs (such as shaving a millimeter or two from the product thickness). This minor adjustment can have major ramifications throughout the supply chain.

“The lighter material is easier to carry, cut and work with on site, potentially cutting project timelines and cost when it comes time for installation,” Fasan explained. “The goal is to engineer product that does its job without overkill to allow for a broader range of projects to afford the premium characteristics and style that tile provides.”

Tile is among the most difficult floorings to install, as there are many product types, sizes and applications indoors and outdoors, plus potential floor preparation issues on job sites. Further complicating matters is the shortage of qualified installers, as retailers and contractors are challenged to find good help. “Labor continues to be a topic of conversation as it relates to both the availability and quality,” Emser Tile’s Baldocchi said. “However, recently we have seen and heard reports of markets where this is easing, and efforts are being made to do more training and attract new installers.”

Industry associations and suppliers are doing their part to boost installation quality and recruit more mechanics. For example, the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) offers an online apprentice program for tile installers. The University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) provides an online Tile Installer ITS Verification course, which features an extensive section on how to install gauged porcelain tiles on floors and walls. “It only takes about five hours to complete,” said Donato Pompo, UofCTS founder.

Crossville, for its part, prioritizes installer training and education. Its industry partnerships and in-house workshops are non-stop efforts to help more members of the installation community be equipped with the know-how to answer demand. “When installers are armed with the knowledge to land projects and achieve successful installations, they are in positions of strength to grow their businesses in terms of staffing, further training and resources.”

Eye on innovations
Tile is reportedly becoming mass marketable due to improvements in technology that have led to usage beyond floors and walls. For example, the advent of slabs for countertops and 16mm-30mm thick paver options is providing an entry for ceramics into areas of specification dominated by natural stones and other manufactured goods.

“By creating product in these progressive formats—with all of the inherent benefits of ceramics coupled with the ever-growing capabilities for staggering decoration methods—ceramics are making big waves in these areas of specifications,” Tile of Spain’s Fasan pointed out.

Emerging formats, such as large tiles and porcelain panels, are expected to continue expanding into multiple end uses in 2019. “The market is accustomed to larger proportions in field tiles, making dimensions upwards of 36-inches viable in the residential market,” Crossville’s Waldrep explained. “Even larger, porcelain tile panels are starting to be embraced residentially as options for shower stall walls, fireplace surrounds and backsplashes.”

Size does matter as vendors continue churning out larger formats and myriad shapes to accommodate pent-up demand. For instance, rectangle sizes are popular both in small subway wall tiles and large floor tiles. “We see strengths in larger rectangular sizes, like marbles and limestones, in general,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli explained. “Polish material is getting more popular, and wall tile is strong in all categories and sizes.”

Wood grain, stone and concrete tile looks are top sellers in hard surfaces, and ceramic is no exception. Mosaic tiles are also trending as consumer confidence holds strong, making homeowners open to more bold and customized styles. “Wood-look tile collections are now staples,” Waldrep said. “These products are perpetually popular as durable alternatives for bringing the look of wood to spaces where the real thing wouldn’t be an option.”

Suppliers continue to invest across their manufacturing footprints to bolster production efficiency and speed to market. Digital printing is becoming so sophisticated that it has completely transformed the category, allowing production of high-quality tiles that mimic natural materials and vary in design.

Case in point: The colors in Crossville’s new Astral Plane collection offer nuanced details captured through the latest tile manufacturing technology and are somewhat warmer in tone. “We also offer mosaic options that not only add to the aesthetics of the line, but provide functional slip resistance when installed as flooring in wet areas such a shower stalls,” Waldrep said. “The size options are varied and align with popular preferences as well.”

In addition to improved aesthetics, R&D efforts center on developing larger sized floor tile and polished materials. “We also have a new product focus on wall tile that is 3D, providing an artisan look, or features structure,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said. “Our extra-large Panoramic porcelain slabs are hitting the market with a competitive program.”

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Tile: Color, design exploration at the helm of latest stone innovation

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By K.J. Quinn

 

It’s been said a leopard can’t change its spots, but this idiom doesn’t apply to the world’s oldest form of flooring. Natural stone suppliers are reinvigorating the category by utilizing new production technologies to produce high-fashion products in larger formats to meet any design vision for inside and outside the home.

“It is important for the manufacturer/distributor to holistically capture the trends taking place across all surfacing applications and offer the products that meet these needs,” said Sam Kim, vice president, MSI. “As a distributor, we see this as a unique opportunity to serve our business partners and end consumers with the ability to service the full basket.”

A robust economy and housing market are enabling the category to make inroads in residential applications. “Natural stone is enjoying a rise in demand following several years of a market saturated with imitation stone,” observed Joshua Levinson, president wholesale, Artistic Tile.

There is a correlation between stone consumption and new housing starts. As single-family homes get bigger, it provides opportunities for stone surfaces to expand beyond the kitchen. Meanwhile, the state of the luxury home market is another barometer, as stone floors and walls are commonly found in these dwellings.

“As home prices rise, we have seen more full house applications,” Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer and vice president business development, Emser Tile, pointed out.

Despite economic indicators pointing in the right direction, modest growth of approximately 1.5% to 2% is projected over the next three years as commodity stones face increased competition from hard surfaces. “The stone flooring market has been losing share over the last few years to ceramics, hardwood and now, luxury tile plank,” Baldocchi said.

The influx of hard surfaces in the low end, which mimic nature inspired styles of stone but cost less, is a major competitive issue. For example, “the technology in porcelain tile manufacturing has advanced so well that the natural stone look porcelains are becoming increasingly popular,” noted Meredith Locker, associate ASID, regional manager for Crossville Studios, the distribution division of Crossville, Inc. “They not only offer the beautiful aesthetics of natural stone, but the benefits of low maintenance porcelain.”

Stone flooring is positioned as a premium upgrade over ceramic and certain hardwoods, experts say. While stone is among the priciest of floors, producers are leveling the playing field by introducing products that offer more bang for the buck. Plus, when installed prices are amortized over the life of the floor, the initial investment looks even more reasonable.

“Manmade products can do a decent job of replicating basic stones, but simply can’t compete with the vivid veining, rare colors or the depth and complexity of natural stone,” Artistic Tile’s Levinson said. “As a result, suppliers are currently seeking out more unique natural materials.”

Buyers from the high end are said to appreciate one-of-a-kind looks that can be achieved with a heavily veined natural stone. “The finished look of the install is an expression of the designer and/or property owner that simply cannot be reproduced anywhere,” Levinson said. “It acts as a lasting legacy of the work of the design professional.”

Popular stone used in the home include granite, limestone, sandstone, slate and flagstone, vendors said. Marble and stone mosaics are among the fastest growth categories, with double-digit sales spikes expected this year. “Marble has risen as a top option, with new color variations boosting its appeal as a solution for modern designs while still maintaining its timeless style,” said Roy Viana, director of natural stone and slab at Dal-Tile.

New looks, formats

Innovation is rampant, industry members said, despite the fact stone maintains timeless appeal and durability few materials can match. A major area of focus is decorative and wall elements as more dimensional and complex styles are developed. “As acceptance for decorative products grows, manufacturers and suppliers are finding better efficiencies,” Emser’s Baldocchi said. “This has enabled us to develop new ideas at even better pricing as manufacturers find better manufacturing techniques.”

Technology impacts the ability to design with natural stone in many ways. For instance, abrasive water jets can cut stone into intricate flowing patterns as well as precise geometric designs. “CNC technology has allowed natural stone to be carved into dimensional pieces of different forms,” Artistic Tile’s Levinson pointed out. “These technologies have also allowed for the combination of natural stone with metal and glass, which add intriguing contrast to natural stone.”

MSI’s Arabescato Carrara Marble is a combination of soft whites and dusty grays that can be used to create countertops, shower surrounds, accent walls and other design features.

Water jet cutting advances enable suppliers to produce highly styled patterns and intricate shapes in products such as mosaics. “The value that water jet cutting is giving consumers and designers is greater flexibility in the stone, so they can now consider stone for certain design aspects where they previously would have turned to wall paper or tile,” Dal-Tile’s Viana said. “You can now modernize a look with stone because it is no longer available in just traditional sizes and shapes.”

Bigger is better when it comes to size, experts said, as variations from tile to tile are more pronounced, plus it meets pent up demand for larger formats. Standard 12 x 12-inch sizes are being supplanted by 24 x 24-inch and 12 x 36-inch formats while planks measuring 8 x 36 inches and 16 x 48 inches are utilized in large spaces. “One of the hottest trends in the industry is extra-large pieces,” Viana noted. “This size category is appealing because it empowers customers to create continuous, seamless design.”

Geometric and irregular sizes—such as rectangles and hexagons—remain popular choices, experts said. “We have developed a new Marble collection that blends the coveted white and gray palette with on-trend geometric shapes to answer all trend needs,” MSI’s Kim said.

Production improvements have allowed for introductions of more heavily veined stones, providing designers and homeowners with more variety. “We’re noticing a rise in demand for veining and color,” Artistic Tile’s Levinson said. “Specifically, colors such as greens, pinks and reds are beginning to interest the design community once again.”

Trending colors

Innovation is also leading to more creative looks, including mixing colors and surface finishes. “In some cases, when we are talking about mosaic or smaller 3 x 6-inch stone wall tiles, we are talking about the same stone in multiple finishes being installed together—whether it is a combination of raked and honed, a honed with a scraped finish, or polished combined with a bush hammered finish,” Dal-Tile’s Viana said. “These texture combinations create interesting variation within the stone application.”

Decorative pieces—in polished, honed and split face finishes—are utilized to provide an unexpected break of texture in otherwise continuous, sleek spaces. “What has helped the category is the expansion of the decorative piece,” Emser’s Baldocchi said. “This has inspired more homeowners to use more flooring to match the selected decorative.”

Color preferences are reportedly trending towards gray, black and white, often found in limestone and marble. “Black and white stone combinations are very popular,” Crossville’s Locker said. “Brass accents in mosaics is a noteworthy trend right now, as are textured finishes, color-etched finishes and large format sizes.”

Light-colored, polished natural stone remains a sought-after option for interior flooring, MSI’s Kim noted. “Alternate finish as well as dark-colored natural stone flooring, including pavers, show significant growth in demand.”

The color combination of gray and beige—fondly known as “greige”—is gaining traction as well, manufacturers noted. Greige is a fresh way to incorporate warmer shades into spaces while still providing a contemporary feel. This color blend ranges from sand tones to deep charcoal.

“A nice example of this color range is found in the Dal-Tile Center City marble and limestone collection, which offers beautiful shades of greige,” Dal-Tile’s Viana said.

One of the hottest new products is natural quartzite, vendors said, which combines the look and feel of marble with the durability and hardness of granite. “Quartzites are becoming more available in a lot of different looks,” said Donato Pompo, CTC, CMR, CSI, CDT, MBA, founder of the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone. “The textured leather finish has been a desirable look without having the maintenance issues of a textured finished stone.”

Classic styles, such as white marbles, remain in vogue and available in many variations. “We offer many white marbles with various price points,” Crossville’s Locker said. “There’s also lots of excitement for color-etched stone with a gold leaf option.”