Decorative inserts add interest to traditional ceramic tile designs. Photo courtesy of Arizona Hot Dots.

Glass tile formed into dimensional pyramids co-ordinate with the flat panes of glass floor tile. Photo: Piramide, courtesy of Ceramiche Brennero.
Since mid 2004, a number of philosophical changes have occurred in the tile industry. Interest in large format tile has increased and the most current shape for tile is no longer square, but a narrow elongated rectangle. Upscale tile offer a plethora of sizes including several mesh mounted companion mosaics. Many programs feature widths in 4, 6, and 8 inches by lengths up to 48 inches. Traditional 6-inch-by-8-inch or 8-inch-by-10-inch wall tile is no longer de rigueur nor is the verticality this type of tile creates. The new monolithic slabs of ceramic tile are all about a strong horizontal dimension which draws the eye out from the center of the room and expands even the smallest space. Curiously this shift has also impacted the use of decorative tile. The graphic or architectural element of these sizes and shapes has encouraged designers to experiment with bisecting accent lines and asymmetric vertical features that provide an exciting "edge" or juxtaposition to the repeating level plane. Unlike horizontal accent bands that often ring an entire room, vertical accents can be: symmetrical; asymmetrical; one line; or multiple lines. In keeping with the more contemporary look, many of the accent tile feature geometrics or impressionistic forms which add to their universality and timeless appeal.

Murals & hand crafted insert decors are often three dimensional images that virtually rise off the face of each tile. Photo: Landscape, courtesy of Ceramiche Grazia.
Another entire sector of decorative tile has evolved with the advent of water-jet cutting technology. Virtually any shape can be carved from ceramic tile. Diamonds, rhomboids, parallelograms, even Escher like jig-saw puzzle mosaics. Each cut mosaic is mounted on mesh in a 12-inch or larger format for ease of installation. The precision of the water-jet allows for intricate inlay designs to be assembled forming a: rosette; ceramic carpetta; floor or wall mural; corporate logo; custom border; or other unique ceramic tile feature. Customization of art tile is also more readily available as the machinery and skill are in place at most modern manufacturing plants. Creating sheets of mosaics also offers the opportunity of inserting materials other than ceramic tile. Specialty tile may include pieces of stainless steel, natural stone, exotic wood, Venetian glass, river rock or other exceptional accents.

Antique craquelle glaze on spotter tile, listelli, borders and moldings. Photo courtesy of Senio-Alta Ceramica Faentina.
There appears to be no limit to the creativity and innovation ceramicists are prepared to explore. One manufacturer froze the full bloom of spring flowers beneath an amber-like glaze. Another custom ceramic house offers heirloom tile by mounting priceless terracotta and hand painted tile from antiquity on sliver thin pieces of aged limestone. Mosaic glass manufacturers are taking their designs to new heights as well. Selecting from hundreds of possible hues, sheets can have a never-ending range of color reminiscent of the colors in a rainforest; be glazed with a pearlescent shimmer that emanates a constantly shifting array of colors; or be customized, duplicating pixel by pixel an original piece of art. Glass tile can be translucent, sand blasted for an opaque surface, glazed or seeded with a granilla powder making the surface slip resistant.

Antique terracotta and hand painted tile is bordered by aged limestone. Photo: Gaudi series courtesy of Decorativa.
In addition to the thousands of decorative trims, borders and inset tiles manufactured as complementary pieces to full tile programs, there are hundreds of custom tile houses hand crafting ceramic art. In this arena the sky is truly the limit and the defining feature is often three dimensional images that virtually rise off the face of each tile. The infinite variety available transforms and personalizes any space. Consumers can select: fantastic sea creatures; culinary herbs, fruits, vegetables and seafood; whimsical characters and cartoons; calligraphy prose and the entire cast of fairy tale stories.

In fact ceramic tile is being employed in a continuously wider range of applications. Specialty tile are often the bling-bling or jewel-like elements in elaborate powder rooms designed for guests. Deep bas-relief acanthus border tile and three dimensional herb tile grace many kitchens with a hygienic surface while providing an upscale material that flows seamlessly into open concept family rooms. Mediterranean hand painted murals add a splash of hot color to the focal point of an al fresco dining area and complete the resort like effect initiated by the shimming glass mermaid on the floor of the swimming pool.

We have actually returned to the genesis of ceramic tile. It is a material used and honored for its timeless nature. Entire stories have been told and immortalized for centuries through the art found on the face of ceramic tile. Few other products age and mature so beautifully or offer the history and sense of culture. Historic production reflected the coming together of nature combined with artistry and the formation by human hands. The latest technological developments have made this type of artistry available and attainable to a new generation. Ceramic tile has color, texture, scale and offers an endless collection of exquisite fired art. While technological achievements have advanced the potential ceramic tile enjoys today, it was the wisdom to look back to a time and place where it all began that has bestowed ceramic tile with its outstanding charm and beauty.