"We are definitely seeing more metal tile," said Marketing Director Tristan McManaman of Walker Zanger in Sylmar, CA. "There is more of a demand for things that are not generic. Floor tiles used to be primarily beige and white. People are now comfortable to customize. I think that in a way, the country is becoming more design savvy."
McManaman also contributes design shows such as the ones on cable stations like The Learning Channel (TLC) and Home & Garden Television (HGTV) for peaking consumer interest and sparking enthusiasm. "People are exposed more [to design]," he said. "Also, it is a lot of fun."
Walker Zanger currently carries three metal tile collections, which each have their own distinctive characteristics, explained McManaman. "We have several lines," he said. "One is Patine - a copper-based metal tile with French and Romanesque motifs embossed on it. This particular line has fairly intricate pieces, although there are some more plain pieces as well." The pieces in the Patine collection are sold individually.
Typically, the metal pieces are combined with either stone or ceramic tile, said McManaman. "The Patine line is usually paired with limestone and travertine," he said, adding that it creates more of an Old World look. Raven Hill Forge is another line of metal tile available through Walker Zanger, which consists of pieces made from bronze and pewter. "This line is hand-forged by jewelry designers," said McManaman. "It is very three-dimensional - not flat or smooth in any way. It has interesting things like dots and buttons on the pieces.
"On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Metallismo line," McManaman continued. "It is very modern looking. The pieces are mesh-mounted. An entire area such as a backsplash or wall can be done with them. People really love it. They are little bricks and ovals. It is a stainless steel appliance look. The pieces are mostly geometric. It is much more modern than the other lines."
Metallismo mosaics are available in finishes of brushed stainless steel, dotted stainless steel and brass. Shapes and sizes include 3/4-inch squares, mini bricks, ovals, dots, rhomboids, elongated octagons, herringbone and basketweave. Each piece of metal is rubber backed to prevent metal conductivity and mosaics are mesh-mounted for easy installation.
Among the leading manufacturers of metal tile is Questech - producing lines for high-profile companies such as Crossville, Dal-tile, American Olean, Mohawk, Ahnzu, Westminster and American Marazzi. "It used to be impossible to do metal tiles on a wall in an affordable fashion," said Gary Marmer of Questech. "Solid metal had to be used. It was customized and expensive."
According to Marmer, Questech started to produce metal tiles about seven years ago, and now it comprises 90 percent of its business. "Once our first line was produced, the market started to take notice. It was about a two- to four-year period to get our name out there. It took time to educate consumers and designers."
Marmer continued to explain that Questech was first introduced to Crossville in 1998, and a partnership soon was formed. "At first, we tried to go out on our own," he said. "Crossville saw us at a trade show and approached us. They really made the market. They recognized the opportunity."
Sharing the same thoughts as McManaman, Marmer also believes that metal tiles work best as accent pieces. "The best way to use metal really is as an accessory - like jewelry," he said. It is meant to coordinate with appliances, plumbing fixtures and cabinetry. It's unique looking and beautiful."
Unlike ceramic tiles that can have varying color from lot to lot, metal tile is consistent. A protective coating is put on each tile, which prevents most scratching and protects the metal surface from the oxidizing effects of water. According to Questech, metal tiles are ideal for interior vertical surfaces such as kitchen backsplashes or a bathroom chair rail. "The most interesting use is in the kitchen and bath as a component," said Marmer. "I have actually witnessed people walk right by a stainless refrigerator, beautiful granite countertops, and go right to the metal tile. They want to touch the metal."
Questech now offers a product that is rated for the floor, according to Marmer. "It is primarily used as a dot or accent on the floor," he said. "Flooring is 70 to 80 percent of the ceramic market, now that we offer a metal tile for floors, we see that area increasing in sales."
Metal tiles are installed using standard tile setting methods such as polymer fortified thinset or epoxy. They also can be easily cut with a wet saw, and can be drilled with a high-speed drill. To ensure proper bond in high-temperature installations, epoxy adhesive and grout might be required, stated Questech.
Another company specializing in metal tiles is Creative Metalized Products of Hollywood, FL, which was first started eight years ago by Linda Progosh. While the business had always worked with metal, it was not until approximately three years ago, when it began producing lightweight metal tiles.
"We restructured the company because it had been mainly doing architectural elements such as doors, columns and cladding for walls - not decorative tiles," said Mario Klappholz of Ceramic Consulting Corp. and part-owner of Creative Metalized Products. "About three years ago, we started manufacturing metal tiles. We saw a market demand for it. I saw Questech in the market, and I thought there was a big need for it."
Klappholz believes that metal tiles are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they also solve many architectural and design problems. They are a fraction of the weight of solid metal. Solid metal veneer is only 1/32 of an inch thick, he stated.
"They are used for inlays, decorative purposes for backsplashes in kitchens and bathrooms, decorative walls and for wainscots in hallways of public areas," said Klappholz. "Basically, we make every size you can imagine - 1-by-1, 2-by-2, 4-by-4 and 6-by-6 inches. We have all sizes and shapes for different applications."
With a degree in fashion design, Progosh is an innovator behind the creative tiles offered by her company. "Ultimately, everything we produce is handmade," she stated. "As far as design goes, what we offer is limited only to one's imagination. We can go completely three-dimensional."
The tiles are available in five metals, including bronze, nickel/silver, brass and copper. These metals are offered in three different finishes - polished, satin and verde, which is a greenish patina that is the result of oxidation. Additionally, the tiles are available in iron rust, which is only offered in a rust finish, according to Klappholz.
"We seal all our tiles with a special sealer that we developed with a chemical company," he said. "It's the same type of sealer that is used to seal musical instruments. It offers UV protection, and maintains the tile at the level that you buy it at. Once we seal the tile, it completely stops any oxidation process."
According to Klappholz, the tiles are not metal all the way through. "The back of the tile is a resin product," he said. "The tile surface is metal. It's a process that gives you real metal as you see it, but the filling and backing is resin to get much better adhesion, and it's lighter than pure metal."
Excited by the limitless possibilities and growing demand for metal tiles, Creative Metalized Products has other plans in the works, according to Progosh. "We have full-sized doors, deep relief décor pieces and more on the drawing board," she stated.