The kitchen has been transformed from a utilitarian food preparation room to a command center for all domestic activity. Open concept floor plans are used in both contemporary and traditional design. Kitchens open onto breakfast nooks, family or great rooms, dining rooms, outdoor kitchens and terraces. The kitchen is the heart of every home and serves as a place to gather, linger and experience the everyday life that is "family." In fact, this nucleus of rooms has supplanted the living room in modern design as the place to relax, live and entertain. Solutions for floor and wall coverings in this expanded version of the kitchen have evolved to fulfill the functional and aesthetic demands of 21st century lifestyles.
LARGER FORMATS:Twelve-inch square tile is commonly used across North America but there is steady growth in larger sized tile up to 24 inches square. Rectangular tile in sizes up to 12-by- 24-inches is also emerging as one of the most interesting shapes this year. The size duplicates traditional stone slab sizing and can be used in combination with square formats to create interesting tonal patterns. The larger size tile reduces the number of grout joints and further enhances the visual expanse of the rooms. Manufacturers are offering tile programs in a variety of sizes to facilitate multi-dimensional floor patterns. In this way designers can border one tile with a different size or shape and subtly define one space from the other. Using a large 16-inch square tile in one room and switching to the matching mosaic in an adjoining area addresses the varying dimensions of each room as well as its individual function and personality.
RECTIFIED TILE:Ceramic has always been distinguishable from natural stone due to the shadow or pillow effect at each grout joint. When a tile is rectified, it is planed to remove the pillowed edge by cutting all sides with a water jet. The cutting process also calibrates the tile to achieve identical sizing, unlike non-rectified tile, which has minor size variations due to the nature of fired clay products. Exact sizing and a blunt square edge, allows the installer to place the tile with an extremely narrow joint similar to stone installations. Because grout is susceptible to staining, rectified tile resolves this concern in kitchen applications. Using state of the art screen technology on rectified tile produces a sophisticated level of randomness identical to natural stone. In comparing natural stone to glazed tile, the added benefits with tile include: a stain-proof surface, technical consistency without veining or fissures and a surface that requires low maintenance. It is not surprising that homeowners prefer a quality ceramic tile.
CERAMIC WOOD PLANKING:Each year research and experimentation builds on previous technologies. This year the technological combination of large format tile up to 43 inches in length, advanced random screen and dry press decorating systems and tile rectification has arrived at a culmination of aesthetic excellence regarding models of ceramic tile inspired from wood plank flooring. Ceramic tile has always had an indisputable list of advantages superior to many other natural materials: it is a good environmental and resource efficient choice- lasting a lifetime; mechanically, it stands up to heavy traffic, loading and soil; it does not require monthly waxing, annual or future refinishing; it is fireproof and will not contribute smoke to a fire; it introduces no fibers, dust particles or Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) to the environment therefore, does not increase poor indoor air quality or aggravate allergies, as is the case with other materials; it does not absorb odors, or harbor mold, mildew, fungus or viruses and is one of the most hygienic surfaces; it does not fade or deteriorate with ultraviolet exposure. While the design community have been champions of these natural benefits, they have in the past been critical of ceramic tile aesthetics. If a tile appears in the least faux, the original material it is imitating will always be preferred. The realism of these new random ceramic designs will quickly put that argument aside and the design community will specify tile without hesitation, offering consumers all the benefits and the realistic beauty tile offers.
The ceramic wood option is certainly not meant to replace wood flooring in all applications, however there are several areas of a home where wood is not practical due to traffic, moisture or exposure to sunlight. The ceramic alternative will be an excellent option for kitchen backsplashes and floors where absorption of cooking odors and water spills is an impediment for natural wood. The ceramic wood planking is also a practical solution for bordering fields of contrasting stone ceramics ensuring a floor with one-step cleaning. These wood designs can extend interior spaces when the same tile is used in the kitchen and family room and carried out onto the deck, patio, balcony or terrace. A popular trend today, of visually uniting the outdoor spaces with the interior, is now easily achieved. A ceramic tile deck or patio requires no re-staining, inhibits moss growth, and will not deteriorate in the sun or rain. In fact any wet area in the home where natural wood cannot be used, including shower walls and floors, can now be designed successfully with the ceramic wood alternative.
ALFRESCO KITCHENSBringing interior design concepts to outdoor spaces has been steadily growing over the last decade. Landscape architects now speak about individual areas of the garden as "room-scapes" and create separate dining, living and viewing areas. The most articulated of these outdoor rooms is the kitchen or barbeque area. In many regions, more than 50 percent of the cooking is done outdoors. Gone are the days when a Weber on wheels sitting forlornly on the back porch will cut it. This second kitchen is designed complete with cabinets, wine cooler, refrigerator drawers, counter and bar area. This "summer kitchen" is adjacent to a luxurious seating area that includes a candle lit chandelier, down-filled cushions and artwork on the walls. It follows that concrete, asphalt or an aggregate floor surface is no longer sophisticated enough for these spaces. Ceramic tile flooring in terracotta, limestone, or revolutionary designs such as woven rattan or the new wood are quickly becoming the number one choice for alfresco dining. The accompanying preparation area is often Mediterranean in flavor. Favorite features include intricate mosaic patterns and hand painted accent tile on all cabinets and bar units to ensure a heat-proof surface that will easily weather the outside environment.
EURO-STYLED KITCHENSWith new concepts applied to outdoor living, an important psychological shift is affecting indoor kitchens as well. Today the kitchen must be highly practical and provide us with an efficient, healthy place to prepare meals but also be the showcase of our personality and design acumen, as it is our main social gathering place. While functionality remains a number one priority, high design and a décor capable of integrating the various rooms is now a very close second. The European style kitchen incorporates: free standing furniture style cabinetry; open or negative space design on upper cabinet units; and consolidates lost upper storage in a single floor to ceiling wall unit. In this way, all storage is organized and easily accessible in one location. This keeps the rest of the kitchen sight lines open to adjoining rooms, minimizing the "utilitarian look" of the kitchen and helping the visual flow extend from one room to another. Free of the continuous line of upper cabinets, the other three walls of the kitchen may feature a limited amount of open shelving or glass fronted cabinets for display but the majority of wall space above the counter is left open. Ceramic tile is used from floor to ceiling on all walls and often features a dramatic focal point over the cook-top or stove. For a traditional kitchen, this may be a gracefully arched alcove mimicking a fireplace with an intricate mosaic mural. A contemporary theme may wrap the 12-inch slate finish floor tile up the walls to form a monolithic envelope of texture or it may incorporate a bold graphic strip tile in stainless steel combined with a large format rectified white tile for a minimal well-edited look. The American version of an eighteen-inch backsplash between lower and upper cabinets is totally foreign to Euro-Style design. Using ceramic tile in this way provides an efficient, hygienic wall surface that adds formality and elegance to the kitchen and the tiling is often carried at wainscot height into the eating, dining and family room areas.
NEW COLORSAlthough Euro-style is more often associated with contemporary design, the approach to color this year translates effortlessly to any interior style. There are three very specific palettes that are taking center stage in 2004: graduated espresso; 1920s black and white; and a nod to '60s retro fever.
Graduated EspressoThink of every shade from creamy buttermilk, toast, whipped mocha and double espresso; now include the muted grays of mushroom, slate and thundercloud. Each color is barely a hint darker than the previous and they build to a dramatic crescendo. Kitchens using this palette are monochromatic and soothing to the eye but go far beyond simple vanilla. Ceramic manufacturers have made design effortless by combining each hue of the graduated palette on mosaic sheets. Other large format tile designed after stone, combine the tones on a single twelve by twenty-four inch ceramic piece and create a soft undulating stone effect. Ceramic tile in this range combines well with light oak, exotic fruitwood or the darkest wenge cabinets. These kitchens wrap the family in warm rich tones that evoke a sense of comfort and security.
1920s Black & WhiteSimilar to an old black and white photograph, this year's blacks are faded and incorporate luxurious textures. It is classic black and white without the hard edges. Stone renditions have multi-dimensional color insinuated in the background; others are seeded with chips of mica creating a delicate reflective glint across the surface; some of the deepest tones are blurred with washes of parchment marble veining running just below the surface. Complimentary ceramic décor pieces incorporate mirror, stainless steel, icy glass and sapphire. For the most confidant expression with this color scheme, the industry introduced ceramic in the clearest lobster red seen to date. This color scheme works equally well in creating a feeling of Hollywood opulence, high-tech modern or classic traditional.
'60s Retro FeverBrown, cream and orange with an updated fresh twist, add to this citrus sorbet colors in lemon, lime and tangerine and this palette is complete. Accent tile is reminiscent of Pop Art with graphic geometry straight out of one of Gustav Klimt's canvasses. These colors carry memories of "Happy Days" and a time when life seemed simpler. Perhaps it is why we resonate with this new look at the '50s and '60s. Retro styled furniture is finding its place everywhere in home décor and the new ceramic introductions compliment and reinforce the theme. So, if finding a Noguchi coffee table for your great room to go with your Eames chairs and Knoll dining room table are important, this years retro inspired designs and colors will be a must have for the kitchen.
Research and innovation have consistently delivered advances in the mechanical and aesthetic quality of ceramic tile. The industry has reached a point where it can guarantee the performance of tile made with state of the art equipment. Today, tile is an art form that helps shape our world. It tells our story with style, color and character. It has evolved into a material that considers issues such as our health, environment and hectic lifestyle. It is an intelligent solution that can enhance the quality of life for the people who use it. Nowhere, is this more important than in kitchen design with its multi-functional and aesthetic role in the family home.