The status of the kitchen has been elevated and with it the quality of finishes.

When a room doesn't capture your personal style, change it! Ceramic tile offers much more than a pretty face.
It is hard to believe that we are in the final months of the inaugural year of TILE Magazine. Since I am passionate about anything to do with ceramic tile, it has been fascinating to uncover the latest trends in interior and exterior design incorporating ceramic tile from around the globe. Regardless of whether the focus is on residential design in kitchens, bathrooms and landscapes, or on more commercial applications inside and out, the trends discussed apply to new construction and renovation projects alike.

As obsessed as I am with ceramic tile, renovation madness finishes a close second. Whether I just like living in chaos or else simply can't wait to start my next project, the truth is I see every room as an opportunity for change. I'm obviously driven by my love of ceramic tile, but also by several goals I believe I share with other homeowners. Because of my hectic schedule, I want my house to be safe, organized, easy to keep clean, and healthy. I want to create a place that expresses who I am, tells where I've been and defines the values that are important to me in this world, a secure place that I love to share with friends, a place where I feel good. When a room doesn't meet these goals, it is not a room I can live with for long.

Residential architecture and interior design have changed so much in recent years simply because lifestyles have changed so dramatically. Today's homeowners work full time outside the home and lead busy, often stressful lives. Time is a precious commodity. Popular renovations help us function more efficiently, eliminate chores and, most importantly, provide a bit of a haven where we can relax with our families and re-charge our batteries. There have been significant changes in renovation trends, and it is interesting to look at some of the driving forces behind them.

Main Floor Material Choice

As little as 10 years ago, most North American homes were literally carpeted in wall-to-wall broadloom. Today's market is seeing a significant rise in the selection of hard-surface materials. Ceramic tile is one of the fastest-growing hard surface choices and offers a plethora of superior qualities for residential design, as savvy consumers are already aware. The reasons are simple: it's clean, easy to maintain, healthy, durable, offers a much broader range of styles, colors and textures than other floor coverings, and it is beautiful. The buying public wants to know how, where and with what a product is made. In this online world, the answers are but a click of the mouse away, and this shift in choice reflects the newly realized sophistication of today's consumer.

Ceramic tile cannot hide soil, dirt, dust, pollen or other contaminants beneath its surface; these allergens can be easily cleaned from the surface daily and removed from the indoor air. Living organisms such as fleas, ticks, dust mites, clothing moths, silver fish and bacteria can survive, and even thrive, in the space between carpets and the baseboard. For those of you with house pets, once you have an infestation of fleas, spraying chemicals around the perimeter of soft surface flooring is one of the only ways to eliminate future generations of these nasties. When we vacuum, the residual chemical dust from these sprays and any other aerosol products used in the home becomes airborne and contaminates the air we breathe. Ceramic tile is inert and does not provide the warmth, moisture or food supply necessary for any organism, bacteria or virus to survive.

Ceramic is made from 100 percent natural raw materials. Ceramic mortars and grouts contain Portland cement, sand and water, and lack the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) found in other common adhesives and laminated backing materials. Ceramic tile does not absorb odors from cooking, smoke, paint, animals or any other source, eliminating the need to deodorize with sprays or room fresheners.

The preferred flooring choice throughout the home has shifted to hard surface.
In a busy household, ceramic tile is the hero of disasters. It cannot catch on fire or produce toxic smoke should flames erupt. It is unaffected by water, whether from an overflowing tub, a broken dishwasher or a flood. It is durable and will stand up to the dog's claws, muddy dirt tracked in by the kids, oil from the garage, chlorine from the pool or salt from the front path in the winter. Glazed tile has a virtually stain-proof surface that allows the removal of the week-old orange juice spill your 5-year-old forgot to mention.

Ceramic tile is cost effective. Although its initial cost is certainly more than other floor finishes, it is a false economy to think you are saving money if the alternate flooring needs to be replaced every 10 years or less. When selected and installed correctly, ceramic tile will last for 40 years or more. Regular cleaning with hot water is all that is needed to maintain glazed ceramic tile. No waxes, shampoos, detergents, strippers or varnishes are needed to maintain tile, reducing annual maintenance bills and keeping toxic cleaning waste out of our ecosystem.

My first renovation task was to remove the wall-to-wall carpet that covered my living room, dining room, family room and upstairs office and replace it with 18-inch glazed ceramic tiles. I certainly never vacuumed the carpet every night after dinner before, but now I run the broom around the floors daily, and I'm still amazed at just how much dust and dirt one small family generates in 24 hours.

Current architectural styles lean toward an open floor plan, and my home is no exception. It is common to select one flooring surface in this style of home, expanding the visual space and creating a seamless flow through the rooms. Placing the tile in a square grid is an option, but this can be monotonous and uninteresting. By incorporating subtle borders or changing directions in adjacent spaces, ceramic tile offers one of the best opportunities for creating unique designs that follow distinctive architectural elements of the home. One of the most inviting features of ceramic tile is its ability to define space with changes in color, texture and size. In fact, the possibility exists to change the design with each individual tile.

Ceramic tile is clean, healthy, durable and improves indoor air quality.
Larger and larger formats are being selected for open areas. The larger tiles reduce the number of grout lines, and a change in tile direction interrupts the linear effect that long joint lines can produce.

To maximize the life of any tile installation, consumers should always purchase at least one full carton of additional tile, making sure to match the caliber and dye lot of the tile installed. Consider it inexpensive insurance or, to use my description, "Murphy's Law" tile. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. When you don't have replacement tile, accidents happen. When you have matched tile sitting in the garage, you can tackle any repair and usually double the life of your installation. The most common inquiry made of ceramic tile retailers is, "Where can I find three extra tiles to match the ceramic we installed last year?" The truth is, even if your tile is in production, additional tile ordered right then will almost never match your installed tile in tonality or exact size. Very minor variations in shade and size are instantly noticeable as a patch. However, installing or repairing an installation with existing tile from your production run will match even after many years.

Ceramic tile is one of only a few pigmented or colored materials that is unaffected by exposure to ultraviolet light or the sun. In other words, when you decide to move furniture around, there will not be faded areas of the floor or wall to contend with. Similarly, if a tile is cracked or damaged, it is easy to remove a single tile, or a whole section of tiling, to accomplish an invisible repair without damaging adjacent tile.

I have found this characteristic particularly valuable when a client falls in love with a tile that just barely meets the technical requirements for its intended use. One client selected a stunning high-gloss black floor tile for their ensuite bathroom.

Ceramic tile can define space with a change in color, texture, size or layout.
The abrasion resistance of the glazed surface indicated that it was intended for barefoot or bedroom-slipper traffic only. After explaining the limitations of the glaze, my clients bought two extra boxes of tile for insurance, because they knew that street shoes would occasionally be worn in the room. After 15 years they are still enjoying their beautiful bath. As expected, four tiles right at the entrance to the bath dulled and became scratched after six years. Replacing these tiles renewed the entire room, bringing it back to its original condition. Without the extra tile, this client may have been looking at an entire room renovation.

Wall Tile Installations Expand

For similar reasons, homeowners are using substantially more ceramic tile in the two most renovated rooms in the house: kitchens and baths.

The kitchen has become the center for family and entertaining activities. It is our gathering place and must be multi-task oriented in the modern home. No longer the domain of an isolated single cook, it more likely opens to a Great Room, informal eating area and outside barbeque patio. The kitchen is center stage, and as such we are spending more renovation dollars on this room than on any other.

The status of the kitchen has been greatly elevated, and with it the quality of finishes. Because no other room works as hard or serves so many functions, it is mandatory that this area be hygienic, easy to keep clean, and a showcase of personal style. Only a few years ago, extensive use of ceramic tile was a rarity in kitchen design. Use of tile was limited to countertops or backsplashes in high-end homes. Part of the growing trend of using more ceramic tile in kitchens can be attributed to the characteristics noted earlier.

12-by-40-inch rectified tile with matching baseboard and wainscot add European flair to any bathroom.
Incorporating a fireproof, hygienic and easily cleanable surface in the kitchen that will not absorb odors has obvious benefits.

Innovations in ceramic tile design have also contributed greatly to its expanded use. The ceramic industry has mastered state-of-the-art techniques and developed tile patterns that flawlessly mimic the variation and fluidity of natural materials such as slate; tumbled marble; limestone; grass-cloth; bamboo; inlay wood; metals; and silk, to name a few. Choice is virtually unlimited. Reinforcing an architectural detail, theme, color or texture has never been easier.

Homeowners use ceramic tile for full backsplash applications from counter to cabinets; as a focal point behind the cook-top; or, in the latest trend, as a type of ceramic tile "bead board" where tile is applied to wainscot height on the kitchen, eating-area and family room walls. Many tile programs offer ceramic baseboard and cap moldings to finish the installation to the last detail.

This permanent finish on the lower wall segments has advantages other than simply integrating the décor of several adjoining rooms. The ceramic surface protects the wall from chairs, similar to traditional chair-rail treatments. It also protects it from fingerprints, artistic children with crayons or markers, food spills and circulation soil from the furnace. In fact, protecting the lower section of a wall extends the interval between re-paintings. It is normally the staining and cleaning of the lower wall that determines the frequency of this task.

When selected and installed correctly, ceramic tile will last 40 years or more.
Studies have shown that the upper portion of a wall can last almost twice as long before needing new paint. Not only does this reduce maintenance time and costs, but it also reduces the introduction of additional VOCs to the home.

A similar transformation is happening in the bathroom. Ceramic tile has come out from behind the shower curtain. It is the material finish of choice not only for the shower and tub areas, but also for all bathroom walls. Many homeowners tile to wainscot height, using the top of the vanity as the dividing line. Others carry the ceramic finish up to the ceiling ending in a ceramic crown molding for a true European look. As discussed in the March issue of TILE Magazine, bathrooms have undergone one of the most dramatic changes in function.

Advanced technologies have led to incredible renditions of ceramic inlay wood.
Family bathrooms must survive the rigors of showering teenagers, wet towels and a rainbow of hair dyes.

One of the most popular tiles used in the main bathroom is a rectified ceramic tile. This type of tile is cut at the factory after firing, producing exact calibration, or sizing, of each tile. Rectified tile can be set with minimal joint spacing, thereby reducing the amount of grout used. Selecting a large-format wall and floor tile with pattern and color variation and a grout color other than white further reduces maintenance.

Remodeling kitchens and baths sells homes. Ceramic tile is seen as a superior quality finish. It enhances the functional and aesthetic value of any area of the home. Renovation dollars spent on these projects realize a high return both in quality of life and at resale.

Renovation is a fact of life. It can be as simple as changing the color of your paint or as complex as gutting the entire house. By definition the word itself is inspirational. Renovation: restore to good condition; repair; refresh; reinvigorate; renew! It is no wonder that homeowners seem to have a never-ending list of renovation dreams and goals. And yet it is a word that that can strike fear into the hearts of the strongest men while bringing a euphoric smile to the lips of many women.

On reflection, renovation is a lot like childbirth: fun to conceive; hard to deliver; painful until it's over; pure joy once it's done and, before too long, it's time to start planning the next one. It all seems very natural and fulfilling to many of us. For me, it is rewarding to know that more homeowners are aware not only of the beauty of ceramic tile, but of its many healthy qualities. I'm already plotting my next renovation adventure while my husband silently shudders and prepares himself for the inevitable makeover.