Another decorative option offered today can be found in Steuler Fliesen's "Freestyle" series. "Because of the simple assembly and disassembly with Freestyle, a room can be restyled every day with minimal effort," stated Paul Heldens, Managing Director of Steuler Fliesen.

Shimmering, eye-catching effects are being achieved with glass tile. UltraGlas® offers its Taffeta line - featuring an elegant fabric-like texture that emits a radiant inner glow.
Sleek, sophisticated and attractive are three words that sum up the characteristics of today's tile lines. While these products remain a pillar of strength and durability, their aesthetic qualities have certainly evolved over time. Color options have expanded drastically and a new range of finishes offer texture and depth. The selection of sizes has also developed, and tile is no longer considered just a flooring material. With endless collections of glass mosaics, large-format sizes, stone- and wood-look tiles and complementing decorative trim pieces - just to name a few - the applications for tile are limitless.

Each year, tile manufacturers continue to intrigue designers and homeowners alike with new product developments. When viewing the numerous collections available on today's market, it is apparent that a great amount of time is being devoted to attention to detail as well as advancing technology.

Tiles mimicking the appearance and texture of stone and wood continue to become more realistic. Although manufactured, the authenticity of these tiles has improved tremendously since their first introduction. Veining and color tones in the stone-look pieces are varying from tile to tile, illustrating a more natural appearance. And the same can be said for the wood-look tiles. The graining in these products is being perfected, and the tiles are even offered in plank format - further enhancing the authentic look.

The Forest series from Azuvi resembles the look and texture of wood paneling. Appropriate for both floor and wall applications, the tiles are available in a variety of shades resembling the tones of hardwood.
Moreover, mosaics have assumed a "larger than life" role in design. Whether iridescent glass, metallic or more subdued colored ceramic pieces, mosaic tiles are creating dynamic effects in both residential and commercial applications. In homes, they are being employed for kitchen backsplashes, shower walls and even cladding the fronts of outdoor patio bars and built-in barbecues. On the commercial end, mosaics are predominant in many upscale hospitality designs. They are being used to dress up spaces such as bar areas, spas and public restrooms.

The use of mosaics dates back centuries. Thought of as an ancient handcrafted art, these tiny pieces are now being implemented in more contemporary ways. Evolution and advancing technology allows this age-old art form to continue, but adapts it to current design trends. Mosaics are forming decorative medallions or murals, which can be inset into floor and wall tile - creating a point of interest and vivid focus in a space.

Additionally, subway tiles have grown in popularity in recent years. These pieces, when used in quantity, create the effect of brick coursing. Whether glass or ceramic, they are ideal for both residential and commercial settings. Irregularly shaped tiles such as these present a subtle way to give more flair to an interior application.

Larger format tiles are now being employed for floors in both commercial and residential applications to create a dramatic effect in a space. The Montevallo collection from Villeroy & Boch is available in seven formats - from 1-inch mosaics to 18-inch squares. A glazed porcelain stoneware tile that might easily be mistaken for natural travertine, Montevallo is available exclusively in a matte beige tone.

Meeting consumer demands

To stay on top of current trends, tile manufacturers are concentrating their efforts to stay in tune with the desires of designers and homeowners. Through consumer research and focus groups, they are learning what products are of interest, and work to produce tile lines to meet these demands.

"There certainly are big trends toward glass mosaics and large-format tiles, as well," said Marc Nover, U.S. General Manager for Villeroy & Boch. "We are seeing a lot of 45-by-45-cm floor tile, where traditionally, 12-by-12-inch porcelain field tile was used. This has definitely been a change in the last five years."

Moreover, Nover has noticed that the use of handmade tiles in interior design has definitely grown over the years. "We launched our own handmade tile line three years ago," he said, adding that the collection targets high-end consumers and designers. "We brought glass mosaics into the line as well."

Nover stresses that innovation is an essential key to successful product development. It is important to have an understanding of the direction design trends are heading, and to utilize advances in technology to create tile lines that will grab the attention of consumers.

Among recent developments for Villeroy & Boch is a tile line that features LAD lights. These lighted tiles serve a dual purpose. When used for applications such as steps, they not only provide a safety measure, but also add a decorative element. Products such as this collection are being used in subtle ways to accent and stir interest in a space.

While neutral palettes remain popular in today's interior design, field tiles are being accented by decorative trim pieces. Sonata by Villeroy & Boch offers 10-by-15-by-1/2-inch tiles paired with a cut border accented by glass inlays, as well as with two floral pattern pieces.

A minimalist approach

In general, design trends in the U.S. seem to still lean toward earth tones - particularly in residential settings. Homeowners are seeking a warm soft feel for their living spaces, which is welcoming and relaxing. And while the use of bolder shades is on the rise, they are being employed as complementary materials to neutral palettes.

"Designers and high-end consumers are looking for a cleaner and minimalist look," said Nover. "They are definitely looking for simpler designs."

But simple does not mean dull. As a result, consumers are attracted to tile products with refined patterns and textures. One example would be the Zebra series, which is part of the Alessi Tiles collection by Steuler Fliesen. Designed by Guido Venturini, this series discreetly replicates the beauty of the zebra's exotic pattern portrayed on ceramic tile.

Available in shades of espresso and grey, wall tiles are in large-format styles of 12- by-16 and 16-by-28 inches, while floor tiles are available in 15-by-15-inch format. Additionally, field tiles can be accented by decorative pieces - available in light beige or light grey and an assortment of sizes.

"Steuler is pleased that Venturini could bring his artistic style to the Alessi Tiles collection by creating the Zebra series," stated Paul Heldens, Managing Director of Steuler Fliesen. "The exotic design of the series presents a sophisticated appeal that is perfect for any residential setting."

Mixing tile products with other materials such as stone, wood or glass is another way to demonstrate creativity in design. Architect Louis DesRosier combined a curved band of semi-transparent miniature glass tiles with 4-foot-square pieces of Bluestone for the powder room floor in this private residence.
Another inspiration by the manufacturer - appealing to the creative side of consumers - is its "Freestyle" series, including 8-by-8-inch white body ceramic wall tiles with one or four holes with an integrated winding. Chrome buttons are available to insert into the holes. Tiles in a glossy and a matte finish are also available with raised texture.

The "Freestyle" chrome brushed buttons act as a latch for form-retaining silicon rings that crisscross the tiles from button to button - holding the decoration in place. A selection of Steuler decorative pieces are also offered with the series, including a cut-out picture of a crowned frog in boxer shorts, a ceramic heart, or stonewashed "Zen" bough, and a slate "Zen" tablet.

"With different décor elements from our series or from one's personal collection, it's easy to recreate a new wall style for any room," stated Heldens. "Because of the simple assembly and disassembly with Freestyle, a room can be restyled every day with minimal effort."

Tile lines such as this offer consumers a way to add a little variety to their interior spaces, while maintaining an upscale, chic appearance. And collections such as this are also ideal for commercial applications, which are seeking a sleek high-end look.

Consumers are attracted to tile products with refined patterns and textures. One example would be the Zebra series, which is part of the Alessi Tiles collection by Steuler Fliesen. Designed by Guido Venturini, this series discreetly replicates the beauty of the zebra's exotic pattern portrayed on ceramic tile.

Mixing materials

Another popular trend being seen in designs today is mixing tile with other mediums such as stone, wood or glass. Again, this is a subtle way to add decorative detail while maintaining a subdued atmosphere.

Architect Louis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Architects in Bloomfield Hills, MI, is involved in many high-end residential designs, and is finding that while his clients desire aesthetic appeal, there is also the factor of comfort to be considered. Homeowners are combining tile with other materials to create a subtle elegance.

For one project, DesRosiers combined a decorative band of glass tile with 4-foot-square pieces of Bluestone for the powder room floor in the residence. The semi-transparent miniature glass tiles were implemented as a curved border, adding a subtle contrast to the stone floor. "It was designed to reflect the shape of the granite vanity above," explained the architect.

A decorative mosaic backsplash complemented the granite countertop and hardwood floor in this kitchen design.
In the home's kitchen, a mosaic backsplash is combined with a beige granite countertop. "The whole idea with the background of the backsplash was to create something more interesting than just a plain surface," said DesRosiers. Furthermore, the backsplash adds contrast to the kitchen's hardwood floor.

Applications such as this illustrate how the tile products can be further enhanced when used in conjunction with other mediums. While tile certainly has the ability to create unique and exciting designs on its own, the effects can be even greater when it is placed against other colors and textures of materials with differing consistencies. With the abundance of tile collections marketed today - as well as the numerous others that are in the process of being conceived - the quality and creativity of both residential and commercial design will continue to reach new boundaries.