Many innovative new metallic tile lines were introduced this year, including this example, Rhodium by Tau Ceramica, a porcelain series suitable for both walls and floors that is available in 24-by-24-, 12-by-24- and 18-by-18-inch formats.

Coverings 2006 proved to be the most successful show to date, with more than 33,000 attendees, as well as increased attendance among such key sectors as distributors, contractors, dealers and retailers. Overall attendance for the four-day event was 33,649, an increase of 4.4 percent over last year. This positive growth continues a recent surge in popularity in which the show has grown an amazing 24.4 percent during the past three years. Fueling this year's strong growth were increases in attendance from several key segments: tile and stone distributors increased more than 28 percent; remodeling contractors increased nearly 22 percent; commercial builders increased 10.4 percent; architects rose 20.5 percent; and dealers and retailers increased 6.6 percent.

This year's Spectrum Grand Prize was awarded to mosaic artist Mike Mandel for his design of a mural in the Charlotte Arena. The project utilized more than 100 colors of unglazed porcelain and glass mosaic tile.

The show opened with a keynote address by retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, who offered tile and stone dealers useful advice on how to improve their displays and sales techniques; some of the points Underhill discussed included the importance of thoroughly understanding customers, the role of body language, eye contact, knowing your competition, the psychology of spatial layout and merchandising, the importance of commitment and consistency in closing a sale. Underhill's informative advice primed attendees for week filled with educational opportunities; more than 70 seminar programs were offered, many of which provided CEU credits for professionals of all interests. Some of the notable seminar presenters included tile industry consultant Donato Grosser, who discussed "The Future of U.S. Ceramic Tile Distribution"; color expert Leatrice Eiseman; and well-known designer Clodagh, who discussed her use of tile and stone in spa and resort projects.

In addition to the full range of seminars, attendees also had a chance to learn tile and stone installation techniques in a series of live demonstrations sponsored and coordinated by the Tile Council of North America (TCA) and the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA). This year, the installation stage was part of the North American Pavillion, and also featured a larger area and more seating than in previous years. The sessions were very well attended this year, according to Bart Bettiga, executive director of the NTCA.

Asian themes have become quite popular; shown here is Rhus Le Lacche, a new wall tile series from Impronta Italgraniti.

"The stage was incredibly busy throughout the duration of the show," Bettiga said. "NTCA also sponsored a $10,000 Tool Giveaway, creating even more hustle and bustle around the stage area."

The opening ceremony also included the presentation of the annual Spectrum and Prism awards for tile and stone design; grand prize winners for each award received a check for $10,000. This year's Spectrum Grand Prize award was presented to mosaic artist Mike Mandel of Watertown, MA, for his mosaic design for the Charlotte Arena. The design was praised by the contest's judges for "uniting modern computer technology with old world craftsmanship and art." More than 100 colors of unglazed porcelain and glass tile were used in the massive mural, which spans an interior wall of a lobby area in the arena. The stunningly realistic images of athletes from various time periods give the impression of being photographic images from a distance; viewed up close, the one-inch square tiles are apparent.

One of the many outstanding new stone look tile series introduced at Coverings was GranitiFiandre's new TCL seies, shown here in burnt siena finish.

The First Prize award in the commercial category went Cravillion Tile & Stone of Sheboygan, WI, for a whimsical tile design for a restroom at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. The project featured more than 120 tiles that were hand painted by artist Cynthia Consentino; the tiles feature a variety of objects from women's fashion which were arranged throughout the space, requiring an unorthodox installation method in which tiles were laid vertically, top to bottom and right to left, the opposite way it is usually done. An additional commercial First Prize was awarded to Twin Dolphin mosaics for a mosaic pavement in the atrium of the Southern Oregon University Library in Ashland, OR. In this installation, solid body porcelain tile was broken into a variety of different sized and shaped pieces which were combined to yield a lively, colorful desing that shows up well in all lighting conditions.

Stone textures continue to gain more depth and realism, as shown in this example, Extrema by Atlas Concorde.

In the residential category, the First Prize award was given to Interior Design Imports of San Diego, CA, for a luxurious home spa pavilion that features extensive use of ceramic tile in combination with stone mosaic and vintage Spanish terra cotta pavers. Also from San Diego, Fotzgerald Tile Company was named the winner of the residential award of merit for a home in La Jolla featuring an elaborately tiled replica of a Morrocan-style dome built for San Diego's Balboa Park Museum of Man for the 1915 World Exposition. In the exhibition hall, traffic was heavy, and most exhibitors were satisfied with the business they conducted during the four-day show.

"The show was very good for us," said Buck Burwell, CEO of Florida Tile Inc., which introduced a variety of new product lines this year. "There was lots of traffic, and lots of interest in the acquisition of Florida Tile by Panariagroup," Burwell added. The company has introduced 18 new product lines since the beginning of 2005, which will completely revamp the company's lineup by the end of the year, Burwell explained. "The reception by our customers to these new lines has been extremely favorable. It was our best show in recent memory."

Another company that saw a strong response from attendees on the show floor was Crossville, Inc., which introduced two new series, NOW and Journey, at the show.

"For Crossville, the response to our new products, NOW and Journey, was very, very good," said Mark Shannon, vice president of sales for Crossville, Inc. "We even had a number of competitors admiring our products. Traffic was also very good, given that most of our distributors have been in place for along time."

Glass has become an important influence on ceramic tile design, as demonstrated in this example, Oceano by Viva Ceramica, which uses a cracked glaze technique to imitate the look of antique pottery.

It wasn't just the major players that experienced heavy traffic at their booths; even first-time exhibitors were impressed with the turnout.

"For our first time at Coverings it was very successful," said Aron Buterbaugh, COO of Una Terra. "Our booth was full from the time the show opened at 10 a.m. until it closed at 3 p.m. on Friday."

This year's show even saw the return of several companies that had not exhibited in recent years.

"While GranitiFiandre had not attended Coverings for a number of years, we know how important the show is from an industry standpoint," said Jeanne Nichols, vice president of TransCeramica, Ltd, GranitiFiandre's American distribution company. "We therefore used it as an opportunity to launch many of our new products this year," Nichols explained, noting that the company chose Coverings to launch its new TCL brand, which includes nice products.

NTCA director of training and education, Justin Woelfel, Jr., answers contractor questions after one of his live demos at the TCNA Installation Stage during Coverings 2006.

Coverings 2006 was also significant for StonePeak Ceramics, Inc., which was launched at Coverings last year. This year, the company introduced two series, its Stone collection and the Terrain series, both of which were well received.

"We had a highly successful year at Coverings," said Roberto Franceschin, vice president of sales and distribution for StonePeak Ceramics. "Many of our current customers stopped by to see our new product lines and many other potential customers paid a visit to learn more about our company and the technology behind our products.

Franceschin acknowledges the importance of Coverings to the company, which will be launching additional product lines later this year, as well as opening a new showroom in Chicago.

"Because we debuted our company at Coverings last year, we had a lot to prepare and share with the industry," Franceschin explained. "We were introducing our name and brand to the tile world. Our first year in operation was extremely successful, so we looked to Coverings 2006 as a celebration of all our accomplishments and milestones."

Florim Ceramiche S.p.A. earned the Grand Prize in the annual booth design competition at Coverings 2006; other booth award winners included Cotto D'Este S.p.A., Ege Seramik America, Etruria Design S.r.L., Lamosa Revestimientos, Oceanside Glasstile and Tau Ceramica.

After the show closed, 155 pallets of tile, stone and installation materials were gathered from exhibitors and shipped housing projects in the Orlando area for families in need of shelter as part of the Tile Partners for Humanity project. This was the third year that Coverings has partnered with Tile Partners, and during this time, hundreds of thousands of dollars of materials have been donated by exhibitors from the show. Donations from this year's show alone were enough to fill six tractor trailers.

By all accounts, Coverings 2006 was an unqualified success for exhibitors and attendees alike, with the highest attendance in the show's history. Next year, the show will move to Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center, and will take place April, 17-20.