The Growing Popularity of Stone-Look Tile
August 23, 2007
Stone tile has been a favorite among homeowners and designers alike for decades. The unique characteristics found in each variety bring originality to both interior and exterior applications. But although its aesthetical qualities make stone a desirable building material, some people have reservations about its durability and maintenance requirements. As a result, ceramic tile manufacturers have seized this opportunity by marketing stone-look tiles as an alternative.
“Stone-look tiles have sky-rocketed in popularity over the past few years, largely due to their natural good looks coupled with the durability, ease of maintenance and the increasing awareness and popularity of porcelain,” said Judith A. Mevius, Marketing Communications Manager of American Marazzi Tile, Inc. in Sunnyvale, TX. “Ongoing technological achievements in glaze application and surface structure create beautiful porcelain stoneware that is difficult to distinguish from natural stone with series that are suitable for almost any application. The deterrents of expense and extensive maintenance required for actual stone make porcelain stoneware a more feasible ‘natural’ choice.”
Improved AppearanceAs Mevius stated, advances in technology through the years have only improved the overall quality and appearance of these tiles that are created to mimic the look of natural stone. Each year, development continues to evolve in this area, and the tiles are looking more authentic. When they first were introduced to the U.S. market, their appearance was not so convincing. They lacked the variation in color and veining that is found in natural material. Each tile more or less was a carbon copy of each other. But this is not true of stone-look tiles that are being produced today.
Tile manufacturers have dedicated a great deal of time and money to researching and developing technology that will allow them to create more realistic “stone” tiles. Rollers with silk screens are now being used in the production process. As a result, each time a tile goes through it hits at a different spot so no two tiles will look the same.
Because of this process, tiles are now featuring random veining and shading, which is reflective of the natural characteristics of material such as marble and slate. Furthermore, attention is being given to the combination of light and dark, which can create a three-dimensional optical effect. It also brings more depth to a space, similar to the effects of natural stone.
And not only is the shading of stone-look tiles improving, but the colors of the products are also more believable. Soft hues of beige and taupe are being blended together to match the appearance of marble and travertine found in regions such as Tivoli, Italy. Additionally, combinations of green, gold, rust and purple are being produced to mimic the look of natural slate that is being quarried in countries such as India and Brazil.
The number of finishes that are now available also makes stone-look tiles a more desirable choice, as they can meet the requirements of almost any design style. While polished tile that looks like marble would be ideal for a formal elegant setting such as a foyer or living room, tiles with a honed or matte finish can create a more contemporary atmosphere. Overall, the various textured finishes offered today bring more character and depth to each tile, and therefore, bring more life to a living space.
“Generally speaking, the look has softened and become more refined,” said Mevius. “Honed, burnished, smoothed surfaces are more common than heavily rustic, distressed surfaces. Another big trend is the inclusion of metallic touches, within the tile surface itself, as well as in accent decorative pieces.”
More Size OptionsMoreover, the amount of options available in stone-look tiles also makes it a viable choice, when considering it over natural stone. The standard in size is no longer 12-by-12 inches. Most manufacturers are offering these types of collections in a number of larger formats such as 18-by-18 and 24-by-24 inches. Additionally, complementary trim pieces are available. Just as with natural stone collections, porcelain stone-look mosaics and listellos are available. Mosaic pieces can be used to create accent borders for areas such as floors and walls.
“Now, primarily, we are mostly selling 16-by-16-, 18-by-18- and 20-by-20-inch tiles, but we only see the desire for larger modules increasing,” said Mevius. “We’re introducing more 24-by-24-inch offerings - many with rectified edges for installation with minimal grout joints.”
Solve Maintenance ConcernsAnd as it has been mentioned, maintenance is one of the top reasons consumers are choosing stone-look tiles over the real material. Many believe that porcelain tile will meet the practical requirements needed in busy households and other high-traffic areas. While aesthetics is important, homeowners and the design community are also looking for material that is durable.
This was the case for the remodel of a Manhattan apartment. Because of the homeowner’s maintenance concerns, architect Charles M. Rabinovitch of Charles M. Rabinovitch/Architects in New York City chose a stone-look tile as flooring throughout the home’s interior.
“The design goal was to create a coherent and large kitchen,” said the architect, explaining that this had been a pre-war apartment. “It had a separate maid’s quarters attached to the kitchen, which had a separate sleeping and washing area. We gutted the whole space. The client wanted it to include a large family room with the kitchen.”
According to Rabinovitch, the project was a bit complex because the 300-square-foot space was disjointed with the various isolated areas. “We wanted to clearly define the space with the leftover areas,” he said.
Additionally, the client had specific requirements. “She wanted a real family kitchen that is usable,” said the architect. “She does a lot of cooking, and the kitchen had to accommodate certain appliances.”
Rabinovitch explained that the dining area is removed from the kitchen, and a satellite pantry/serving area was designed immediately adjacent to the dining room. “We kept the same details as the kitchen,” he said, adding that the pantry not only serves a practical function, but was an efficient way to utilize one of the extra spaces.
For the floor, 8- by- 8-inch Italian porcelain tiles with a satin finish - supplied by Hastings of New York City - were selected. “They have a stone-look appearance,” said the architect. “We wanted something sympathetic to the stone on the countertops, but the client was nervous about stone on the floor. The tile provided ease of maintenance and a uniform appearance.”
One of the primary reasons that the tile was selected for the kitchen design was for its color. “It is a dark space,” said Rabinovitch. “It doesn’t get much light or views. The main part [of the apartment] faces the Hudson River and Riverside Drive. We wanted something bright and cheerful.”
Complementing the stone-look porcelain tile floor is a combination of several materials. “Work surfaces are Juparana granite with a traditional ogee edge,” he said. “The island, which is the main cooking area, consists of matching tile to the wall panels. They are hand-made, crackled, glazed tile from Waterworks.” The architect explained that the handcrafted quality of the tiles give them a unique irregular appearance.
According to Rabinovitch, the kitchen remodel was part of an overall home renovation. The entire project was completed in about a year.
A Versatile MaterialThe Manhattan residence is just one example of a stone-look tile application. These tiles are being used more and more for both interior and exterior designs.
“Literally, we are seeing stone-look tiles everywhere,” said Mervius. “The frost resistance offered by Marazzi’s porcelain stoneware, coupled with ADA-recognized slip resistance for many series, makes it a candidate for indoor and outdoor floors, walls, showers, pools and patios - whether it is glazed, unglazed or color body; whether it is rustic, stately or urban chic; whether it is look is honed slate or smoothly refined elegance.”