Red is the dominant color this year, by itself and in combination with other colors, especially black and white, as seen in this example, Fancy by Atlas Concorde.

Textiles have become an important inspiration for many tile designs, such as this recreation of a silk brocade texture, Klis from Astor.

Cersaie, the largest trade show in the world for ceramic tiles and bathroom furnishings, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, breaking previous attendance records in the process. This year’s show drew 91, 935 visitors to the weeklong event, a 1.1 percent increase over 2006 and the highest number since the show became a five-day event. Attendance among foreign attendees this year increased to 29.5 percent, the highest figure for a tradeshow in Bologna.

These figures highlight the resilience of the Italian ceramic industry, which continues to hold ground despite rising production costs, unfavorable exchange rates and increasing foreign competition. Profits for the Italian ceramic industry last year increased 5.5 percent despite an overall decrease of 2 percent in sales by volume, according to figures presented at the Ceramic Tiles of Italy press conference. This increase in profitability can be attributed to several factors, including improvements in manufacturing quality and a boom in foreign production by Italian companies, which now operate 32 factories in Europe and North America.

Of course the main reason for the strength of the Italian ceramic industry is the emphasis on cutting-edge on design and technology, which in turn drives the tile industry worldwide. Nowhere is this emphasis on design and technology more evident than at Cersaie, where the style trends for tile design worldwide are set for the year during this weeklong event. This year’s trends included a return to traditional colors schemes such as black and white and an increase in industrial and architectural influences upon tile design.

Industrial design is having a major impact on ceramic tile design; this example, Tagina's Fucina series, recreates the appearance and texture of distressed metal.

Bold, Brash Black and White

The most obvious design trend at Cersaie this year was the strong resurgence of black and white design schemes. While this theme has been present for the past several years, black and white schemes were ever-present this year, with myriad interpretations of this timeless theme on display. To enhance these black and white designs, tile designers have utilized a variety of textures, formats and accent materials, allowing for nearly infinite customization options. Outstanding examples of black and white design schemes included Settecento’s Neo Pop collection, which utilizes polka dot and floral accents to complement solid black and white wall tiles; Impronta Italgraniti offered an Art Deco-inspired take on the black and white theme with its new J’Adore series; Mirage offered an inspired take on black and white with its new B&W series, which uses unusual textures and metallic accents to add elegance to this minimalist look.

Red and black is one of the most popular color combinations this year, as shown in this example, Settecento’s Boudoir series, which utilizes radical textures to add interest to the surface of the tiles.

Seeing Red

In addition to the now-ubiquitous black and white motifs on display this year, there was a strong resurgence in the popularity of red, both as a primary color and as an accent color. While red has long been a popular accent color, particularly for black and white designs, this year saw it take center stage as the main color, aside from black and white, in a variety of settings. Some of the outstanding takes on red this year included Settecento’s Boudoir collection, which spices up a simple red, black and white color palette with outrageous three dimensional geometric textures; the company’s NeoPop series also features a bold take on the black, white and red motif.

Rex’s Ma Touche series exemplifies the current trend of tiles inspired by high fashion, in this case crocodile skin.

Haute Couture: Tile as Fashion

Another important trend in ceramic tile design is the growing influence of the fashion industry, as more fashion designers venture into tile design. From Versace to Roberto Verino, influential fashion designers are lending their start power to tile designs from many leading manufacturers. As a result, there is a greater synergy between tile and fashion than ever before, and manufacturers are stressing the connection between tile and fashion to capitalize on the public interest in designer labels. The connection between tile and fashion is also evident in the many textile-inspired tile designs introduced recently. New pressing and glazing technologies have enabled ceramic designers to imitate even the most delicate textures, such as silk brocade and satin wallpaper, and the results are nothing short of stunning; the textures are so realistic now that you have to touch them to realize that they’re tiles. Some of the outstanding new textiles looks this year included Gardinea Orchidea’s new Luminor series, Impronta Italgraniti’s Area Impronta series, Lea’s New Decors and Dom’s Sack series. Novabell’s new Soft line lives up to its name, with a rich, soft, inviting texture, while the company’s Limited Edition series embraces the fashion world openly, with its portraits of fashionable women on ceramic tiles.

In addition to woven fabrics, leather has become an increasingly popular part of the fashion movement in tile, with tiles to imitate all manner of animal skins, from generic cowhide to exotic skins such as elephant and crocodile. As with the fabric design, the textures are so lifelike that they must be touched to tell if they’re real. Some of the outstanding leather looks this year included Lea’s Haute Couture collection, a very sophisticated series suitable for high-end commercial or residential applications; the company’s PSB series combines a leather texture with real metal accent pieces for a contemporary feel. Settecento and Magica both have extensive collections modeled after exotic skins such as leopard, elephant and crocodile; Provenza takes this look to logical extreme with its ultra high-end Akanto series, which features the highest grade of real Italian leather bonded to the face of a tile.

Industrial materials have inspired some of the most ambitious new ceramic tile designs, such as this example, Marca Corona’s C Project series, which features real carbon fiber fused to a through-body porcelain tile.

Industrial Inspirations

Another trend that is developing is the influence of industrial materials on ceramic tile design. Materials such as finished concrete, stainless steel and even carbon fiber are being imitated by tile textures, and in some cases the real materials are actually added to the tiles or used as accent pieces. Standout examples of this industrial approach to tile design included Impronta Italgraniti’s Boulevard series, which recreates the look and feel of finished concrete in blazed porcelain; Novabell’s new Shine series creates an incredibly realistic texture of rusted metal, thanks to the high content of real metal in its glaze. Cotto D’Este’s innovative large-format Kerlite series saw the addition of floor tiles that are reinforced with glass fiber to allow for adequate strength in floor applications, which allows the series to be used in combinations on floors and walls. Tau Ceramica, pioneers of high-tech metallic finishes, added its new Aluminum series, which recreates the look of brushed aluminum in a porcelain tile. At the apex of industrial design, Marca Corona introduced its new C Project series, in which real carbon fiber, one of the strongest, lightest and most durable materials, is layered on top of through-body porcelain tiles, yielding a durable, high-tech look that will likely be a big hit with architects and designers.

New manufacturing techniques are yielding new levels of depth and dimension for ceramic tile textures, such as this example, Provenza’s Lignes series, a modernist interpretation of distressed wood texture.

New Fusions Point Toward the Future

Every year, the ceramic tile industry comes out with innovative new designs that push the limits of technology and design. The challenge for ceramic designers in today’s marketplace is to find fresh new concepts that haven’t already been explored. One way they are achieving this goal is through fresh new fusions, combinations of trends and concepts. For example, rather than simply emulating the look and texture of natural wood, a designer might take the texture of natural wood and combine it with a bright neon color or metallic finish, yielding fresh new looks for ceramic tile.

Some examples of this type of approach were Impronta Italgraniti’s Lurex series, rectified glazed porcelain series that combines elements of fabric and metal together to form a unique new texture; the company’s No 4 series combines elements of wood and metal. Mirage introduced several new series based on the ‘second nature movement,’ a concept of reinventing nature – taking natural inspirations and refining them to achieve new looks rather than simply imitating the colors and textures of nature. The company’s Chic! series takes its inspiration from the textures of nature, while its Freestyle series was inspired by textiles.

These new fusions of design concepts are just the beginning of a new era that will continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved in ceramic tile design. Regardless of whatever economic factors will affect the ceramic tile industry in the coming year, it is inevitable that next year’s edition of Cersaie will see even more innovations in tile design than ever before. Cersaie 2008 will be held Sept 30-Oct 4; for more information,