Native Tile and Ceramics took home the first prize Spectrum Award during Coverings 2009 in the Ceramic/Porcelain Tile-Commercial Category for its work on the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel historic renovation.

The Spectrum first prize award in the Ceramic/Porcelain Tile-Residential Category went to Motawi Tileworks for the Hartsfield Residence in Terrell, TX.

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, Coverings 2009, North America’s largest trade show for ceramic tile, stone and related accessories, was held April 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. While the current economic crisis did noticeable affect overall attendance this year, most exhibitors seemed to feel that while there were less people at the show, those who did attend were serious customers who came to buy, not just look.

“Quantity was down but quality was up,” noted Bryan Bosworth of Mid-Atlantic Tile Distributors LLC. “There were many serious inquiries and not a lot of tire kickers, or in this case, tile kickers,” Bosworth added.

“There was definitely a change with the quality of people attending the show,” said Massimo Ballucchi, director of marketing and product development for Vitromex USA. “We are now dealing with the purchase person and possibly one or two more key people per company rather than having a larger group visiting; no complaints there.”

“Although much slower than previous shows, I did find that the attendees were people genuinely interested in our products, and we did make very good contacts in terms of getting together with current distributors, as well as getting new distributors,” said Maria Elena Aquayo, commercial director of Wholesale Tiles by Aguayo.

Coverings 2009 opened with a keynote presentation by Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America. In his presentation, “Construction Forecast: What Impact Can You Expect?,” Simonson offered a detailed look at how the current economic crisis will affect the residential and commercial construction sectors this year.

Simonson first outlined the primary factors influencing the economy this year, which include: the credit market freeze is negatively affecting consumer spending; there is weak demand for income-producing properties; falling state spending; no job growth and rising unemployment; U.S. government recently passed a $787 billion stimulus plan.

Next, Simonson detailed the provisions of the stimulus plan, and how this spending will impact commercial construction in the coming years. Of the allocated funds, $49 billion is designated for transportation projects; $38 billion is designated for building construction; $5 billion is designated for weatherization of public buildings.

Simonson then offered an in-depth forecast of the construction industry during the remainder of 2009, and explained how the trends of the past two years have affected current market conditions. Total construction for the period from February 2008 to February 2009 fell 10%, with private residential construction down 30%. Housing starts during this period fell nearly 50%. Despite the severity of these figures, Simonson predicts that residential construction will increase soon, driven by low prices and interest rates.

“We’re expecting to see an upturn in single-family construction by the end of the year,” Simonson said.

On the second day of the show, 17 outstanding tile and stone projects were honored at the annual Spectrum and Prism Awards, which was emceed this year by Paige Rien, designer for HGTV’s “Hidden Potential” show. Three $2,000 Spectrum first prizes were awarded; these included: Native Tile and Ceramics won in the Ceramic/Porcelain Tile-Commercial Category for its work on The Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel historic renovation; Motawi Tileworks won in the Ceramic/Porcelain Tile-Residential Category for the Hartsfield Residence in Terrell, TX; and in the Mosaic/Glass Tile Category, Miotto Mosaic Studio won for New Year’s Eve Revelers, a mural in the Times Square Subway Station.

In the Prism Awards, three winners received a $2,000 prize; these included: Walker Zanger won in the Commercial Category for 25 Bond Street, a multi-family dwelling in Manhattan; in the Institutional Category, Holzman Moss Architecture won for Jefferson Hall-USMA Library and Learning Center at West Point; and in the Residential Category, The Gallegos Corp. won for Highlands Pond Residence, a custom single-family home in Aspen, CO.

During the first two days of the show, the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) conducted certification training for its Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program, which recently celebrated its first anniversary after launching last year at Coverings 2008. This year, Daltile recruited the majority of the candidates who were tested, and also donated all the materials for the hands-on portion of the testing, including membranes, backer board, thin-set, grout and flexible sealants. In addition to earning the CTI designation, the three highest scoring installers earned the following prizes: the highest scoring installer received a Husqvarna 10” Tilematic Wet Saw; the second highest scorer received a Sigma 3D Tile Cutter; and the third highest scorer received a European Tile Masters Hole Saw Kit. In addition, all participants received a tool and safety kit from MAPEI, a Euro-style notch trowel supplied by European Tile Masters, and a canvas tool bag from Schluter Systems.

Also noteworthy for installers, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) introduced the latest version of the industry standard, the 2009TCA Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation, which includes several important changes and additions, including sections on accessibility and sustainability. The new section on accessibility, written by TCNA staff at the request of the United States Access Board, provides accessibility criteria for tile installations and lists ways to make tile installations accessible. In addition, a new section on tile and the environment, written by TCNA’s Green Initiative Committee, contains information on: how tile can contribute LEED points to a project; 12 reasons to choose tile; tile lifecycle costs; and how tile is environmentally friendly.

Every year, Coverings showcases the latest advances in ceramic technology, and this year was no exception. From “bionic” tiles that respond to their environment to self-cleaning and anti-microbial tiles, Coverings 2009 offered a glimpse into the future of tile technology. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) announced during its press conference that it has recently completed testing on a new titanium-based, micro-coating technology developed by Stone Peak Ceramics, which showed a 70% reduction in harmful NOx emissions, as well as a 67-94% reduction in dangerous E Coli bacteria. These findings demonstrate the potential health benefits that these new ceramic tile technologies offer to consumers, which is extremely important in today’s environmentally health conscious business climate.

Even more than in previous years, “green” was the hot topic, as many manufacturers stressed the environmental benefits of using ceramic tile, such as LEED points and improved indoor air quality. Manufacturers also placed more emphasis on the greenness of their production process, for example, conspicuously labeling the products that feature a high percentage of recycled content.

In keeping with the “green” theme, design trends this year were much more subdued than in previous years, with a greater emphasis on simple, organic designs that mimic natural materials such as wood and stone, and less flashy, metallic designs. One of the trends this year was ceramic “wood” planks, rectified tiles in modular formats that allow for installation in patterns typical of real wood floors.

Another key trend this year was the proliferation of highly realistic stone designs. Thanks to new inkjet printing technology, natural textures such as stone can be duplicated with uncanny accuracy, and can even follow the contours of deeply pressed textures, allowing for a whole new level of accuracy in reproducing textures such as slate and limestone. Some manufacturers have gone beyond simply reproducing the texture of natural stone by improving upon nature with innovative new production techniques.

The next Coverings show will be held April 27-30, 2010 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. Registration will open in the fall of this year. For more information, visit