Patti, who is a Ceramic Tile Consultant for Tile of Spain, is principal of Professional Attention to Tile Installations (a training and consulting firm that specializes in all facets of ceramic tile and stone). Her expertise includes more than 25 years of technical research and project experience, and a certification through the Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA) that earned her a Ceramic Tile Consultant (CTC) designation.
TILE:I know you recently attended Cersaie, which historically has served as a launching pad for new design trends. What stood out in terms of design, color, texture, sizes/formats and technology?
PF:I’ll start by addressing design and the innovative directions ceramic wood has taken. It seems manufacturers have asked the question, “What can ceramic achieve in wood looks that the original material cannot?” At Cersaie, we saw high-gloss, lacquered versions of ceramic wood including classic parquet patterns combining gloss and matte wood textures, complex geometric borders and accents, the replication of exotic wood species, molded stair tread pieces as well as distressed, reclaimed or weathered wood planks. Also, overall geometric relief patterns embossed on ceramic wood.
For color, purple in every possible hue and variation, as well as midnight or navy. Colors also showed a play on negative/positive with the use of black and white. Also popular is a sophisticated polychrome combination of cream, grey, white and camel.
In texture, gloss played a much more significant role than in past years. Polished reveals on matte tile created an integral décor stripe or horizontal line within the field of tile. The subtle addition of micronized mica and the continuing development of metallic patinas were also highly present.
As for technology, it’s slim tile, domotic tile, ventilated façades, 24” x 24” large format and ceramic suspended ceiling panels using slim tile.
TILE:Many manufacturers have begun to use recycled or post-consumer material in their tile products. Do you think the consumer is ready for this type of product? How well do you think it has been/will be received, and which consumer group would utilize this type of product.
PF:Ecologically driven procedures, such as incorporating more recycled content, is definitely on the rise primarily due to the consumer’s familiarity and personal participation regarding waste diversion. Consequently, manufacturers are focusing their environmental message on recycled content. The measurement is third-party certified, therefore trustworthy (not associated with flimsy green-washing) and has become a convenient flag for manufacturers to wave. Some even consider it a requirement for a product’s inclusion on environmentally preferred material lists.
Also, because recycled content has the ability to garner points under the LEED rating scale, manufacturers have the added incentive to include recycled content in order to attract architectural attention. From this point of view I believe the push for manufacturers to increase recycled content will continue and be appreciated by all users. Obviously every strategy to improve the ecological scorecard is necessary. However, my concern regarding the emphasis on recycling is that other more effective strategies that are more environmentally beneficial are not as easily recognized, understood or verifiable.
I think many consumers look for recycled content and assign its presence as a positive environmental gauge. Unfortunately this may also suggest, subconsciously, a negative reaction to virgin material that lacks any recycled content. Evaluating a product by a single criterion is often very misleading. Certainly recycled content has the ecological benefit of re-purposing waste that previously was sent to the landfill. But dealing with accumulated waste via recycling should be viewed as a last option rather than the equivalent to an environmental panacea.
TILE:In your many years of experience and travels, you’ve seen tile products used in various types of installations. Could you give us a brief glimpse into tile use outside of the U.S. (types of tile products and the rooms/areas they are installed)?
PF:The U.S. has a fairly low ceramic tile consumption rate. Part of this is culture and history – the U.S. is not one of the traditional birthplaces of ceramic tile and we are not surrounded by breath-taking installations that have survived for centuries. Much of our collective understanding and appreciation of this ancient building material is based on post-industrial production. Because of this, the U.S. consumer does not place the same value and appreciation on the material and distributors tend to limit imports to lines that are safe. Unfortunately this often excludes state-of-the-art aesthetics and technologically advanced ceramic tile.
European solid block wall construction accommodates large format tile better than the typical wood frame and drywall construction used throughout the U.S. As a result, it is common, in Europe, to see large focal wall installations in foyers, dining and living rooms, fireplaces and exterior art murals. The scale of large format tile works most effectively on this type of artistic installations and so larger format is used.
Kitchen tiling also differs. Ceramic tile is typically installed on floors and all walls to ceiling height prior to cabinet installation. The reasons are practical: ceramic tile is the most hygienic surface; it is a natural fire retardant; it doesn’t absorb odors; is easily cleaned and sanitized and is a permanent aesthetic finish with no introduction of VOCs from glues, paints etc. Because the tiled area is extensive, larger format tile is appropriate; often the same tile (floor and wall) is used to create a monochromatic envelope. Or different textures of the same tile are contrasted using polished format for wall and slate or matte texture for the floor. Bathrooms are fully tiled as well for the same practical reasons. Finally, hard surface flooring throughout the home is far more typical rather than the use of broadloom carpet. Considering all areas where ceramic tile is more commonly used, it is easier to reconcile European consumption rates of 40 to 70 square foot per person annually compared to U.S. consumption of approximately 10 to 15 square foot.
In countries where ceramic tile has a cultural background and is seen as a quality, high status and artistic material, we’re seeing revitalized interest from the architectural community on commercial projects. The ventilated façade systems are used extensively in Europe and have been common for well over a decade. The extensive use of ceramics on exterior structures has encouraged architects to work with manufacturers to develop customized ceramics for projects such as: Villa Nurbs by Enric Ruiz-Geli; Santa Caterina Market by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue (EMBT); and the Spanish Pavillion at Expo Zaragoza by Francisco Mangado. I believe it will be this spirit of research and innovation that attempts to integrate smart technologies and functionality that has the potential to revolutionize how we use and understand ceramic materials of the future.
TILE:We’ve been hearing about new inks and printing technologies lately. What are they and how will they benefit the manufacturer and consumer?
PF:Digital print technologies have several advantages:
- Pattern variation on the face of the tile is only limited by the number of jpegs on file. With this technology ceramics can achieve an unparalleled likeness to any material that can be photographed. Stone, wood, textiles, metal, animal skin or any other exotic or rare material.
- Reproduction costs are the same whether the model used is common or rare.
- The process decorates the entire surface regardless of relief. Screen-printing cannot decorate bas-relief areas of the tile surface. With digital printing, much more realistic textures can be integrated into the tile design. The wood grain of a routed wainscot panel is now easily achieved in ceramic.
- Smaller customized tile runs are possible with digital printing. It is easy to select a custom image and produce a limited edition of custom tile. This is not commercially viable with the silk-screen process.
TILE:Several years ago, I attended one of your presentations. That was the first time I had heard the word photovoltaic. How have things changed about this technology? Has acceptance/usage increased? If so, who or what is making the most of this technology?
PF:Solar photovoltaic energy production is of great interest to the environmental and sustainable building sectors. Research and integration of all alternate energy solutions are in their infancy but like all new technology, motivation to adopt change is required and that can be slow. The photovoltaic industry itself has doubled production by an average of 48% each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology. Currently, roughly 90% of its generating capacity consists of grid-tied electrical systems that are ground-mounted or built into the roof or walls of a building. In other words a fairly ugly solar cell contraption is scabbed onto an existing building. It isn’t attractive architecture and therefore has not been widely utilized nor delivered the environmental benefits it has the potential to realize.
The ceramic tile industry, TAU in particular, partnered with a photovoltaic manufacturer and invested capital to design and build solar cell panels which could be seamlessly integrated with the framework of a ventilated façade installation making the system architecturally and aesthetically pleasing. TAU will concentrate their marketing, for the time being, in Europe for several reasons: ventilated façade systems are already widely accepted; Europe has been the most eager to integrate alternate energy solutions and is responsible for over 50% of all photovoltaic energy produced globally; the EU has mandated a target of 20% of energy generation to be from renewable sources by 2020. However, once a viable market exists in the U.S. TAU and other manufacturers will inevitably bring the integrated system to America.
TILE:Similarly, how can the industry boost the use of exterior cladding and ventilating façades?
PF:One of the major stumbling blocks to the architectural use of ventilated façades is code compliance. New building systems have to be approved for use and comply with national, state and city building codes. Depending on the location of the project, the regulations and required test standards can be different every time. The test procedures are expensive and certification for an individual project does not give the manufacturer national license.
The second hurdle the industry needs to address is architects’ reluctance to using an untried or unproven system. The U.S. has at least a handful of ventilated façade projects and a complete case study on the process, installation and performance of these buildings should be published.
TILE:We know that sales of slim tiles and large formats are on the rise. What do you foresee being the next “big thing” in this industry?
PF:I’m excited about the concept of the slim format tile for specific applications. I believe it is an excellent solution for wall or vertical installations. It makes perfect sense from a technical/functional and environmental viewpoint: reduce the thickness of the tile as much as possible while still maintaining the mechanical requirements suitable for wall installations and improve the ecological benefits of this style of tile. The same advantages hold true when slim tile is used for floor renovations when, the old ceramic tile is left to serve as a solid substrate and slim format tile is directly mortared over the existing. The environmental bonus to this type of application is no construction waste goes to the landfill and no new substrate material such as plywood or cement board is required.
There is the potential of several creative uses for the slim tile format. I believe many other innovations will be realized with slim format tile over the next year –one idea could be furniture veneer panels.
TILE:What would you like our readers to know, or better understand?
PF:I hope there will be more availability of some of the simple domotic innovations in ceramic tile we see in Europe such as ceramic baseboards with integrated motion sensor lighting. However, ceramic baseboards aren’t used unless ceramic tile is used on the rest of the wall. How do we introduce the innovation without more wide spread appreciation for the base material? It’s not unlike the age-old question, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” As I stated in the beginning, U.S. consumers do not yet place the same value on quality ceramic tile that Europeans do. Because of this, distributors and retailers avoid the risk of bringing in more expensive, larger format, more fashion forward lines and instead stick to tried and true, mediocre, often vanilla selections. Consumers never really have the opportunity to see just how far ceramic tile materials have come in the past 15 years.