Long gone are the days of basic flat tile. Today, texture is everywhere. Just take a walk through a tile showroom and use your hands a little, and you will be opened to the amount of texture found in tile. Texture is what makes up our world, and as technology advances and tile manufacturers are able to create more tiles with the feel and texture of natural surfaces, as opposed to a manmade product. From a dimensional wall tile to a stone-look floor tile, texture is being used for its decorative aesthetic as well as for the functionality of an anti-slip surface.

“Ten to 15 years ago, tile was more of a construction material,” said Santiago Manent, Sales and Marketing Director at Tile of Spain-branded manufacturer Porcelanosa USA. “Now it’s a part of design. People are looking to cover walls, and the production technology is changing dramatically to create textures and sizes.”

“In the broadest sense, all tile has texture,” explained Lindsey Waldrep, Vice President of Marketing for Crossville, Inc. “As a large manufacturer, we refer to tile ‘finishes’ to address the texture of tile surfaces. While some people might immediately envision highly varied surfaces when you say ‘textured tile,’ Crossville is constantly developing subtle texture treatments to give our tile interest, yet make sure the products are viable for a vast range of practical applications.”

“Painting” the walls in texture

A place in the tile market where texture is being seen quite often is in dimensional tiles and three-dimensional mosaics. These tiles are being used as wall coverings that bring the “wow” factor into a room installation. “Walls can be ideal for textured tile,” explained Waldrep. “You can be more adventurous with wall tile, as you don’t have to fret with issues of slip resistance and such. We’re seeing more and more installations that mix and mingle textures or finishes. The contrasts add dimension and interest.”

And dimension is being displayed in a variety of textures. Most popular are neutral light colors, such as white, gray and beige; dimensional tiles that have patterns of waves, small squares, bubbles and flowers; different finishes and much more. The fact of the matter is that with today’s technology, any texture can be added to a tile. “Manufacturers have gotten much better at the process of creating texture,” said Waldrep. “Advancements in technology let us create more variety from tile to tile and also to achieve more nuanced textures. Today, we’re doing so much more than just pressing tiles to have prescribed textures.”

Across the board, tile designers and manufacturers are finding inspiration everywhere. “I like to look to nature for inspiration — there are so many options,” explained Mikael Jensen, Residential Design Director for Crossville, Inc. “I also get ideas from walking city streets, taking in the architecture. You can find repeating patterns and tactile inspiration in so many places, through so many objects.”

For the designers of the tiles at Porcelanosa, the process is quite similar — with infinite inspiration and means of production. “Our design team travels the world looking for inspiration from anything — natural along with manmade materials,” explained Manent. “We have tile that looks like wallpaper or silk, even copper. Anything can be replicated.”

According to Manent, to properly implement texture when using dimensional tile, the first “rule of fashion” for the trend is for these to be large-format tiles. “What’s important in using this tile is that they are large-format and that they are rectified,” he explained. “Rectified with a small joint for smooth texture continuity.”

Whereas dimensional large-format wall tiles are more of a new concept in the market, mosaics are a more traditional wall covering, but have not been exempt from getting textured. Wall mosaics are also now appearing more frequently in three dimensions. “The trend has moved away from plain glass,” said Manent. “Now there is a lot of mixed texture — stone and glass, or the same stone and different textures. Mosaics are not plain anymore. There are different textures and different colors, but the most popular are the textures.”

Innovations with texture

Along with the evolution in glass and stone mosaic textures, innovations with texture are also being made in the installation of mosaics. Porcelanosa now offers a line named Ceramic Mosaics, created to give a buyer the look of mosaic for the price of a tile. Individual units are manufactured as 8- x 12-inch tiles, and are textured with mosaic patterns.

The installation of these tiles is no different than a basic tile. The tiles are laid in place and then when the installer grouts, the grout is spread over the surface of the tile and fills in the texture of the tile and creates a mosaic look. With this new product, homeowners and designers are given an alternative to the traditional mesh-mounted mosaic for a fraction of the cost, reports the manufacturer. 

Function and practicality are still a factor

Although a textured wall tile adds a point of interest to a room’s design, texture also adds functionality to tile. While a wood-look or stone-look tile mimics a naturally textured surface, the natural-looking grooves of the tile also create a safer surface with some traction. “A textured tile is anything with a rough surface, such as the wood-look tile,” explained Manent. “For floors, people are concerned about the wear of the tile and slippage, especially for commercial applications.”

At Porcelanosa, texture is essential for the company’s exterior tiles, which also include its stone- and wood-look tile collections. “Somebody may have a certain tile in their home,” explained Manent. “They may want to bring the look of the tiles inside and continue outside, maybe to a pool area, with the same look. This is where the anti-slip is most important.”

And, of course, no matter what the trend, the appeal of using ceramic never goes away. “The marketplace is more design savvy than ever, and end users are open to a product with an innovative look and feel,” said Waldrep. “That being said, the reality is that the market doesn’t want to abandon practicality in most installations. If we introduce a unique texture to a tile product, that product must still be simple to clean and maintain, and it must perform and look beautiful long term. Our distributors want — and need —products that are innovative enough to stand out and win in terms of design appeal, yet will be readily specified for a wide range of installation possibilities.”

The design of texture

Abiding by the laws of supply and demand, designers are taking full advantage of what manufacturers now have to offer. “I think tile is emerging, in general, as a much more important design element,” said Cheryl Kees Clendenon, designer at In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, FL. “In other words, more people are forgoing the ‘basics’ and really looking into more unusual offerings by companies. Once more options become available, designers will use them more often, and then the mainstream consumers will pick up on this.

“We use textured tile on walls a lot,” Clendenon continued. “We use glass mosaics, mirrored tile, large-format tiles with patterns etched into the porcelain and, of course, on floors too. I love the varied uses tile has as well as how you can create so many different looks with proper usage of tile.”­­­­

Texture in tile is open to interpretation of anybody involved in the design process. “I find clients are looking for tile with tactile texture in baths and other areas where traction may be an issue,” explained Clenendon. “But often a textured tile — visual or tactile — can provide more depth to a wall, floor or anywhere you are using it. My clients typically are looking for what looks best in the application.”

Looking to the future

“Textured tile always has a place in the mix,” said Waldrep. “The design world thrives on what’s new, what’s different, and we supply fresh options by making texture an important part of the product design process. More dramatic options for walls and accents will keep things interesting. Subdued textures for floor tile will hold strong.”

After a visit to the Porcelanosa showroom, it may be hard to go back and find a tile without texture. With a variety of textured tile displays, the showroom even features a “Texture Wall” that showcases stone, glass and mosaic textures. On the company’s Web site there is also a “texture” filter, where shoppers can narrow their search for the right texture. Thus, proving the presence of texture in tile is highly available and not going anywhere for a while.

“We see us coming up with more — different textures, more materials, trying new things for the tile and obviously, going bigger and thinner without losing the strength,” said Manent when commenting on the future of textured tile for his company. That being said, the trends in tile never stop and are constantly evolving with advancements in technology, and we in the tile industry are ready to embrace every trend to come.