Tile industry veteran, Dave Godlewski, vice president of the ceramic division of The Belknap White Group (BWG), shares some interesting outlooks on tile trends for 2020

Now with so many people in self-quarantine, what seems to be the best method in getting them to know your latest and greatest offerings?

Godlewski: We (BWG and JJ Haines) are now conducting weekly webinars, and frankly, these virtual presentations have been a great outlet for us. One clear upside to them is that because today we’re all “in transition,” these have increased and bettered our internal digital capabilities. Without question, a lot more of our product information is available online. For example, we work with our manufacturers and see their newest products via high-resolution photography, and if we decide to obtain these materials, we conduct the same kind of showcasing process for our customers. We have also increased the scope of our samples program. Samples are the key right now because we can’t meet person-to-person. We’re sending out samples to both our customers and to our customers’ customers. This process has grown exponentially because so many people are working at home. But, everyone still wants to see the real thing. We find this is to be a good method for the time being.

For the East Coast, what types/styles of ceramic tile have been the most sought after recently?

Godlewski: This may sound weird, but right now, a great demand is tile material that is readily available. Many products are not available or greatly delayed due to the current slowdown. We are aware that some of our best-sellers from top overseas factories are simply not immediately available for reasons we all know. There is always a demand for high-quality and high-design. That’s why the “made in America” product lines are being sought after, from what we’re seeing.

What’s new from your manufacturers today?

Godlewski: From a design standpoint, we receive a great deal of requests for timeless white marble looks. White Carrara, Calcattas and Statuarios are looks that stand the test of time and are very popular for the East Coast right now. Overall in America, what’s popular now in the ceramic world are products we saw last year at Cersaie. These include cool, soft tones and graphics with cement undertones. A really popular trend consists of collections that have urban appeal — a mix between old and new. Just like we’re seeing in the furniture industry, an industrial type of look is in demand.

What about wood looks? Are they fading out?

Godlewski: There was tremendous growth experienced from 2005 to 2015 regarding porcelain tiles replicating the look of natural wood plank flooring. Whereas that growth now has slowed down a bit, the wood-look is still a very strong category. Why? Because there are so many versions available, whether smooth, contemporary or rustic, weathered. What’s also nice about the wood category is the wide varieties of sizes offered. Other products such as cement or stone looks beautifully complement with wood-look porcelain, as well. Many manufacturers produced tile that resembled real wood so authentically, it actually had pitting and deep grooves. In retrospect, this caused some cleaning issues. So, with the amazing advances of high-definition printing, now that same texture is there visually, but not in actuality. The tile looks great and is also easy to clean. Still to this day, authentic graphics are really what buyers like and they will continue to be purchased, as they will stand test of time, are easily maintained and offer you a clean and safe environment.

What about bringing in products from overseas? How has that changed?

Godlewski: More domestic manufacturers are positioning themselves to accrue more market-share because of the enormous transition, which has taken place these last couple of months. “Made in USA” is very important right now — perhaps more important than ever. There are many unknowns in today’s marketplace. Therefore, timely availability is obviously very important now, as well.

What key new products are you selling to the A&D community? Why are they in demand?

Godlewski: Sales of modular wall tiles such as subway tiles have been growing. I see two reasons for this. One, they offer a classic look. And two, the transition of field tile from China to other parts of the world has allowed manufacturers to introduce subway tile in different colors and sizes, greatly refreshing that category. For commercial purposes, the A&D community has been specifying subway tile in bold colors with accents of bright pinks and blues, adding strong color on walls while being complemented by more muted, cool woods or cement looks, chosen for the floors. Another hot look is that of terrazzo tiles. It’s easy to coordinate lots of depth and character to a design that has that Old World-look with a modern flair of cool, soft colors.

In the U.S., do today’s tile styles start on the East Coast and go to the West Coast or vice versa?

Godlewski: Great question. Typically, style trends come out of Italy between 12 and 18 months prior to a collection being launched in the U.S. Generally, these products are launched from the East Coast. However, in the U.S., tile design category color trends seem to start on West Coast and make their way eastwards. What we then see are West Coast colors merging with designs from Europe, which come from East Coast. It’s a synchronization of West Coast/East Coast products hitting the market east of the Mississippi.

What else can you tell us?

Godlewski: At the end of the day, I tell people when you’re bringing ceramic tile to market, you’re really in the fashion business. Today, American customers would like to be more knowledgeable and cutting edge, but not too trendy. Yet, they also don’t want to be left behind. So in reality, they look to find their exact fitting point in the design cycle, especially in the commercial world, which is so forward-thinking. Everyone marketing and selling tile should find their balance.