Stone Trends – TRENDS 2016

Transcending civilizations, the use of natural stone in architecture and design evokes a strong emotional experience. Valued for its versatility in format and overall aesthetic, natural stone has the power to enchant in iconic or everyday structures. One can bear witness to this impact, metamorphosing through antiquity from the great temples of ancient Greece into towering structures of the Roman Empire. Stone is eternal, with an ability to be refined, reused, reimagined and repurposed.

Stone’s characteristics are extremely unique, making it difficult to replicate its look and feel in manmade materials. The veining in many copies may appear authentic, however the color, tone and “hand” of a reproduction typically cannot achieve the nuances of a natural stone product. Specifiers will notice this difference. Combining these natural nuances with the desire for an authentic experience by the end user places natural stone at the top of the list of materials when designing any space. Advances in technology have given us new ways to elaborate, design and install natural stone, allowing endless options only limited by the specifier’s imagination.

Lifecycle advantages, monolithic effects

When considering the use of natural stone it is important to analyze the lifecycle cost, a process for evaluating the total financial impact of acquiring, owning and disposing of the product. Due to its extremely long life span, natural stone is a cost-effective material, although initial expenditure may appear higher than other options. As man’s oldest known building material, stone’s potential for a cradle-to-grave lifecycle can be used to the material’s best advantage, supporting its claim as a sustainable building material.

Today, specifiers are insisting on larger and thinner stone slabs and field tile, offering a monolithic effect with fewer grout joints. Tiles measuring 24” x 24” and 18” x 36” by 3/8” thickness are now accessible in many stones. It is possible to acquire cut-to-size panels (from slab) in sizes such as 48” x 48”, typically supplied at 3/4” thickness. Large sizes will command a premium, due to lower production output and yield rates from the block.

Thanks to improved manufacturing techniques increasing the array of available stone, full slab wall installations are resurging. This allows for book-matching or diamond-matching of the slabs, featuring the natural grace of an individual stone to define the space it occupies. Book-matching sharply-veined slabs provides a mirror-like reflection from one piece to the next, creating a symmetrical effect radiating from the joint between the slabs. In order to achieve the desired effect with natural stone slab walls, the slab selection and layout process is vigorous. The use of CAD programs allows the designer to accurately mock up the installation.

White marble, grey tones define today’s design

Historically, white marble quarried in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Asia, and the United States has been highly sought after for both interior and exterior use. This is no different today, with an abundance of varieties that range from clean, minimal veining, to graphically-veined displays. This plentiful marketplace of white marble allows for a nuanced selection that contributes to today’s clean and modern aesthetic. While white remains classic, grey tones are the fashion statement of the moment. Limestone, travertine, marble, quartzite, or soapstone, warm or cool, quiet or veined – the use of grey is the most significant color trend we have seen in recent years.

Quartzite: a good choice for kitchen countertops

In kitchens, the use of marble slabs has also grown dramatically in recent years. Whether honed or polished, clients must be informed of maintenance considerations as well as finish choices that minimize the risk of etching due to acid contact. For clients desiring the look of a marble countertop, but who are not willing to accept surface etching, the use of quartzite has grown in recent years. Although typically not available in tones quite as white as marble, certain varieties of quartzite do offer a light, contemporary color option, as well as grey tones. At the high end of the market, quartzite has largely replaced granites as the stone of choice for kitchen use. When considering a quartzite for a project, it is important to be informed as to its composition and acid sensitivity. Interestingly, despite its popularity in slabs, quartzite tile is still relatively scarce.

Vein cutting expands design options 

Counterpoint to the plethora of white surfaces, vein-cut material offers strong horizontal striped effects with a graphic contemporary feel. Travertine, once hugely popular in cross-cut varieties, now predominates in horizontal vein cut options. Advancement in production techniques, plus the use of reinforcing resins and fiberglass mesh, has allowed for a larger variety of vein-cut and heavily veined materials to be marketed. This gives the consumer access to a fantastic selection of colors and textures. In all cases, the use of fiberglass mesh backing will impact your setting material choice. When designing with vein-cut stones, consider the veining direction to make a space appear wider or taller, depending on the orientation of the tile. The use of heavily veined stones affords the specifier limitless direction in design, ensuring that the end result is a one-of-a-kind work.

Surface finishes add tactile dimension

Another important factor affecting the look and feel of any project is the escalating demand for textured finishes. Stone textures today are more refined than ever before, with inspiration coming from high-fashion fabrics and other textile surfaces. These new finishes are often lightly brushed, closing down the pores and highlighting the natural color in the stone. This is in sharp contrast to the rough, dusty, gritty textured stone finishes of the past.

Another unique benefit of natural stone is the potential for creating surface effects and dimensionality. When studying natural stone, one must imagine any vein or feature in three dimensions. Hand or machine carving patterns exploit these natural features and provide a dramatic backdrop for walls in any commercial or residential application. Visiting a quarry, seeing stone in-situ and inspecting blocks is the optimum method for appreciating these traits. This characteristic has led to the development of many three-dimensional patterns in natural stone, most too difficult to reproduce in man-made materials, especially in more deeply carved designs.

Stone stars in
waterjet patterns

The incorporation of natural stone into waterjet cut patterns has continued to grow in popularity. Inspired by ancient works from places such as the Church of San Marco in Venice or the Taj Mahal in India, today’s stone waterjet patterns offer the sophisticated union of art and technology. The ability to combine stones in a variety of colors and textures alongside glass, shell or metal, provides a striking contrast to natural stone. Furthermore, a seamless interlock within the overall pattern creates the sophisticated effect of an endless design. Bold geometric forms and elegant curves are at the forefront of current waterjet design.

Stone mosaics: a timeless design option

Stone mosaics employ the traditional technique of hand placing tesserae (small chips) into patterns, and continue to be a popular decorative option. Stone scraps and waste from the production process may be incorporated into the output of mosaics, yet another nod to the sustainable use of natural stone. Mosaic designs often derive their inspiration from ancient sources, adapting the pattern to meet modern design trends. Designers and specifiers often utilize this technique, incorporating new stone colors, finishes or waterjet cut shapes to give a more contemporary look and feel.

Stone: beauty from nature that transcends time

Natural stone use goes beyond trends and is part of the essential fabric of wherever humankind has chosen to live and build. Advances in technology, both in the processing and designing of natural stone, have allowed a multitude of new ideas to evolve. Informed selection and installation means there is virtually no limit to how natural stone can be beautifully incorporated into any space that can be imagined. Nothing is more authentic than to live with the most basic material from nature, the geology below our feet.

Tile Trends – TRENDS 2016

Tile trends of 2016 and beyond

By Joe Lundgren

As you embark on another visit to Coverings in Chicago, you will once again be exposed to the heartbeat of our industry’s new trends including sizes, shapes, thicknesses and new designs.

Our industry has come a long way with the introduction of inkjet technology. It’s also made great strides in the area of installation, allowing our installers to learn the correct methods to install a wide array of tiles. There was a time when 12” x 12” tiles were considered “large-format tile.” As we have seen over the past few years – and will see at Coverings 2016 – things have truly changed and will continue to evolve in the years to come.

First let’s define a trend with respect to the tile industry and not just a niche. A trend is a pattern of gradual change that we see in the industry and not a “one hit wonder” that fills a niche and is not a broad-selling category. You will see in the following article what industry experts have seen and expect to see grow in our market.

Is it thin or thick?
Sizes and shapes to come

Is it thin, thick or a large format? Is it square, rectangular or a new geometric shape including chevron and the everlasting hexagon? Over the past years we have seen the continued growth of the “Thin Tile Category,” and you will see more of this at Coverings as companies focus on training installers to ensure a quality installation of these ultra-thin and ultra-large format porcelains. Sizes will continue to grow in length and width as 24” x 24” and 8” x 36” have become more common and have evolved into 24” x 48” and 8” x 48”. On the other side of the spectrum you will see “thick” tiles as companies enter into the 2 cm category that will further the ceramic tile industry’s growth into exterior applications.

In terms of shapes, Emily Holle from MSI said, “Though hexagons are making a big splash, the hottest shape we see is the chevron. Forecast as the ‘must have’ motif in the upcoming year, dramatic chevron patterns appear as meshed components, printed and embossed details, and tile-works created with tiles sporting clipped corners. Unlike herringbone patterns, chevron patterns are all about the zigzag,” explained Holle. “In chevron patterns, tiles run point to point and the ends are cut at an angle to create a continuous zigzag design. In herringbone patterns, tiles finish perpendicular to each other, which results in a broken zigzag,” she said.

Wall tile comes up to date

Yes, we all know 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” and 6” x 6” tiles have dominated the wall tile category for years. However, wall tile is coming back stronger than ever with the emergence of “subway tile” into larger sizes including 3” x 12”, 4” x 12”, and 4” x 16” as well as three-dimensional shapes. You will also see the chevron and hexagon shapes making their way into wall tiles to allow the consumer a vast array of design flexibility. Even larger formats are being utilized with 12” x 24” sizes and larger now becoming the norm.

According to Sean Cilona of Florida Tile, “These larger wall tiles will begin to appear in new sizes like 14” x 39”. These tiles will include solid colors, but also true marble looks that replicate the actual stone so closely consumers prefer it over the “real thing” for maintenance benefits. While your market may utilize floor tile for wall applications, you will see a resurgence of wall tiles for the ease of installation and the wide range of designs. This lends itself to the minimalistic look that we see in many of the new high rise condominiums. Traditionally this has been in smooth monochromatic colors, but now you will see undulated, handmade looks with a variety of glazing techniques to enhance the appearance.

Wood brings nature into the home

Consumers are drawn to products that emulate the warmth and comfort of natural products like wood. Although this is not a new trend, this generation of wood looks continues to progress into authentic replications of actual wood to the point they are indistinguishable from real wood, with the benefits of easy maintenance and durability we find in tile. The distressed looks you will see are remarkable in terms of the visuals. The sizes – as with other categories – continue to grow into true plank sizes we see in real wood floors. The days of the 6” x 24” have been replaced by the 36” lengths and now 48”. This has not only been a residential focus, but also commercial, where we see architects and designers deinstitutionalizing their client’s environment with the natural products.

Cement continues to evolve

The cement look is no newcomer, but the resurgence of the worn concrete look that is a cool, clean and crisper impression of actual poured concrete will surprise you. The cross between industrial and refined design has come a long way. Initially, cement tiles were only used commercially, and we see these moving into residential applications as designs transcend plain cement looks to include more sophisticated visuals. The tile may look just like cement, but it goes one step beyond to be the perfect complement for the streamlined industrial aesthetic in your home. Manufacturers will continue to focus on the true natural use of colors with a range of large formats and textures.

Anne Demers of Specialty Tile Products, a premier distributor in Georgia and Florida, adds, “Concrete looks are still in high demand, but have become more decorative and soft, moving away from the industrial towards a refined palette, thereby securing their crossover into the residential market.”

Glass continues to shimmer

Glass came into the market years ago and has continued to expand into combinations of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Sylvie Atanasio of Studio S shared her views on glass: “All that glitters is gold, titanium or luster. Glass tile is no longer about being sleek and contemporary. It’s all about commanding attention, shouting: ‘Hey, look at me! Am I not the first thing you noticed?’ Glass tile has an attitude: look for 3D hand-poured glass with metal and luster finishes and antique or enameled mirror looks,” she said.

Rustic stone 

A large part of our market continues to be the real stone looks. As companies refine the capabilities of inkjet technology, the looks are becoming so realistic that it’s difficult to tell the difference. The ability to create a product with graphics that do not repeat has flourished and become a feature factories have incorporated into the visuals, emulating real stone graphics and colors. Florida Tile’s Cilona said, “We will see more of the stone looks in both soft and strong graphics begin to move into our market from abroad.”

Bricks: Wait, is that tile?

While typically viewed as a category outside of the tile industry, the brick look has roared its way into our product portfolios. The look has mirrored that of the feel and aura of vintage brick, bringing nature into the fold as consumers move to the urban look and feel in their homes.

According to Michael Mariutto from Mediterranea, “We are doing extremely well all across the USA with our original Chicago and New York Brick series, and I believe that this is just the beginning of a design trend that could last for many years to come. Porcelain brick has a multitude of diverse applications such as driveways, home entries, pool decks, back splashes, accent walls and main floors and baths. It is quite clear that porcelain brick is here to stay, and is one of the most unique and versatile products currently on the market!” he explained.


2016 invites surrendering to the complexity of whites and greys in both the residential and commercial markets. While considered neutrals, we will see more whites and greys used with an edgy approach in design. The white/grey trend goes with everything and comes in hundreds of shades and tones. Warm, cool, dark, light – you name it and it’s yours. Black and white schemes will also continue to be popular. The beige and browns will reign supreme for the natural stone looks but with more soft, subtle and stable hues. Neutrals as the basis of the kitchen allow you to accent with color and as a result will continue their popularity.



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