Tiles & Ceramics: Joe Simpson says… Rest your eyes in shades of green
Before Joe headed off for visits to three of the World’s major ceramics exhibitions he contemplated the trends he was expecting to see. Now he’s back he says that five of the trends were particularly prominent and likely to be of significance to the tile and porcelain sectors in the years ahead. Below is what Joe says...
The top 10 trend predictions for the Coverings exhibition in Orlando that I laid out in the previous issue of Natural Stone Specialist proved to be pretty close to the mark. Having now carefully scanned Cevisama (Spain), Revestir (Brazil) and Coverings (USA) for the latest in ceramic designs, I have sighted each and every one of the Top 10 predicted trends many times over.
However, my take from these exhibitions – especially Coverings – is that there are really five design directions shaping the world-wide ceramic tile market right now.
The most obvious (crystal clear at all three shows) is that green – as the previous article predicted – is today’s dominant accent colour. Of course, green comes in many shades and it is safe to say that a great many different green variants have made their way on to a tile this year.
But 2023’s verdant victors appear to be rich, deep, and restful rather than sharp. Here we are talking about Moss, Sage, Calke, Olive, and Avocado, rather than bold and bright Lime, Celadon, Neon, or Chartreuse.
What is unusual about this colour trend is that it features across so many different types of tile and decorative devices. So these three exhibitions abounded with small rectangular field tiles in various plain green tones, with gloss, satin, or matt glazes.
They were realised on smooth and bumpy biscuit, or as a coloured textured relief tile. Green was also a powerful design thread in stone-effect tiles, from the veins of marble-looks through to dramatic onyx effects. And green was an emerging pace-setter in the porcelain worktop sector – something that really came to the fore in Orlando.
In my judgement the most beautiful tile range at all three shows was The Log by Peronda’s Harmony brand. This featured green as one of the six colour options (the others are white, sand, taupe, silver and anthracite).
The Log, created for the brand by Alt Design, is directly inspired by woodworking techniques. The curved part of each tile echoes wood-turning, while the ends evoke mitres, or the oblique cuts made to fell a tree. The grooved texture is reminiscent of bark. The overall effect is subtly tactile and, like many great designs, simple, versatile, and utterly original.
Dominant trend two is all about format – bricks and small elongated rectangles. These classic small tiles are seen currently in plain and bumpy biscuit, single or multi colours, gloss, satin and matt finishes, natural or polished effects.
The appeal is that they can be used as a module for creating different compositions. They can be stacked horizontally or vertically, or used in monochromatic or mixed colour patterns. They work as a stripe, chevron or herringbone. They also speak to the overarching value currently placed on heritage and authenticity.
Many of these small tiles are carefully mass-produced to look as though they have been lovingly hand-made in an artisanal studio. They feature craquelle effects, deliberate surface imperfections, multiple different moulded faces – all devices to create the illusion of being hand made. And I have to say, in many instances the results look convincingly authentic. The distributors report solid and rising sales.
Tactile appeal is important, not least with natural stone effects, and many of the recent tile launches use texture to provide visual and multi-sensory appeal. With digital decoration allowing sophisticated glaze effects to be applied to 3D surfaces, ripples, waves, grooves, and other delicate surface details are all now possible and the leading manufacturers have taken full advantage of that.
The next trend is the ’70s revival. At all three shows tiles recalling the best (and the worst) of 1970s design were much in evidence. There were two-tone browns, ‘groovy’ curves, and psychedelics. Above all, ’70s design was about fun – and if its revival is encouraging home owners in 2023 to be bolder in their choices then it’s good to see it returning.
In case you’re too young to get the reference, the 'rest your eyes in shades of green' headline on this article combines both green and the ’70s in the words from the Small Faces hit Itchycoo Park from the psychedelic era of peace and love... man.
Finally, Coverings in particular really showed how sophisticated gauged porcelain panels and worktops have become in today’s era of continuous pressing, digital decoration, sinking inks, and digital glues.
Some of the marble-effects, complete with subtly defined recessed vein patterns and metallic embellishments, are simply breath-taking. The choice of striking book-match designs grows every year, and the potential for impactful hotel receptions, corporate offices, and domestic bedrooms is now almost limitless.
Factor in the growing options in ceramic wallpaper and furniture facings and we are not so much looking at a key design trend as a range of new markets and applications.
On the commercial front, the tile sector appears to be bouncing back from the pandemic, escalating energy prices, clay shortages, and a lack of skilled installers.
Coverings 2023 exceeded expectations, with a 50% year-on-year increase in attendance, attracting 27,000 visitors to the Orange County Convention Center.
Buoyed by pavilions from the USA, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Portugal, India, and China, international exhibitors made up 74% of 1,000-or-so exhibitors. Most visitors (77%) were from the USA.
The show floor at Coverings 2023 featured the Art Tile Village, an area dedicated to artisans who keep old-world traditions alive with hand-made specialty tiles. This zone featured a dynamic range of imaginative tile art from American studios.
Coverings also provided its usual extensive offering of educational sessions focused on three tracks: Installation & Fabrication, Materials & Trends and Workforce & Profits. As well as the latest information about ceramic tile and natural stone installation, these sessions offered ideas for growing sales during the coming year.
One thing that Coverings, in particular, showed was the emerging strength of the Indian tile sector.
Punitive anti-dumping tariffs have severely impacted Chinese tile sales to Europe and the USA and it is not surprising India has stepped up to fill the void. Although the rapidly expanding domestic market in India has hoovered up most of the country’s production during the past 10 years, manufacturers have been investing in the latest production technology, so that now Morbi is emerging as a ceramic production hub to rival Castellon in Spain or Sassulolo in Italy.
In Orlando, top Indian brands displaying their sophisticated wares included Exxaro Tiles, Varmora Granito, Italica Tiles, Sunhearrt Ceramik, Simpolo Vitrified, Sparten Granito, Nexion International and Bluezone Vitrified.
As recently as 2018 India did not export tiles to the USA. Today it accounts for 13% of sales by volume. And that figure is growing fast – up over 30% in the past year. It is providing strong competition for Spain, Italy and Mexico, currently the three largest tile exporters to the USA.
The steady development of the USA’s own tile hub in Tennessee will also impact the market dynamics in the years ahead.
Given the close historical and cultural ties between India and Britain, it seems inevitable that Indian ceramics will have a similar impact in the UK. In fact, they are already starting to.