High End Promo — Dee Shultz & Erin Copper
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Camilla McLaughlin

Meet the New Tile

Today’s tile is as functional as ever, but more decorative and versatile.

Easily the Swiss Army knife of materials, tile has become as artistic as it is utilitarian.

Hand painted and carved, softly textured or dramatically undulated, tiles create focal points on walls in living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. Mother of pearl, glass, mercury glass and 24-carat gold fashion dynamic designs and ultra-luxe looks. And instead of a humdrum interplay of squares and rectangles, curves and tangents are apt to weave beautiful patterns while long linear planks streamline floors.

Unlike the structured compositions with borders and wainscoting popular not too long ago, walls today are being treated as one complete surface, says Jared Becker, vice president of design and marketing for Walker Zanger. Becker sees two divergent trends unfolding. One is very decorative, with all-over patterns, reliefs cut by water jets or mosaic shapes covering a wall like wallpaper. The other is minimalist, using one or two tile shapes that are basically plain except they are textured— perhaps brushed or hammered—and laid in some type of a pattern. Visual interest comes from the light playing off the surface.

Along with aesthetics, technology is the catalyst bringing tile into almost every room of the house. Digital imaging enables tiles to mimic any material from grasscloth to wood. Water jet cutting creates flowing curves and shapes that were unthinkable years ago. Additionally, large pieces of stone can be carved by machine and finished by hand. Becker points out that the technology to do this didn’t exist a few years ago.

“Ceramic offers amazing breadth of choice and style preference, and is naturally low maintenance. Glass, with its translucent nature and reflective qualities is also getting a lot of attention, as are metallics with their reactive glazes and textural interest,” says DeeDee Gundberg, product development portfolio manager for Ann Sacks.

“The key,” she says, “is not to mix too many materials or mediums. By keeping it simple and tasteful, your selection will remain fresh and inviting long after the color of the season has been replaced with the next ‘best’ shade.”

Looking ahead, Becker says, “Design boundaries are being pushed.” Texture will continue to be a big trend, as will products that combine different materials in one tile. Here, we illustrate some of the top trends unfolding today.

Wood Looks
“One of the biggest style trends of the year is the use of tile that emulates the look of wood,” says Lori Kirk-Rolley, senior marketing director of Daltile. The use of porcelain tile brings a hardwood look to new areas of the home. Driftwood — a chenille white, veining, cut, honed and polished limestone tile — was used in the National Association of Home Builders’ New American Home this year. The look was so realistic that you had to touch the floor to tell if it was stone or tile. It also demonstrates the growing preferences for long and lean, plank-sized rectangular tiles, which Kirk-Rolley says is a major trend this year.

Not Just a Flat Surface
Textures and carving add dimension to tiles today, but even a single carved tile can add dramatic impact.

Also creating visual interest are mosaics using highs and lows that bring depth and dimension to a space. In kitchens and baths, a mosaic back-splash often extends to the ceiling rather than just above the counter.

Tone on Tone
Artistic Tiles’ Chrysanthemum is a dazzling stone and natural river shell, jet-cut mosaic, featuring petals of polished Calacatta Gold marble paired with hints of white natural river-shell inserts. The mix of white on white elevates this classic design, says Nancy Epstein, founder and CEO of Artistic Tile, and it also reflects some of the biggest trends of 2012.

Monochromatic looks, especially white on white, are in vogue, as are organic — rather than geometric — shapes. But it also demonstrates water-jet technology.

Warm beige and cream palettes continue to reign as the most desired colors for the Daltile brand. However, Kirk-Rolley says, “We have recently seen an increased interest in grays, specifically cooler grays, and anticipate this will continue in the years to come.”

Creating Magic
Probably nothing shows the power of tile more than the use of historic or signature reproductions. Mercury glass tiles surfaced with a vintage patina from Tilevera can bring the magic of the Hearst Castle to rooms today.

The color palette for the hand-painted tiles in the collection is derived directly from Hearst Castle and from sketches by the architect, Julia Morgan. Designs range from ornate florals to classical Roman statuary. Pattern tile has Gothic and Moroccan influences. Actual wood tiles that have been embellished, treated and sealed (they can be used inside and outside) are part of the collection as well.

Clean and Green
Manufactured using Daltile’s state-of-the-art digital printing technology, San Michele captures natural stone’s subtle shades and veining and emulates antiqued travertine. The company’s Microban technology is incorporated into the glaze resists dirt. Daltile also manufactures tiles using post-consumer materials.