Mention “Valencia” and what, for most people, comes to mind? Oranges. True enough, but if you mention the word around a group of floor covering professionals, you’re apt to get a decidedly different response.

That’s because more than 65,000 industry professionals travel to Valencia, Spain each year with tile on their minds. Cevisama, Spain’s premier showcase for ceramic paving and tiling, sanitary ware, and related fields, marked its 18th anniversary March 7-11. Nearly 1,500 companies from around the world came together and exhibited the latest designs and innovations the ceramic floor tile industry has to offer. This year’s attendance, according to the Cevisama organizing committee, represented the largest turnout since the show’s inception.

The increase in attendance should not be surprising in that Spain is the top per capita consumer of ceramic tile in the world. During its annual press conference, ASCER, the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association, stated that growth in domestic sales of ceramic tiles in 1999 again outstripped that of its exports. But while moderate growth is expected over the short term, ASCER believes the turbulent international marketplace should be steadied somewhat by overall sales improvement in the United States and European regions.

Cevisama is held in the Feria Valencia, a multi-tiered convention center of interconnected pavilions, enclosing more than 65,000 square meters of exhibition space. The seven pavilions allow the various exhibiting industries a sense of individuality, while maintaining a constant connection with show visitors.

Ceramic tile manufacturing is one of Spain’s most dynamic and exciting industries. The second-largest ceramic tile producing country, Spain maintains a worldwide market share of more than 14%. More than 80% of the county’s manufacturers are clustered together in the province of Castellon. Together, ASCER President Fernando Diago explains, those companies make up an industrial conglomeration that benefits both from secondary services and a competitive ancillary industry that helps ensure continuing innovation and development.

Visitors to this year’s show were privy to the latest offerings that the Spanish ceramic tile industry had to offer. More than 150 Spanish tile firms participated in Cevisama 2000, presenting a wide range of designs and eclectic formats for the new millennium.

Marble remains in the fashion forefront, featuring brighter, flashier colors. Mosaics are being simulated via a screening process by which gridlines are pressed into the individual pieces. Designers are imitating the appearance of worn, eroded stone to provide a look reminiscent of the Middle Ages. And technology is allowing replicated wood looks in all forms — not simply the standard parquet — from soft, rustic colors to highly polished surfaces complete with glossy finishes.

Another product feeling the effect of technology is porcelain tile, a general category of ceramic tiles featuring an extremely low water absorption rate. The tiles are single-fired, dry pressed and unglazed. Spain began producing porcelain tile in 1988, according to Ceraspana International, and the country has since experienced steadily growing international demand.

Among the many companies unveiling new collections at Cevisama were Alcalagres with its Sierras and EIXE Collections. Ceramica Natural introduced the Imperial and Petra lines, while Pamesa Compaetto showcased its Valencia Pizarro and Agatha Corazon. Grespania presented both the Cava and Aragon collections, and Tau Ceramica offered insight into its Ottawa Series.

But while most of the exhibiting companies had new products for visitor’s eyes to feast on, the majority of the new lines will not be making the boat ride across the Atlantic to North America. The bold, brilliant color palettes that help define Spanish tile in both design and culture have only recently begun to find mainstream acceptance in the United States. Many Spanish companies, therefore, continue to market certain lines specifically for the U.S. consumer — lines designed in a softer, more rustic style that seem to have more appeal in the American marketplace.

The Spanish tile industry reveals something about the country’s traditional business model as measured against its U.S. counterpart. The opinion seems to be that the massive consolidation recently experienced by the American floor covering industry will not occur in Spanish tile for some time, and then only as a last resort for a company’s continued survival.

Cevisama maintains a level of class and a flair for showmanship that reflects the importance and pride that Spain places on its ceramic industry. As the Spanish tile presence continues to grow in the United States, the opportunity for designers and specifiers to explore new approaches to interior design with tile will grow as well.