Bisazza's exhibit featured colorful mosaic tiles arranged in unusual geometric designs.

Once again, Vitromex presented an eye-catching booth, complete with costumed dancers, that drew in visitors throughout the show.
More than 26,000 people from across the world flocked to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., March 24-27 for Coverings 2003, the global exposition for the international tile, stone and flooring industries. Despite a 12.5 percent decline from last year's record attendance, largely due to uncertainties related to the conflict in Iraq, most exhibitors felt that the drop in overall attendance was compensated by the concentration of serious buyers and prospects on hand for the show.

Although overall attendance was down, international participation in the show has increased since last year's show. For example, last year, 67 Chinese and 24 Turkish companies exhibited. This year, 76 Chinese and 53 Turkish companies exhibited. Those who made the trip to Orlando were rewarded with a very solid convention program and a wide range of new products and designs.

More than 26,000 people attended Coverings 2003, which was held March 24-27 at the Orlando (Fla.) Convention Center. All photos courtesy of Coverings.
In terms of style, Coverings 2003 saw a continuation of trends unveiled just weeks before at Cevisama 2003.

Among these design trends were the predominant but more subtle use of natural textures, increased use of large and unusual-sized formats, use of metallic and glass inserts and accents, and a return to a more minimalist color palette. Attendees were also able to take part in their choice of more than 100 educational workshops, seminars and forums covering a wide variety of tile, stone and flooring topics. This year's program offered several notable improvements, including an increased number of sessions (105 total).

Other enhancements to the Vision program included offering all sessions free, and Spanish translation for many of the sessions. Popular sessions included the Ceramic Tile University Master Session, which was aimed at retailers interested in making a fast, profitable entry into the ceramic tile business; the Distributor Forum, which covered showroom policies; and the "Underlayment and Mold Related Problems" seminar that was led by NFT columnist Joe Grady.

Business was brisk on the showroom floor, despite a slight decrease in overall attendance. Pictured is the exhibit of LTS Ceramics, based in West Palm Beach, Fla.
As usual, the manufacturers' booths were often quite elaborate, and awards were given for the best booths in several categories. The winner of the Best in Show Award was Emilceramica, for its dramatic booth constructed of glass, aluminum and iridescent metals. Merit Awards were given to Florida Tile, Leonardo, Pietra Kaikos, Saloni, Trend, the Turkish Ceramic Manufacturers Association, Universal Marble & Granite Group, Venatto Greco Gres, and Vitromex.

Coverings 2003 also saw donations to two charities, Give Kids the World and Habitat for Humanity. Give Kids the World, which helps children with terminal illnesses visit Orlando's theme parks, received six concrete benches and planters covered with custom ceramic tile murals. Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds and donates housing for low-income families, will receive several trailer loads of ceramic tile, natural stone and setting materials.

Other important parts of the Coverings show are the annual Spectrum International awards for excellence and creativity in tile design and the Prism International awards for use of natural stone in design. This year's Spectrum Grand Prize was awarded to Thompson-Phelan Inc., an architectural firm from Anchorville, Mich., for the renovation of a former strip mall grocery store in Oak Park, Mich. into the retail-oriented Southeast Oakland Community Credit Union financial facility. This project featured the flooring as a focal point, and used a meshing design of porcelain tile and bonded stainless steel.

The 2003 Prism Grand Prize was awarded to Masonry Arts Inc. of Bessemer, Ala., for the use of natural stone in the construction of a new monastery in Hanceville, Ala. The project featured marble, granite, limestone, and other natural stone products.

Despite the obstacles presented by recent events, Coverings 2003 managed to increase participation by foreign exhibitors and attract a substantial amount of attendees for the largest tile and tradeshow in the country. Coverings will return to Orlando next year in the new, 1 million-square-foot North/South Complex, which will be completed in the fall of 2003. The 2004 edition of the show is scheduled for March 23-26.