Attendance for Coverings 2002 was up almost 17 percent, despite recent economic conditions.

Colorful dancers, with their dramatic dance routines, drew throngs of attendees to the Turkish pavilion.
This year, Coverings returned to its traditional home in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center, following last year's change of location to New Orleans. Based upon attendance figures, the change of venue was appropriate, as overall attendance increased almost 17 percent over last year's total.

This increase -- a sign that bodes well for the near-term outlook of this segment -- came despite widespread economic worries and a relatively flat flooring market. Held May 6 through 9, the show featured hundreds of displays from producers of tile and stone and related products, as well as the debut of the International Flooring Exposition (IFE), which featured a variety of wood and rubber flooring materials, laminates, rugs, and other non-tile products.

Vitromex USA had one of the most attention-getting booths at the convention.

Elaborate exhibits, scintillating seminars

This year's show saw more elaborate exhibits than in the past, notably from foreign exhibitors. One exhibit in particular that really drew people in was the Turkish Pavilion. The exhibit featured colorfully costumed dancers who performed a traditional Turkish folk dance.

Another notable exhibit was the Pavilion of Spain -- sponsored by ICEX, Spain's Institute for Foreign Trade, and ASCER, the Association of Tile Manufacturers of Spain -- which was honored with the Best in Show Award. Each day at lunchtime, throngs of hungry visitors drew to the towering Spanish pavilion to sample the region's famous paella and wine.

Merit Award winners included Assopiastrelle, the Association of Italian Ceramic Tile and Refractory Manufacturers, for its two-story hospitality area fabricated from a totally new crystalline corrugated material, and Central Anatolian Exporters Union/Turkey, for the historically themed Turkish Pavilion. Other companies honored for the high caliber of their booths included Cerdomus Cerimiche, Mondial Marmi Srl., Oceanside Glasstile, Roca, Studio Prima S.A./Creative Tile Marketing, Trend Group SpA/Italy, and Tureks/Turkey.

Convention-goers had many educational options available to them, with seminars starting daily at 8:00 a.m. and continuing throughout the day. Subject categories included merchandising and marketing, general management, design and market trends, and specification and installation.

Retailers had the chance to polish their selling skills with seminars such as "Knowing the Value of your Customer," presented by NFT columnist Sam Allman; "The Art of Selling/Empowerment," conducted by Peter Schor; and "How to Turn Your Business Into a Gold Mine," presented by Warren Tyler. Stone fabrication was addressed in the "Stone Trends 2002" and "Specification of Natural Stone Flooring" seminars.

Lea's Tecnoquartz is a full-bodied, perfectly rectified porcelain available in modular sizes. Inspired by natural quartzite stone, the versatile line is suitable for residential or commercial applications, interior or exterior.

Trends for 2002

Among the key tile trends that emerged during Coverings was an enhanced emphasis on colors and textures, and a virtually universal use of larger-format tiles. Colors are becoming bolder and brighter in many manufacturers' tile lines, both domestic and foreign. While rustics and natural tones still dominate, particularly in the U.S. market, manufacturers are offering much bolder choices than in previous years.

Many unique new, multidimensional colors were on display across the show floor. These colors are typically achieved by combining several colors and tones, which are then overlaid with transparent glaze applications. Dimensional textures were also hot, as seen in tiles styled to closely emulate the natural textures of stone, wood and even fabric. Metallic finishes are also becoming increasingly popular.

Also evident at the show was the growing variety of larger-format styles, such as 12-by-24-inch and 18-by-18-inch. The larger tiles have long been favorites of consumers abroad, and now the format has taken hold in the U.S. market.

"The demand for larger-format tiles is on the rise," said Mino Baldini, president of Florim USA, which unveiled its new Perle D'Alpi line at the show. This stone-look porcelain line is available in 18-by-18-inch format. The line originates from an Italian design, but is tailored to appeal to American tastes.

Alcagres' Volcanes is a rustic porcelain tile series featuring full-body veining. The series is available in 13-by-24- and 16-by-16-inch sizes.

Tile, Italian style

Inside the Italian Pavilion, bold colors and innovative finishes set stylistic trends for the coming year. Metallic finishes, trims and inserts of every size and shape glittered from many Italian exhibitors' booths. Highlights includedRefinAvantguarde,Cotto Veneto's Acaio, Ascot Splash, ABK Gres In Cava, Settecento's Palazzo Dei Normanni, Gambarelli Avalon,andSICIS Metallismo.

The Italian producers showed many new modular rectangles, which were mixed with squares, circles and cut-out geometrics. Highlighting this trend were Ascot Self, Brennero's Punto a Capo, La Faenza's Cotto Faenza Classic, Pastorelli Castelmonte, and Cerdomus Pietro Di Assisi.

Propelled by the American appetite for elegant stone looks, Italian manufacturers also offered a wide range of porcelain tiles designed to emulate stone. To add to the effect, manufacturers are increasingly offering their new lines with rectified edges.

Eco Ceramico has mastered the look of tumbled marble with the new mesh-mounted Marmoron series. Tagina was inspired by multihued Santa Cruz stone from Bolivia to create the Tapetto series. Other standout looks included San Prospero's Colorado, Flaviker Ardesia, Panaria Rocky Mountains and Century's Arte Del Marmo.

Blues, grays and blacks were the most popular new colors among the Italian producers this year. Il Pavone, La Bottega, Fanesco De Maio, Senio, Del Conco and Emil Ceramica all showed a diverse range of blue tones. Warm colors on display were rust, brown, terra cotta and orange.

The Italians exhibited a new emphasis on rich, three-dimensional surfaces inspired by natural materials like wood, bamboo, sand, and linen. Grazie showed Boiserie, a new ceramic product that has the look and texture of popular beadboard. Lea showed the delicate Tecnoquartz, while a highlight of the SAICIS exhibit was the linen-like Bingo Bongo.

Century's Arte del Marmo is a porcelain tile series that combines the agelessness of stone with the elegance and sophistication of marble.

Spain in the spotlight

As with its Italian counterpart, the Spanish Pavilion showcased a plethora of innovative new ceramic designs. Spanish creativity was particularly evident in the area of finishes, which drew inspiration from textiles, leather, concrete, industrial steel, and glass.

Larger formats were also popular among the Spanish manufacturers, as was an increased emphasis on metallics -- which have gone from subtle accents to full metal finishes, such as brushed steel, copper and bronze. A noteworthy new look among the Spanish designs was Borriol, a stone look that complements other finishes. This finish recreates the look of a natural stone found throughout Spain that is neutral and lightly veined, and is available in a range of colors and finishes, from deep taupe to violet-infused gray.

Porcelain technology continues to grow at a rapid pace in the Spanish marketplace, with technologies such as integral design, which creates colorations that go through the entire thickness of a tile to imitate strata or veining found in natural stones. Highlights included: Alapana's Estera, a large-format coco matt-look ceramic; Alcalagres' Volcanes, a rustic porcelain with full-body veining; the Imperial series by Alfa Porcelanico, a slate reproduction glazed porcelain tile; and Azuvi'sForcal, a 12-by-23-inch porcelain tile produced using the latest double-press glazing technology. Other outstanding exhibitors included Tau, Cerypsa, Colorker, Diago, Inalco, Navarti, Pamesa, and Roca.

While soft neutral colors remained popular among the Spanish producers, deeper colors were everywhere -- with brown shades becoming more prominent -- often as elements in a mosaic, which were also very common in the Spanish pavilion. Mosaic lines are moving away from traditional tumbled or polished marble, with newer examples featuring 1970s-styled, geometric op-art patterns, contemporary concepts, and soft glassy colors.

Perle D'Alpi, a new line of porcelain floor tile, was introduced by American Florim. Perle D'Alpi captures a natural stone look enhanced by a unique mosaic border, and is suitable for indoor or outdoor use.

Other key players exert their influence

Brazil and Turkey also made a strong showing at the convention, with manufacturers presenting a wide variety of designs tailored specifically for the American market. Both countries have seen growth in the U.S. marketplace, and their expanded presence will likely continue to grow.

Brazilian ceramics featured bright colors, as well as the ubiquitous beiges and grays. Brazilian styles and textures continue to be dominated by rustics, with larger formats gaining in popularity.

Cecrisa is now producing porcelain tiles in a 2-by-3-foot format, the largest among the Brazilian manufacturers. Porcelain tiles with highly polished finishes were also offered by several top Brazilian manufacturers. Other notable Brazilian ceramic producers on display were Portobello, Eliane, Chiarelli, Gyotoku, Lanzi, Casagrande, Bellagres, Villagres, Elizabeth, Sumare, and Itagres.

For both vendors and attendees, Coverings 2002 was the best outing yet for the largest tile and stone exhibition in North America. Every aspect of the industry was well represented and, with the addition of the IFE, show organizers demonstrated that Coverings will continue to diversify and expand by the time the show returns to Orlando next May.