This entryway, which was coordinated by Leonard’s Services for a project in Azusa, Calif., last year, showcases how to incorporate a circular design close to right-angled walls.

In this fast-track world of what’s new and what’s hot in floor coverings, I’d like to suggest that you check out an old and trusted flooring friend -- ceramic tile -- at the upcoming Coverings show in Chicago (April 21-24). One of the biggest misconceptions about ceramic is that it’s a trite alternative to some of the trendier floor covering materials out there. Wrong! What I see is that ceramic tile has evolved to designer-level styling and better manufacturing processes. Ceramic is now positioned to give hardwoods and natural stone a run for the money.

When you think tile - start thinking clever chameleons. Tile can imitate natural stone so well that even the experts have to get down on the floor to try to figure out whether it’s the real thing or not! So you might ask, why not just use stone? Cost savings to your customer, of course, but also improved functionality. Travertine, limestone, even marble, are all susceptible to damage and require more care and maintenance. Anything acidic will etch and permanently scar many natural stones; while ceramic, although not bulletproof, is extremely user-friendly.

Work with the room, not against it. This dining room, taken from the same project, features a border installation made to echo the shape of the walls.

I have a horrendous example of how stone can be damaged. Just two weeks after installing nearly 2,000 sq. ft. of polished marble in a custom home, my client’s beloved Dalmatian puppy got sick all over her foyer. The acidic “deposits” ate away the high gloss finish and left gaping scars on a sizeable area. There was no quick fix for that kind of accident. The entire foyer had to be replaced and dye-lots had to be hand picked. 

Now back to tile’s chameleon status:  How about tiles that simulate suede or leather?  What a great, contemporary look for home theaters, dens, offices, or bonus rooms. Some of these tiles even have faux stitching to add to the authentic leather look. Another great look in ceramic mimics metal: everything from high-glitz to soft patina looks that call to mind silver, platinum, gold and copper. For interior designers, this is a treasure trove and gives license to get really creative. Every size, shape and finish is at your fingertips. Let’s not overlook the availability of decos, mosaics, listellos, and even ceramic chair rails to create wall designs.  Designers love the fact that floors and walls can truly complement each other with coordinating ceramic tiles, made specifically for wall application. No other flooring material can offer that kind of design versatility to your customer.

Let’s address a few of the common myths and facts about porcelain and ceramic tiles:

MYTH OR FACT?  Porcelain and ceramic tiles are the same thing.

MYTH –They most definitely are not the same. But each has its own specific strengths. Ceramic is best suited to residential applications only. Glazed ceramic tiles are coated with glass-forming minerals and ceramic stains which make the tile durable and easy to maintain. Ceramic tiles come in a matte, semi-gloss or high gloss finish. Glazed tiles offer better stain resistance than unglazed tiles. Unglazed tiles offer textures that provide good slip resistance. Porcelain, on the other hand, is the hardest and densest tile you can buy. Porcelain’s ability to withstand temperature extremes makes it a good choice for interior and exterior applications (both residential and commercial).

MYTH OR FACT?Tile makes a room appear more cut-up.

MYTH –Larger tiles can actually make smaller rooms appear larger because there are fewer grout lines. If you use a grout color that blends with the tile color, the floor has a smooth, consistent look to it and adds spaciousness to any room. But smaller tiles have their claim to fame as well. They offer more traction or slip resistance where it is needed, because of more grout lines.

MYTH OR FACT?Ceramic tiles are sensitive to color differences.

FACT –Even though ceramic is man-made rather than a nature-based product, there are dye lot differences in ceramic tiles. Shade variation is inherent in all fired ceramic products and certain styles will show even greater variation within their dye lots. If it’s a natural stone look, the differences actually add to the character of the tile. Since color variations may be more noticeable if extra tile is ordered at a later date, it’s a good idea to add a small amount of overage to each ceramic order. The customer can keep it on hand, just in case they need to replace damaged tiles in the future.

MYTH OR FACT?Ceramic tile offers more options for creativity than other flooring types.

FACT –The creative options available with ceramic and porcelain tiles are endless. Patterns, solids, textured looks are just the baseline for designs. Add to that a myriad of size variations and specialty looks, and the combinations approach infinity. Some of the most stunning rooms done by professional designers started with an exceptional floor design featuring ceramic or porcelain tile. With design trends embracing continuity between interior and exterior spaces, you will find that unglazed ceramic (or porcelain) is rapidly becoming the specification of choice. Desert and fair-climate homes, in particular, are incorporating retractable window-walls to open interior spaces to the outdoors. Blurring the lines between interior and exterior spaces is the goal, and using one functional flooring type is the only way to achieve that continuity.

A high-gloss ceramic tile, especially when paired with a fleur de lis pattern, can add distinction and appeal to a room.

MYTH OR FACT?Using natural wood, cork, or bamboo flooring is far more green and environmentally friendly than ceramic.

MYTH –Any of the above flooring types mentioned are kind to the environment, but ceramic tile can wave the green banner as well. Consider the lifecycle of ceramic. Ceramic is likely to outlast many types of floor coverings, and the tile finishes can last more than 50 years. According to the Tile Council of North America, “ceramic tile costs less per year than all other floor finishes over the life of a building, because of the longer useful life.” The lifecycle of materials is increasingly becoming a consideration for eco-friendly projects. Glazes, for the most part, are now water-based, and the manufacturing processes of most of the key manufacturers are definitely in tune with “ECO-nomics.” Plus, most ceramic contains a high percentage of post-industrial recycled materials.

How awesome to be a retailer, salesperson, or designer in this 21st century. The tools of our trade are smarter, more functional, and offer aesthetics that inspire creativity. The solutions are all there, and ceramic tile is wearing some fancy new looks and ready to party.