Daltile’s Metal Fusion.

Can you think of a material that is suitable for floors, countertops, interior walls, room dividers, and even exterior wall cladding? How about something that can handle commercial as well as residential installations? Well, that’s the comprehensive résumé of what ceramic, porcelain tile, and stone tiles and slabs can honestly claim.

Ceramic, in particular, has come a long way in production technology, resulting in a product that transforms fragile clay into a material harder and tougher than many natural materials. It has exceptional resistance to frost, which allows it to transition beautifully from interior to exterior applications. That’s important because trend research indicates that as the square footage of new homes is scaled down, transitions to interior/exterior living spaces are going to become the norm for space-efficient floor plans.

Not surprisingly, architects have fallen in love with ceramic’s inherent qualities, and a growing number of contemporary architectural projects are specifying ceramic tile for the exterior of buildings. They have discovered that tile resists damaging external agents such as smog and corrosive oxides, and can handle extreme variations in temperature.

Perhaps it is the upsurge in interest by architects and designers that has brought about a renaissance in the aesthetics of tile. We’ve already established that the technical characteristics are constantly improving, but that is strongly rivaled by the creativity in product design. Manufacturers are offering a staggering variety of products, colors, sizes and thicknesses to choose from. Larger profile tiles result in surfaces with fewer seams and grout joints.

We’ve all used tile in traditional applications, but the uses are expanding to fireplaces, wall treatments, room dividers and even ceilings. Color choices run the gamut from natural to vibrant, and many color lines provide mix-and-match capabilities. Wood and stone effects, fabric patterns (linen or silk), concrete looks, metallic coated tiles, and leather look tiles are rocking the new definition of tile. When natural materials are desired, but function is critical, tile is often the material of choice. Here are some excellent examples of the types of products mentioned. (See Chart 1)

Let’s not overlook another important aspect of the tile package: Accent listellos, borders and liners. Floors, walls and backsplashes can all benefit from the special touches these accent pieces provide. I like to think of them as jewelry for your rooms. They look extravagant and can personalize a design like nothing else. The secret to successful design is to combine more traditional materials with surprise accents. That personalizes a design, elevating it to one-of-a-kind status.

There is also much to report in the exciting world of stone. Marbrasa, a Brazilian company, deserves special attention. Founded 41 years ago, Marbrasa extracts/processes and sells marbles and granites in blocks, slabs, tiles and cut-to-size specialty stones. This company has earned the reputation of being a pioneer in the ornamental stone sector. Most impressive is the fact that they own their own quarries, which guarantees continuity of supply and materials that are more uniform.

If you are looking for a stunning marble favoring deep green with striations of burgundy, check out Gaya for something fresh and elegant. Not yet pictured on their website is a new addition called Tropical Blue marble. The blue-green tones are Caribbean colors and this marble has translucent qualities that invite under-lighting to bring it to life. An honorable mention is Champagne Marble, a subtle gray background accented with an infusion of rose tones and soft white. For a closer look, visit www.marbrasa.com.br.

The worldwide search for the earth’s most beautiful mantles of stone is an ongoing quest.  Cactus Stone, based in Phoenix, offers an inventory including granite, marble, travertine, onyx, quartzite, soapstone, slate, limestone and the Semi-Precious Collection.  

The Semi-Precious Collection offers options you will not find anywhere else. Stand-outs are Amethyst, Angel Jasper, Quartz Fusion, Retro Golden Gray, Tiger Eye, and Wild Agate. Visit their website at www.cactusstone.com.

Attending the major trade shows across the country is an excellent way to see the extraordinary materials out there. The Coverings show in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo Center, from March 14-17, is a great place to see some great new ceramic and stone products.

Our choices are global, and suppliers are vying to get your attention. We are the benefactors from that-enjoying a staggering number of styles and materials from all over the world. Your customers are the ultimate benefactors because, with your guidance, they will find a quarried natural treasure they can claim for their very own.