In the hope of getting a better grip on where the tile world is heading, we asked three experts – Don Mariutto, VP Marketing for Mediterranea, Robbie Farina, Project Manager, Dal-Tile Corp., and Hector Narvaez, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Marazzi USA – for their thoughts on large-format tiles.

Floor Trends:The last few years have seen an unparalleled expansion in large-format tiles. To what do you attribute this rapidly evolving trend?

Don Mariutto:There has always been a consumer demand for unique tile formats. Recently, large-format wood looks have been all the rage. The latest technology permits combinations of format and design that were not possible before. When Mediterranea sought to design a tile emulating the famous boardwalks of Atlantic City and other locales, we were first in the market with a 48” length, which matched perfectly with our weathered-wood graphics.

Robbie Farina:Living spaces and commercial areas are increasing, which lends them to larger-format tile. Having less grout joints is also desired, which is achieved using larger-format tile.

Hector Narvaez:  Just fifteen years ago, a 16”x16” tile was considered large-format. Now there are tiles produced in conventional presses that can reach 48”x48” inches. Technological advances in tile manufacturing have allowed us to meet the demand for larger tiles. Natural stone has been installed in larger sizes for centuries, and as manufacturers of tile, we strive to mimic natural stone in all aspects – design, surface, and sizing.

FT: Obviously, there would be no supply if there were no demand. How are designers and specifiers utilizing these larger formats? What are the key markets?

RF: Larger formats and rectangular sizes are often being used in large spaces, on both the floor and on the wall. This result in many more pattern options, which designers are utilizing more frequently for creating unique designs.

HN: 12”x24” is the most utilized large-format, and these days they are used on both floors and walls of diverse applications. This size is very popular for hotels and retail. Larger sizes like 36”x36” and 24”x48” are growing in popularity, mostly for commercial areas with large open areas such as casinos or office lobbies.

DM: The most widely used floor tile size is 12”x12” and 18”x18” – this is where the heaviest demand and volume are today.

FT: Every new trend brings with it new challenges. Installation and tile are always closely intertwined. How are large-format tiles changing the way tiles are installed and products are formulated?

HN: I am not the expert in adhesives, but I know that for the last decade there has been a huge movement towards thin set mortars. I know that large format tiles of normal thickness (10-11 mm) will definitely require a medium bed mortar and much more attention to leveling the surface prior to installation. Large format thin tiles (4 mm) also require different setting materials and techniques that are still at a very early stage.

DM: We recommend several installation patterns and designs for each of our large-format series. This gives customers and contractors some guidance on how to install tiles in a manner to achieve good, consistent results.

RF: Larger format tile requires different setting material, with a medium bed mortar recommended. Floor preparation is a key factor and high priority with large-format tile, as the floor must be perfectly flat to achieve a correct installation. Also, precaution has to be taken when installing large-format rectangular sizes. It is recommended that in a staggered brick-joint pattern, the overlap should not exceed 33%, not the usual 50% used in a brickwork pattern.

FT: The way things are going, it would seem that the sky’s the limit. But you have to wonder, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? How big is too big?

RF: In terms of trends, we’ll continue to see larger and larger sizes being used, as manufacturing capabilities become even more sophisticated. We also anticipate the various shapes of tile will continue to evolve. First we had squares, then rectangles, followed by planks, which raises the question of what’s next? Presently 18”x36” and 24”x48” large-format sizes are entering the market in the U.S.

HN: I’m sure that there are many manufacturing and logistical limits that will determine the largest sizes that can be produced. But even if extreme large sizes get produced, there can be issues with handling, storing, and installing that will dictate the amount of usage.

FT: What’s the most common question you get when people ask you about large-format tiles?

DM: Many people who saw our 48” wood-look series at Coverings in Orlando swore the tile was actually a wood plank!  That’s exactly the question manufacturers want to get: “How did they do that?” type questions. Large-format tiles give us the opportunity to innovate, and create new perceptions on what a tile should look like.

RF: What setting material to use, steps for floor preparation and grout joint size are the most common questions related to large-format tile we receive.

HN: For us, 24”x48” inches is the most practical large format size that we sell with substantial volume. The most common questions we get asked on this size is to provide the installation recommendation.

FT: What’s the next evolution in tile formats? Where do you see the market going in the next 5 years? How about 10 years?

RF: Outdoor living spaces continue to be a design trend overall. Large-format tile offered in different surface finishes and textures, which can be used in both interior and exterior applications, are key factors in those designs.

HN: I think the equipment manufacturers will have to answer this one.