I do not know whats real anymore.
At the Coverings show in Orlando last week, I walked into one of 800 booths there. Id heard that the show had some phenomenal faux tiles that mimicked natural materials, so I was prepared to be fooled.
I examined a product sample, ran my fingers across its ridges and almost got a splinter. Wood, I concluded.
Is this wood? I ask the vendor.
What do you think? the sassy, handsome Italian replies.
I think its wood.
Then its wood.
I press my nose against it and sniff. Doesnt smell like wood.
This isnt wood, I say.
He smiles wickedly. In heavily accented English, he says something about how computers take a photographic image plus a mold of the real McCoy, then replicate it. Im positively floored.
Once I get over the fact that technology is besting my senses, I appreciate that this porcelain tile, which comes in floor-plank sizes, can go where reclaimed wood would look fabulous but be impractical say in a bathroom, a laundry area or around a pool.
Next up, a booth filled with I-swear-its-marble porcelain. Huge 30-by-30 tiles are dead ringers for the real stone, right down to the slight porous quality that marble has that usually gives marble wannabes away.
Only this rep doesnt lie about it. We want to offer a porcelain product that looks like marble, and that is more affordable and easier to maintain, she says.
Some other emerging tile trends I spotted:
Have it your way. Customized tile is in easy reach as technology allows the transfer of virtually any image. Customers submit photos of their kids or favorite place and have them imprinted into tiles.
The no-grout look. Grout lines are going the way of stocking seams. New underlayment methods of installation coupled with product edges that vanish mean you cannot see where tiles meet.
Micro-mini is back. The digital influence has inspired the rise of micro tiles. Think mosaic but even smaller. The tiles, connected by mesh, allow for not just bendable applications on columns, but also can portray images. One vender had tiled his wall in a pixilated portrait of the Mona Lisa.
A rise in dimension and texture. Advancements in manufacturing are allowing for tiles that come in waves, have pillow-top and quilted effects, reflect the weave of a loomed potholder, or have images of buttons where the theoretic thread raises from the surface so you can feel it.
Thin is in. One vender had a tile product so thin 3.5 millimeters or about 1/8 inch thick that installers can use it to tile over existing surfaces, saving demolition costs and mess.
Making it real. Some manufacturers are using real elements to make products look, well, more like what they are. Apavisa microinfuses real flecks of gold, silver and copper into tiles to achieve credible metallic looks. The company also adds mineral salts to make porcelain tiles that resemble aging metals.