At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, Enzo Mularoni, vice chairman for promotional activities at the Italian Trade Commission, says that the contraction in Italian tiles in the U.S. relates to price points and not to market loss. The Commission believes in the U.S. market and is confident the growth will start again.

As the housing industry and real estate market cool, European tile manufacturers have seen a slight decrease in consumption of their products. Still, the Italian tile producers are upbeat about the future and continue to develop styles that will, hopefully, entice U.S. buyers. This spring, they will be focusing on mixed formats such as 12-by-12-inch tiles paired with smaller pieces. "Tiny mesh-mounted mosaics are mixing with over-scaled rectified porcelains to create versatile looks for indoor and outdoor settings," the Italian Commission's spring preview says.

Manufacturers say tiles that mimic the look of wood are still hot and will likely remain so. Expect dealers to display planks measuring 24 and even 48 inches that look like teak, oak, or maple.

One of the leaders in contemporary design, metallic-looking tiles are pervasive at this year's show. The pieces, measuring as much as 48 inches by 24 inches in some cases, take on the appearance of stainless steel, copper, or Corten steel. And advance glazing technology has been mixed with real metal to give pieces an authentic appearance.

Lastly, large-format tiles continue to be extremely popular overseas and are only now starting to make inroads in the U.S. market. Sizes such as 36 by 24 inches and 48 by 24 inches are now common, even though not as popular in this country. Manufacturer Floor Gres says American buyers are now getting into those sizes, though slowly. Part of the reason, the company says, is that substrates have to be extremely flat to accept large tiles and installation has to be done well.