Some things in the home build-ing industry remain constant: Home buyers generally prefer traditional architecture; stone countertops will always be popular; and people love tile. The challenge for builders is in learning how to use the products in a new and interesting way and to do it for less money.

One industry insider says it’s not that hard. “In recent years, technology has allowed tile manufacturers to create realistic stone looks made from ceramic and porcelain that echo the same movement, coloring, and texture of natural stone,” says Lori Kirk-Rolley, senior director of marketing at Dal-Tile Corp. in Dallas. “In some cases, we’ve even been able to take the most popular attributes of different stones and materials and merge them into one look.”

Most of the innovation in tiles comes from Europe—mainly Italian and Spanish manufacturers that export large amounts of products here. (Imports account for about 80 percent of the tiles purchased in the U.S.) But U.S. companies are offering their own versions of trends that originate in Europe. Kirk-Rolley says, for example, that Daltile now offers products that look like stained concrete, aged leather, or terra cotta.

And ceramic is not your only option. These days tiles come in a seemingly endless collection of materials including metal, wood, bamboo, and glass, which is a perennial favorite. Kirk-Rolley says using these pieces as accents alongside ceramic can create a sophisticated look.

Glass is usually reserved for high-end applications, but more affordable products are now available. Trend USA, for example, recently introduced a line of recycled glass mosaics that starts at a relatively cheap $10 per square foot. And with a little leg work, you can find online retailers offering products for about $6 or $7 per square foot.

Of course, you could stick with an oldie but goody. “One of today’s most popular styles, white subway tile, is a glazed ceramic tile, and it’s also one of the least expensive and most versatile,” Kirk-Rolley says. “Pick up any interior design magazine and you’re likely to see subway tile used in kitchens and bathrooms of homes at all price points, from quaint bungalows and starter houses to large custom homes and renovations.”