15 Fabulous Finds in Italian Tile

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    Designed by the Milan-based graphic design firm Studio FM, Frame by Refin is a graphic tile collection featuring four design themes that are derived from historical research into patterns and fabrics—from the Bauhaus to Shibori textiles. The designs are digitally printed on 30-inch-by-30-inch porcelain tiles. www.refin-ceramic-tiles.com.

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    The Frame Collection is shown here in a weave pattern. www.refin-ceramic-tiles.com.

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    Ceramica Sant'Agostino turned to designer extraordinaire Philippe Starck to play with the idea of joints for Flexible Architecture—his first-ever ceramic tile collection. The joint becomes a central feature and decorative modular element for the line. It can be specified on one to four sides of the tile or on no sides at all to create an endless array of architectural compositions. www.ceramicasantagostino.it.

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    Known for daring textured tiles, Mutina unveiled Tex—a three-dimensional and multi-colored collection of 4.5-inch-by-8-inch rhombus-shaped glazed porcelain tiles. Each of the eight available colors is made up of three shades and five textures taken from textiles that are randomly mixed into the box. www.mutina.it.

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    Tex is also shown here in a darker hue. www.mutina.it.

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    Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola used her love of pattern (and cement) for the new Azulej collection for Mutina. Inspired by ancient handcrafted majolica made of hydraulic cement, the 8-inch-by-8-inch glazed porcelain tiles are available in three neutral base colors in nine patterns or as a patchwork composition of 27 different designs. The tiles can be used on floors and walls, both indoors and out. www.mutina.it.

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    Azulej is shown here in an alternative color. www.mutina.it.

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    Soleras by the ABK Group is a collection of porcelain tiles inspired by the wooden staves from barrels used for aging wines and spirits such as sherry, madeira, and brandy. The tiles are available in six colors and two plank sizes—5 inches by 31.5 inches and 8 inches by 31.5 inches. www.abk.it/en.

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    Soleras is shown here in an alternate “specie.” www.abk.it/en.

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    Blend by Fioranese Ceramica fuses the looks of concrete, wood, and cardboard (shown here) into one collection. The concrete tiles are available in six colors, two sizes (24 inches by 24 inches and 12 inches by 24 inches) and three finishes. The collection also includes “colored-wood" tiles and cardboard-inspired wall tiles. www.fioranese.it.

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    Blend is shown here in a concrete style. www.fioranese.it.

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    Designed by rocker Lenny Kravitz (yes, him!), Goccia is a line of three-dimensional ceramic wall tiles that plays with texture—in this case, concave and convex shapes. Pieces come in a glossy or matte finish in black or white. www.ceramichelea.it.

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    One of two new lines designed by Davide Pizzigoni for Bardelli, Orchestra is a set of 15 different 4-inch-by-4-inch glossy white wall tiles that each feature a different musical instrument. www.bardelli.it.

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    Designed to be mixed and matched with Orchestra, Bardelli’s Ventagli features a colorful array of fans on 16-inch-by-16-inch glossy white wall tiles. www.bardelli.it.

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    Is this silk wallpaper or ceramic tile? The product is actually the Pizzo décor from Cerdisa’s Archistone collection of porcelain tiles. It comes in five colors. www.ceramichecerdisa.it.

From fashion to flashy cars, it’s well known that the Italians know a thing or two about design, and that was made clear once again at this year's Cersaie, the annual ceramic tile extravaganza.

Held every year in Bologna, Italy, Cersaie is the tile world’s equivalent of Fashion Week, when some of the best tile designs, trends, and innovations are unveiled. (The other major show for the industry is Cevisama, which takes place in Valencia, Spain.)

In recent years, the Italian tile industry has been trying to get the word out about the sustainability of its products. This year, the 30th anniversary of the show, was no exception.

"Ceramic tiles are inherently green—being non-toxic, hygienic, recyclable, and low maintenance—yet Italian manufacturers continue to push the envelope in terms of sustainability," says Franco Manfredini, president of Confindustria Ceramica and a marketing rep from Ceramics of Italy in North America. "From products that actively contribute to a person's health (such as antibacterial and self-cleaning ceramics) to slim tiles and new energy-saving production methods (such as firing tiles at lower temperatures), this year's introductions raised the bar higher than ever."

While this year’s show had its fair share of green and sustainable offerings—including LEED-compliant and Ecolabel-certified tiles—the bread-and-butter finds are still the cutting-edge style-related products.

"Cersaie served up a visual feast of pattern and color with geometric graphics, intentionally random patterns, and encaustic-inspired tiles filling the aisles," the show’s yearly trend report states. "In terms of shapes, hexagons, squares, and planks were popular while super slim (3–4mm) and thick (20mm) were also in."

Half of the thrill of going to Cersaie is the expectation that you will see some cool new products, but there is also the anticipation of catching a glimpse of the latest trends, which usually start in Europe and soon migrate west to New York and California—and cities in between.

In the coming months, look for mix and match products from companies doing "patchwork tiles and compositions of varying color, size, and material in one collection," the trend report says. More companies also will be partnering with biotech companies to release antibacterial, antipollution, and self-cleaning products.

Encaustic and majolica are hot these days, too. "Square ceramic tiles with bold, solid colors and mesmerizing patterns could be seen in every corner of the show," the trend report says. "Some companies introduced traditional majolica motifs in new blown-out sizes and patchwork effects, while others were inspired by vintage encaustic tiles with a timeworn appearance."

Silk and damask fabrics are hugely popular for interior work, but now architects and designers can turn to ceramic tile for fabric-like looks. "The influence of fashion on the world of interiors could be seen in this year’s influx of tactile collections," says the trend report. "From the femininity of lace to the luxurious sheen of silk, many ceramic tile manufacturers launched new collections inspired by the texture or appearance of a variety of fabrics."

Italian—and Spanish—tile makers have been playing with size for at least 10 years, introducing to the world the concept of large-format products that sometimes measure up to 48 inches. Huge is still, well, huge, but now thin is also in.

"Super thin tiles and giant slabs are two innovations pioneered by Italian manufacturers whose popularity continues to grow," says the trend report. "While thin tile provides a versatile covering solution for nearly every surface, large format tiles are typically easier to maintain and allow designers to concentrate on the lines and flow of a space."

So give the white 4-inch-by-4-inch field tiles a rest and check out these 15 innovative products that made a splash at the show.

Nigel F. Maynard is a senior editor at Builder.