Like every other industry affiliated with construction, the Brazilian tile market took a hit in 2009. But judging from the new products shown at the country’s most important tile show in Sao Paulo, manufacturers didn’t let a recession stifle their creativity.

At Expo Revestir 2010—the ceramic tile industry’s Fashion Week in South America—more than 45,000 attendees got a sneak peek at the latest trends and styles that will be in showrooms this year. Lauro Andrade Filho, director of the show, said the exhibition is usually a springboard for companies to make the most important launches of the year.

“As the exhibition is Architecture and Construction Fashion Week, Expo Revestir draws the attention of all of the professionals and businessmen operating in this sector,” Filho said. “They’ve got their eyes open for the latest in design and technology, colors, textures, and formats. The thousands of products from nearly 185 exhibitors will set the tone for the sector during the year.”

Compared to Cevisama, the Spanish tile show in Valencia, Spain, Revestir is about half as big, but stylish innovation still makes an appearance at this Brazilian show. This year, manufacturers touched upon many familiar themes of luxury, metallic, and texture, offering them in various materials and grades. In addition, sustainability was big, glass remained strong, color was used to an even larger degree, and the large-size tile trend appears to be unabated.

Many of these trends (color, size, and texture, for example) have been growing for years, appearing at Cevisama in 2008 (and earlier) and emerging at Italian tile companies' booths in Bologna even earlier. But what was different about the crop of products at this 2010 Brazilian show was manufacturers' audacious use of materials, styles, and sizes.

Pietra Revestimentos’ Brasilia and Dubai collections, for example, take texture to a new level—literally and figuratively speaking—with thick basketweaves and pieces that look like dry stacked stone. Officina delle Pietre offered similar looks in natural quartzite as well as in wood salvaged from sunken ships.

European and Brazilian tile manufacturers excel at the technological aspects of tile making, and they are particularly proud of this expertise. This year Alicante showed Nanoglass, which uses a nanotechnology process that results in a product that is perfectly white, shiny, and highly resistant to acid and alkaline, according to the company.

Many companies exhibiting addressed the ongoing issue of sustainability. Lepri Ceramicas, a company known for its eco products, displayed lines made from spent fluorescent lamps in various colors, styles, and shapes, while another green leader, Gyotoku Ceramics, offered several products that fit this bill.

In addition to its 100% recycled-content Eco Glass, Gyotoku introduced Drenac, a landscaping product made with 82% recycled ceramic material. Developed in conjunction with South American landscape architect Benedito Abbud, the product has an 82% water-draining efficacy, making it ideal for applications where controlling stormwater runoff is important. Gyotoku also exhibited EcoLogic Stone, which is made with 55% recycled porcelain tiles and natural stone.

More manufacturers are exploiting the idea that ceramic can be used over existing substrates and are introducing thin products that do just that. Portobello unveiled Extra Fino, a light, 4-millimeter-thick porcelain tile ideal for placing directly on top of existing substrates.

Gyotoku unveiled a thin tile of its own, but the company’s version measures 6 millimeters thick. The product presents economical, environmental, and logistical advantages, the company says. It offers “freedom for renovations and can be applied over other tiles and to amplify the use of technical porcelain tiles in areas where lighter materials are needed, as in façade and vented walls.” It’s also easy to cut, install, and transport.

Despite the reputation that the European and Brazilian tile makers have for producing cutting-edge style, many of their products migrate slowly to the general audience in the United States. Among architects and designers doing contemporary work or commercial and hospitality projects, the trends play well, but residential clients and home buyers tend to stick with the traditional products.

Carlos Eduardo Portella, corporate accounts manager for Santa Catarina, Brazil-based Eliane, said at the booth that the company exports about 12% to 15% of its products to the U.S. market, mostly to home centers. “Mostly what Americans want are rustic products and glazed porcelain tiles,” said Portella, who is based in the company’s Carrollton, Texas, office.

American consumers are just now starting to gravitate toward large-size tiles, but typically in the warmer regions of Southern California, the Southwest, and the Southeast. Scott Levy, executive vice president of operations at Scranton, Pa.-based stone and tile distributor Arley Wholesale, said that this is due to the way American homes are built—for example, with basements—in the Northeast and other areas.

“Large tiles in these area don’t work all that well,” Levy explained. “There are ways to minimize expansion and contraction, but they aren’t fool-proof. When you’re building on a slab, a large tile is perfect.”

It’s hard to say what kind of traction some of the other styles at the show—big prints, illustrations, wood-looks,  and decorations—will have in the U.S. market, but manufacturers are convinced that given time and familiarity (achieved by getting Brazilian tile products in the hands of the right designers and architects), the future for innovative Brazilian ceramic tile in the United States looks promising.

Nigel F. Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.