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Sweet tile o’ mine

Tiles have been used for more than 4,000 years. But they now represent one of the most modern and versatile products for the home, as Sapna Kulshrestha reports

Ceramic tiles have come a long way. From basic wall and floor coverings in kitchens and bathrooms with good hygiene and waterproofing properties, they can now be seen in living-rooms, bedrooms and even public, commercial and retail spaces. Tiles have found great use as a heat-repellant floor covering in India, but they also offer endless design possibilities. “I think tiles are the new fashion statement for homes,” says Spanish ceramics designer and tile developer Maria Castillo, chief product and solutions designer of Orient Ceramics.

Tiles have evolved from white and beige-hued ceramic in small squares to everything from glass, crystal, metal, polished or unpolished, etched or hand-painted designs. An excitingly versatile medium, the effects that can be achieved by tiles are numerous. The focus on nature and natural materials persists in 2009, and new trends include bold new colours and rich formats, fabric-influenced finishes, metallic finishes, vibrant colour accents, mixing of different-sized tiles and reinterpretations of classic designs.


One of the most noticeable trends of the last year or so is the return of bold, stark, black-and-white designs. A plethora of unique designs can be created, using simple black and white in myriad formats such as step patterns, diagonal designs, combination of horizontal patterns and textures, to create a variety of larger patterns in a modernist or minimalist design expression. “Black and white work in harmony and define the background for making a statement,” says interior designer Suhasini Rathod, who specializes in Japanese makeovers.
Bisazza’s Timeless range and Kajaria’s imported Spanish and Italian range of black-and-white tiles offer a varied assortment of such dramatic designs.

This year’s colour palette is definitely hot too, red hot to be exact. Shades of bright red can be used as accents to the many black-and-white designs, as well as on their own. In addition to bright red, other shades of red, including reddish browns and orange, are displaying a revival in popularity. Other trendy colours include chocolate brown, orange and shades of gray. Castillo also recommends tiles in shades of rich brown, beige and earth tones for the Indian home.

Palladio’s Blend series, Bisazza’s Timeless range, and those from Kajaria and Orient offer an array of vibrant colour choices to brighten up your spaces.

But it is large tiles for both walls and floors that are the hottest right now. Large vitrified tiles are being manufactured in a variety of styles and designs, glazed and unglazed. “Nowadays people opt for the bigger range of tiles for a grand look,” says architect Varun D’Mello.

Large tiles also have fewer grout lines to clean and give a more realistic look, as can be seen in the Marbonite range from H&R Johnson and Large Format tiles by Orient Ceramics.
They are also rectified tiles, which means that all the tiles are exactly the same size – resulting in seamless joints. They either emulate the look of natural stone like marble, granite, travertine or other materials such as slate, metal, linen and leather.

Another recent trend is the increasing influence of metallic designs which have moved beyond accents into complete finishes. Metallic tiles are available in steel, copper, bronze, gold or silver, with fresh as well as rusted, worn-out looks for the classic appearance. Ceramic tiles embossed with steel inlays can create a highly contemporary look and are resistant to oxidation and staining. “Stainless steel finish borders go well with stone-finished tiles,” suggests architect Vijay Kapur.

Ceramic finishes designed to imitate the look of oxidized and weathered steel, referred to as ‘corten’, are available in Kajaria’s imported Corten series. The Metallica range from Italica Tiles and Highlighter Steel metallic embossed tiles from H&R Johnson, too, offer such options.

The market has now gone natural with realistic surface finishes imitating natural products, particularly stone, wood and textiles. Vitrified and porcelain tiles with designs similar to natural Italian or Indian marble and granite are fast replacing natural stones. Ceramic ‘wood’ planks allow installation in patterns typical of real wood floors. “Shapes and colours of nature are an inspiration for most of my recent projects,” discloses Tord Boontje, designer Bisazza Italy.

Natural elements like bamboo, pebbles, flowers and fabrics have also been reproduced in tiles to allow users to feel close to nature. RAK Ceramics’ Gres Porcellanato natural stone, Nitco’s wood finish Timberland range, Asian Granito bamboo tiles and the rustic Endura range by H&R Johnson are ideal for creating this kind of experience.


In addition, a natural design does not repeat itself on a single surface. Designers are looking for designs that break the monotonous pattern. “Tiles have become a major lifestyle product and designer tiles have caught the fancy of Indian customers,” says Anil Kumar Beejawat, president, Somany Ceramics.

It is for this reason that single design tiles are losing out to concept-based tiles – designs made using a combination of tiles with the entire set together forming a complete layout. RAK Ceramics and Bharat Floorings & Tiles are two of the industry players that offer theme-based tiles.

Magnificence is elemental to creating luxury spaces. Tiles with metallic textures and patterns embossed in gold and silver are used in high-end luxury homes for an opulent look. “I have noticed that customer design and taste has evolved, which explains the demand for high-end products,” comments Castillo.

Trend Group Italy has created its Topkapi series that offers mosaics with Swarovski inlays. In fact, newer luxury products that combine the unique qualities of ceramic products with high-quality copper, cobalt and yellow/white gold, are being launched by the Italian tile industry.

Bisazza Mosaics’ golden luxe range adds a gold glitter effect and Nitco Tiles’ Art series offers royal indulgence. Furthermore, customized gold and platinum embossed Swarovski-laden tiles are available from Somany Ceramics, and Aureo from Palladio Mosaics is made with real 24-carat gold.

Many manufacturers are also seamlessly blending history with modernity to infuse modern homes with a heritage touch. “Fashions are changing rapidly and architects are always looking for something new,” says Viral Shah, partner, C Bhogilal & Co.

This means tile manufacturers are increasingly borrowing from the past, replicating the Mediterranean look, the Italian graffito effect, the look of ancient Japanese and Jaipur blue pottery or textiles, and red oxide floors of South India to recreate classic pieces that are easily distinguishable from their contemporary counterparts.

This essence of the Old World can be seen in the latest ceramic tiles from Euro Ceramics’ bathroom and kitchen tile range and Palladio’s mural and border mosaics. Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ Heritage range reproduces Persian and Indian traditional motifs, while H&R Johnson’s Highlighter Textile collection introduced in 2008 offers  Paithani and Kanjeevaram sari designs in contrasting colours besides a variety of designs in Gher and Pallu with matching kinaris or borders.


Another trend that’s hard to miss is the arrival of retro looks, perhaps symbolizing a collective wish for a return to simpler, more optimistic times. The look embodies a timeless combination of black and white or two colours in a checkerboard pattern, polished chrome, rounded corners, patterns and colours from the 1960s and 1970s. “For home flooring, a retro modern theme is in vogue,” agrees architect Kunal Shah.

Designers are decorating simply with varying shades of acid green, lime green, gold and orange tiles to make a bold retro statement. The more adventurous are also going in for ceramic tiles printed with pop art images, vividly-coloured symbols, shapes and geometrical designs made popular by Andy Warhol in the 1960s. Asian Granito’s Bloom wall tiles, H&R Johnson’s Highlighter series and Palladio’s decoration series present colours and patterns ideal for creating a sense of déjà vu.

Bisazza and Palladio offer digitally-created mosaic designs for a picturesque effect. “When I look at mosaic patterns, I am immediately reminded of a pixellated/digital image. We use digital images from cameras and video to capture moments of life,” says Tord Boontje, designer of Bisazza’s Digital Memories collection.

Unique ceramic tiles can now be produced by the digital print process. These are generally used for producing custom tile murals and are still new to India. The digital technology and ceramic materials involved in this process produce visually complex tiles that are light-fast and waterproof with complete image permanence for installation in demanding environments. So demands change, and innovations continue.

What are the latest trends in tiles?

Malesha: Consumers are switching to rectangular-shaped from the traditional square-shaped tiles, and finishes are moving from polished to rustic, wood, metallic, silk, etc.

Variava: People are interested in something unique and customised. There are very few products where the client can actually choose how the end floor turns out. With mass-produced items, they have to compromise and choose the finishes that are closest to what they really desire – but with mosaic floorings, the client is in the driving seat and can choose the colour, chips, distribution of chips, materials used and so on. This ultimately produces a floor that the client is involved in making, and feels satisfied that his/her wishes have been fulfilled. The trend is towards smaller chips and flatter colours. Pastel shades have become popular, as opposed to stronger colours.

Amin: Naturoc, a hybrid of ceramic and vitrified tiles, is now trendy. It has the beauty of ceramic and the strength of vitrified, which gives it a glossy look – but at the same time it is anti-skid. Mosaic is used for decoration and highlighting.

Is there a leaning towards the heritage look?

Malesha: Yes, definitely. The simple reason is that “history repeats itself”. But this time the technology used for manufacturing is advanced with a higher aesthetic appeal.

Variava: These days, the definition of heritage and old world has been turned on its head. With very few manufacturers of good quality mosaic tiles, the market has come to perceive it as avant garde. For those desiring old-world charm, we have Heritage Tiles that are perfect for any home sporting an ethnic or colonial style. The same tiles, when used with pastel colours, become modern.


Amin: Yes, more and more people are looking for the retro look and feel.

What new products have you launched?

Malesha: Wooden, metallic, silk, rustic and other ranges in floor and wall tiles – the latest being the Old-humbra fort wall finish from Spain. We have also launched the old traditional size of 10cm x 10cm with a new aesthetic rustic look.

Variava: In tune with the trends, we have launched new colours and materials such as crystal balls, glass chips and mirrors. Some new textures are also available.

Amin: Nitco has launched a range of wall tiles in 120 shades, and Naturoc in lapato and matt finish in more than 40 shades.

Do you manufacture tiles that are eco-friendly?

Malesha: To maintain quality and finish, we use the most advanced technology available. Quality checks are done while choosing the raw materials, to ensure that the process is environment-friendly and with the least pollution. Only the best quality materials are used, and the water is recycled several times. Finally, international standards and norms are strictly followed during each phase of the production process.

Variava: We manufacture a range of tiles with recycled materials, primarily glass. These are popular with those who are environmentally as well as fashion conscious.

Amin: Yes, Nitco tiles are made using natural materials and are easily recyclable. All the unfired and fired materials which are scrapped during the manufacturing process are reused to produce a new tile, and 100% of water used is recycled. The huge plantation across the factory provides a healthy atmosphere, which creates an eco-friendly environment in the manufacturing process. Nitco tiles do not contain volatile organic compounds, lead and allergens that could negatively affect air quality.

What new innovations could change the future for tiles?

Malesha: The latest GenNext technology tiles like our Sonic, Silk and Seine series have definitely changed the current trend. In future, inkjet printing which will give a 100% natural look and texture to the tile could be seen.

Variava: The modern Indian consumer is no longer content to buy cheap off- the-shelf products. There’s a growing appetite for something different and a renewed interest in all things cement – a trend we are sure will continue. With many of our floors having lasted for 60 or 70 years, we know that cement mosaic tiles can stand the test of time.

Amin: The Indian customer has always used natural stones like marble, slate, granite and even wood extensively for flooring, a desire that Nitco attempts to fulfill through Naturoc. Then there’s Crystal White Marble – which has a surface of crystals, giving a super glossy look on a vitrified base.

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