Ceramic Eye Candy
At Cersaie, the world’s largest tradeshow for ceramic tile, bathroom fixtures and related furnishings, Italian suppliers still dominate, though they rest warily on their laurels in this competitive global industry. For instance, India’s Somany, the world’s eighth-largest tile producer, showed a super-white Arebescato Carrara marble slab with an L value, a measure of whiteness, of 97, against which made everyone else’s white tiles, with their L value of 82 to 85, seem positively grey.
Scavolini, the Italian manufacturer of high-end modular kitchens, has recently emerged as a player in bathroom furnishings. “Qi,” the Japanese term for “container” and “wood,” is also the name for one of Scavolini’s new kitchen-and-bathroom collections. What might appear at first glance to be a tall, elegant waste basket is a minimalist Japanese container, vertically stretched to create a tall washbasin with a tall lip that conceals the taps. www.scavolini.com
Once upon a time “large tile” signified 12 by 24 inches. Now, it’s a head-turning, ooh-and-ah-inspiring supersized 63 by 126 inches, and just 0.2 inches thick, in Ava’s aptly named Extraordinary Size collection of porcelain slabs (apparently, by that size, they’re no longer tiles). “The problem was that these big tiles were cracking because they were so thin. They’re making them thicker,” explained Tile Magazine managing editor Heather Fiore in an interview at Cersaie. “Now it’s about customer education because if they’re not installed correctly, they’ll break.” Sicis president Amy Tanenbaum explained the allure of the larger format, apart from its sheer wow factor: “There are smaller amounts of [grouted] joint, which makes the tile easier to clean, and you can make an infinite composition with the colour. I suggest that people always use dirty grout to save it from getting dirty later,” she added with a laugh. www.avaceramica.it
Porcelain tile resembling concrete, brick or wood isn’t new, but at Cersaie this year it was back with an industrial-wash look evoking the rough, even grimy, patina on the surface of the materials as they would appear in an old factory building. In Sant’Agostino’s Colorart collection of digital-printed tiles, the faux materials look warm rather than hard-edged and Brutalist. These tiles would be welcome in residential interiors as well as commercial spaces like restaurants and retail stores. www.ceramicasantagostino.it
Sure to be a conversation piece, the Groove urinal from Kerasan’s Artword collection was the show’s bad-boy item. It visually makes a gender-bending sex joke: the male plumbing fixture made manifest through the sculptural expression of female genitalia. But seriously, folks, it has the advantage of water conservation. Flushing a urinal uses only 2-6 litres of water (depending on the home’s water pressure), compared to the 13-18 litre flush of a regular toilet. It’s only a matter of time before Trudeau’s eco-activist nanny-staters foist urinals upon us, along with the their $2,000-a-head carbon tax. www.kerasan.it
For Bisazza, Brazilian design-star brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana, known for their love of nature and folk art, honour the gemological bounty of Minas Gerais. This northeastern inland state yields the world’s greatest variety of precious and semi-precious stones, including diamond, emerald, amethyst, aquamarine and topaz. Brazilian Agata, from Bisazza’s Cementiles collection of hand-made tiles using high-strength cement blended with coloured oxides, evokes the tinted spiraling bands of an agate geode (an nodule of the mineral that has been sliced open). The eight-inch-square geode motif repeats within the pattern of the tile. www.bisazza.com
Sicis, said company president Amy Tanenbaum, is “the only manufacturer making their own material. Everybody else outsources theirs. We have 160 mosaic artists in our factory [in Ravenna]. We still make everything by hand. Our hands are better and faster than any machine.” While respecting tradition, Sicis also innovates, as in the new large-format (120 by 54 inches) panels in their Vetrite collection that sandwich fabric textile and textured polymer film between two sheets of clear glass. The panels can be used to clad walls, furniture and counter tops, and as slip-resistant flooring. They are available in .2, .4 and .5-inch thicknesses; the half-inch thickness would be appropriate for the heavy loads of flooring applications. www.sicis.com
Ceramica Vogue’s new Graph glazed-porcelain stoneware series has a subtle texture evoking Oxford-cloth shirting fabric in a diminutive Glen plaid on view at a preppy haberdashery store like Brooks Brothers or J. Press, or the half-tone dots in a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon Pop Art canvas. The tiny dots bestow anti-slip safety properties when the tile is used as flooring, while maintaining ease of cleaning. Just as that preppy button-down shirt acts as the background to a more attention-grabbing tie, so the small, square (10 or 20 inches square) Graph is intended for use as an infill, rather than feature, tile in a space. It comes with with colour-matched grout, “so the joint becomes an element in the design of the wall or floor, creative director Andrea Mercanti explained in the Ceramica Vogue booth. www.ceramicavogue.com
Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, influenced Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran of Milan-based Dimore Studio in their design of Corrispondenza, a kaleidoscope of seven related, angular-patterned glazed-porcelain stoneware tiles for Ceramica Bardelli for wall or floor. Each eight-inch-square tile is hand-painted in soft pastel tones that vary depending on whether the area of the pattern is raised or flat, which enhances the tile’s tactile appeal. The variability of the hand-painting bestows a hand-crafted, artisanal look to the tiles. www.ceramicabardelli.com
Casalgrande Padana’s Shades collection, designed by Marco Piva, experiments with colour layering, saturation and contrast to create a sense of depth and volume. The optical illusion of a parallelogram playfully erupting out of the flat surface of the ceramic tile subtly adds interest to the wall or floor. www.casalgrandepadana.com
Ceramic tiles keep to the straight and narrow in the literal sense that 99.9999 percent of them have straight edges. So, at Cersaie, the wavy-edged faux-wood tiles in Edilcuoghi’s Mirai collection of full body-coloured porcelain stoneware made quite the conspicuous exception. They’re part of a suite of six pieces that includes the customary rectangular tiles.
In 1960, architect Gio Ponti created 33 patterns in blue and white for ceramic-tile installations indoors and out at the Hotel Parco dei Principi, sited on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. As TripAdvisor states, the patterns “reflect the colours of the sea and sky of Sorrento: moons, circles, triangles, stars and leaves [and] are also used to tell a different story in every room.” Ceramica Francesco De Maio has dressed the historic Blu Ponti collection in five new colorways—green, yellow, black, red and light blue—that can be freely mixed and matched. www.francescodemaio.com
Casalgrande Padana’s booth boasted one of the quirkier CERSAIE “finds”: the Earth ceramic tile collection, with walls broken up with compartments for display or book shelves. The designer is Pininfarina, a Turin-based design studio founded in Turin in 1930 and beloved for creating iconic Fifties automobiles for Italy’s Alfa Romeo and Lancia, and America’s Nash Ambassador. www.casalgrandepadana.com