Mixed material melanges come of age

Mixed material melanges come of age

November 2018

After last month’s overview of the design trends at Cersaie (TSJ, October, page 32) this month Joe Simpson  probes two design threads: concrete-effect,and marble-effects tiles: two of the dominant categories at Bologna in 2018.

Cersaie 2018 provided plenty of evidence that the long-running concrete-effect trend still has reserves of energy.  Brutalist architecture, as well as softer forms of concrete, continue to inspire and energise tile designers, in everything from XXL panels seeking out fresh opportunities in the countertop and cladding market, through to smaller format tiles for both commercial and domestic applications.  

One particularly interesting trend was the pairing of concrete-effect tiles with contrasting material influences, notably wood-effect tiles, but also including marble-effects, stone-effects, and metallic-effects.
There were also a lot of material fusions in this category; notably tiles that fuse elements of natural stone with elements of concrete.  The result are neutral colourways, unexpected subtle surface patterns, and engaging textures.  For the purpose of this review, these will all be included in the concrete-effect category, but that only tells half the story, because these materials point one way forward for tile design as digital scanning, image manipulation software, and digital inkjet technology are combined to offer tile designers a completely new set of aesthetic options.

Ariana proved a case in point as it showcased a number of novel ceramic surfaces at Cersaie including Worn, inspired by leather.  When realised in cement tones, notably in the Shadow design, this range enhanced the neutral industrial palette of concrete by adding this unexpected surface texture: a stylistically eclectic combination that would look equally at home in residential, commercial, or public spaces.
At Cersaie, Ariostea offered Ultra Con.Crea Maxi Slabs alongside 1,200 by 600mm, 600 by 600mm, and 600 by 300mm formats for more compact architectural spaces.  Con.Crea is inspired by brushed concrete and synthetic resins, and the combination of these two materials create surfaces with an unparalleled contemporary feel.  

The Ultra Con.Crea Maxi Slabs collection has four colours - Cloud, Earth, Ink and Talc - now also available in traditional sizes.  In addition, Dove Grey, a soft, neutral shade, is now available in all sizes.

The palette, organised by depth of colour intensity, ranges from deepest black to optical white, passing through soft, warm shades.  Surfaces of great depth are obtained, characterised by material effects and colour contrasts that create an evocative atmosphere.  Con.Crea is also available in Natural, Pre-polished, and Non-slip finishes.

Fincibec’s Over brand combines fashionable colours and materials with the technical benefits of porcelain stoneware and the creative freedom offered by large ceramic slabs, starting from 1,600 by 3,200mm.  These slabs can be used for both floors and walls, as well as countertops, shelves, vanity tops for bathrooms and kitchens, tables, door, etc.

As may be expected, a concrete-effect is a key component of the Over offer.  Here the design harks back to group company Century’s Uptown range, which made its debut at Cersaie 2015  This range delivered the intense shades and colours of natural stone as well as delicate veins to give depth and dynamism.   But the grey variants have a raw concrete look, proving that with today’s ceramic tiles it is often hard to tell where stone ends and concrete begins.  But that, of course, is the point!

And if the concept of concrete-effect brings to mind sterile, minimalist, surfaces without personalities, the best of today’s tile ranges beg to differ.  One of the most imaginative and striking is Hyper by Flaviker.  This is offered in Wide, the term used by the company to refer to the large, lightweight porcelain slabs produced in a 7mm thickness using Continua+ production technology.  The same pressing system, based on dry compaction of raw materials, is also used to produce the 9mm thick sizes, which stand out for their aesthetic quality and technical performance.

The collection boasts hyper-realism.  Inspired by the concrete blocks used in industrial building, Hyper displays all the signs of the natural ageing process.  Cracks, holes, and stains are accurately reproduced using latest-generation digital technology.  The three main colour options – taupe, grey, and silver – are complemented by some really powerful decors – Street Lover, Tiger, and Rose – that bring an urban, street art, graffiti vibe that will appeal to edgy restaurants or clothing retailers.  There is even a cut piece option – Hyper Slim Pack – that offers potential to set these neutral tones against contrasting or statement grout colours.  The format options – 1,600 by 3,200mm rectified, and 1,200 by 1,200mm, 600 by 1,200mm, 300 by 1,200mm, 800 by 800mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 60mm in a natural finish, and 1,200 by 2,700mm, 1,200 by 1,200mm, 600 by 1,200mm, and 600 by 600mm in lapatto – add to this range’s outstanding versatility.  

A variation on the concrete-effect theme is provided by Artifact of Cerim; a glazed porcelain range that offers a fresh take on spatulated cement.  Its aesthetic impact, antiqued and imperfect, conveys an artlessness that harmonizes with the broad neutral colour selection, enhanced by shade variations spanning cool and warm tones.  

The 10mm thick collection is offered is two main sizes (600 by 1,20mm, and 800 by 800mm) with modular sub-sizes.  The 300 by 600mm format is also available in a grip outdoor finish.  The graphic shade variations of the cement are declined in six different neutral shades ranging from white to coal through grey and beige: the names – worked charcoal, vintage taupe, crafted graphite, used grey, worn sand, and aged white - referring to the manual plastering technique that inspired them.

Iris’s Downtown transfers the immortality of concrete to porcelain surfaces for projects with a minimalist, contemporary character.  It comes in four contrasting shades, ranging from grey to brown, and three different sizes, 1,200 by 600mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 600mm. The retro effect, obtained through scratches and colour contrasts, gives the collection a natural worn look, to imbuing spaces with personality.  With Downtown, living rooms, bathrooms, and dining rooms are offered subtle shades, details, and patterns that render a simple material quite complex and distinct.

The Ikon collection, new to Ceramiche Keope’s portfolio, has the unmistakeable soul of concrete.  Drawing inspiration from urban style, this range reinterprets the raw reference material as porcelain stoneware.  With its new 1,200 by 2,780mm maxi size – just 6mm think - Ikon is ideal for creating continuous walls and floors, and realising the creative aspirations of architects and designers.  Keope’s design features an accurate selection of neutral tones: Sky, Grey, Beige, Silver, and White.  These are available with a matt finish to create a dynamic, ultra-contemporary surface that brings out the best of both residential and commercial projects.  Ikon is available in 1,200 by 2,780mm, 1,200 by 1,200mm, 300 by 1,200mm, 600 by 1,200mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 600mm formats. To complete the line, Ceramiche Keope also offers trim pieces and decors to allow definition of even the smallest detail.

Resin-effects form a selective, yet important, sub-class of the concrete-effect trend.  A good example is Paris by NovaBell: a modern design that evokes the paired-back beauty of resin surfaces to create spaces with an urban-chic allure.  The Paris colour range draws inspiration from the latest interior design trends, with five natural, dusty shades – plume, amande, ash, ciment, and noir - conceived for use in combination, or for sophisticated monochrome spaces.

The Zig Zag, and Righe (ridged) surface options bring tactile appeal to vertical surfaces; their textures defining spaces with a touch of dynamism.  The Paris range spans from large 600 by 1,200mm XXL modules, that give continuity to surfaces, through to the exquisite 200 by 200mm tiles, rich in personality, that are ideal for all small public and domestic spaces.  The full appeal of the Paris range is best seen, however, in the 1,200 by 1,200mm size, that delivers visual continuity to the vibrant patterns and tactile variations.

Panaria’s Context range was inspired by cement mortar; a traditional building material based on pure cement and fine inert minerals.  Panaria has enhanced this material’s unique qualities to create a surface with a new aesthetic and texture.  The range is available in five shades of grey - Square, Loft, Store, Hangar, and Mansion - which echo the natural colours of cement, with mosaics and decors adding extra design scopes.  The creative options are extended by the choice of thicknesses and sizes.  Context introduces the new 6mm thickness in 1,200 by 1,200mm, and 1,200 by 2,600mm laminated porcelain panels: a light, versatile, and resistant product.  In addition to thin slabs, the range is also available in the more traditional porcelain stoneware thickness of 10mm, plus 20mm for outdoor use.

All the new products in Panaria’s new collections feature Protect antibacterial shield, and are part of the selection of Panariagroup products with Microban anti-bacterial surfaces.

The cement-effects in Porcelanosa’s HighKer series of XXL format ceramic tiles are typical of the blurring of the material lines between stone and cement.  With four finishes and several different formats, Porcelanosa’s new HighKer floor tile collections provide ample evidence to the company’s commitment to large formats.  HighKer surfaces deliver optical continuity that maximises the feeling of spaciousness. 

As well as  cement-stone (or vice versa), HighKer also features natural wood-effects, polished surfaces, and several different formats.  The Bottega, Harlem, Rodano, and Nantes designs, inspired by stone, come in a 1,200 by 1,200mm format, while Prada, Duomo, and Matt have been designed in a 1,000 by 1,000mm format.   Nobu, which reproduces the richness of wood in different tones - Roble, Arce, and Natural - is available in a 294 by 1,800mm maxi-plank format: very of the moment.

TexCem, a new Ragno tile collection, is inspired by the retro look of dilapidated concrete with a fine fabric weave.  A single rectified 325 by 977mm size is used across the five colours: Avorio, Cotto, Ottanio, Grigio, and Bianco.  Available in a thickness of just 6mm (8mm for structures), it is intended for residential and light commercial use.  The range features two 3D structures, three decors, and one mosaic option.  Inspired by the hand-shaping of concrete, and available in all the colour variants, the Groove 3D structure emphasises the flaws of the inspiration material; while the Tria 3D structure, also available in all colours, consists of triangular and square shapes that emerge on the surface of the material and underline its form.  TexCem is completed by various decors: Patch consists of a mix of ornamental geometrical patterns inspired by the world of fabrics; Esagone alternates decorated and solid colour modules with a vintage flavour; while Magnolia, a decor in the large 1,300 by 977mm size, comprising four elements and reinterprets the floral motifs of wallpaper.  This really is a collection worth exploring in detail.

RAK’s M-Project is a sophisticated and exclusive concept that comes from the integrated development of materials such as stucco, spatulated resins, and woods, co-ordinated in a single colour palette.  It provides further evidence of the aesthetic fusion of materials in modern tile ranges.  Spaces designed with M-Project have strong visual impact, enhanced by the fusion of different textures, formats, and warm or cold shades.  Floors and walls gradually combine into a single stylistic solution that should capture the imagination of even the most demanding designers: something really evident in the M-Project Stucco variant.  The theme continues with M-Project Spatolato: where the look and surface effects of spatulated resins and woods show the passage a craftsman’s hand.

Majestic marbles
At Cersaie 2017, in the ever popular marble-effect category, subtle, classic stones, like the ubiquitous white marble varietals, dominated.   Among the most popular white marbles, there was a shift from dark veined Statuario in favour of softer and more diffused Calacatta or Macael options.  At the same time, stark and strong linear black marbles really came to the fore.
And, 12 months ago, the dominant earth-toned marble was a classic Spanish stone - Pulpis - offering a natural, deep, and saturated taupe often paired with other colour options featuring the same surface figuring in greys and off-whites.

Roll forward 12 months, and the marble-effect category seems to have taken a rather different turn.  Today’s trend is towards more dramatic marbles, although white carrara-style marbles, and blacks such as nero marquinia, still lead the way.  

What was really striking was that this year the marble veining was often picked out in golden hues, or else the tiles were embellished by metallic decors.  Quartzite and highly polished onyx also featured prominently on the high end stands, while impressive book-matched XXL slabs, in pairs or four-piece assemblies, were shown by several manufacturers to illustrate the impressive power and realism of today’s faux marble porcelain tiles.  Many stands featured marble worktops or furniture fabricated using the sumptuous XXL slabs.  And, to really emphasise 2018’s glamourous feel, exquisitely-details book-matched XXL panels provided the eye-candy.  While gloss finishes remain popular, satin effects were more in evidence this year; with just enough sheen to make the marble patterns pop, but with a smooth and tactile surface.

The high-end Italian tile factories nearly all featured stunning new marble ranges, or else had enhanced established ranges with new formats, finish, decors, or colour options.  15 years ago, it was quite easy to differentiate between the good and the great manufacturers.  Today, and particularly in the marble-effect category, it is now a shock to come across anything less than great, and some of the best are now so very well executed that it is hard to find the words to do full justice to their naturalism, aesthetic appeal, design versatility, technical excellence, and decorative options.  But I’ll try, with a shortlist of the very best of the best.

It is no surprise that I start with Ariostea, an Iris group company that has long been at the forefront of marble-effects; even in the days before digital printing technology and, more recently, sinking inks.  Ariostea’s Ultra Maxi Slabs range are a testimony to the technological leap that has allowed the ceramics sector to create large-scale products for coverings.

Excellent technical performance - in terms of resistance, quality, non-absorbency, maintenance and customisation - combine with endless application potential for these slab that can cover a 4.5 sq. metre surface area.  Just 6mm thick, in compact full body porcelain, it has textures and finishes that are so versatile that they can satisfy most architectural and interior design requirements.

At Cersaie 2018 Ariostea launched a wider range of colours for the company bestsellers: Ultra Marble, Ultra Onyx, Ultra Metal, and Ultra Con.Crea.  The surfaces inspired by marble were presented in both gloss and silk finishes.  For Fior di Bosco, Calacatta Macchia Vecchia, and Calacatta Macchia Vecchia there were Block A and Block B textures, as well as two varieties of Azul Macaubas and Sahara Noir by Iris Ceramica.

Fior di Bosco features delicate beige and brown shades.  Calacatta Macchia Vecchia creates bright, sophisticated surfaces with rich gold and dove grey veining.  In Azul Macaubas, bright blue brushstrokes combine with delicate pastel stripes to reproduce the famous stone from Bahìa, Brazil.  Sahara Noir brings warmth and brilliance with its variegation and stripes -  a geometric pattern that contrasts an intense black background with orange and ivory.  The format options are 3,000 by 1,500mm, 1,500 by 1,500mm, 1,500 by 750mm, 750 by 750mm, and 750 by 375mm: all 6mm thick.

A key trend at Cersaie 2018 was the prevalence of semi-precious stone looks, especially ones inspired by onyx.  Ariostea was again to the fore with Ultra Onici; a gloss finish range with exquisite detailing.  Here the alabastrine shades of Persia, and luminous colour contrasts of Pesca, are delivered to perfection.  Persia comes in two graphic variations.  In Onici, the format options are 3,000 by 1,500mm, 3,000 by 1,000mm, 1,500 by 1,500mm, 1,500 by 1,000mm, 1,500 by 750mm, 1,000 by 1,000mm, 750 by 750mm and 750 by 375mm: all 6mm thick.

Perhaps the single most impressive display of onyx-inspired designs was on the Casalgrande Padana stand.  The Onici collection delivers elegance and magic, thanks to sophisticated colour variations, the elegant use of light and shade, and stunning reflections.  Onici is made from high-performance porcelain stoneware and is available in the large Kontinua format (up to 1,200 by 2,600mm).  Avorio, Bianco, and Ghiaccio are variations on the theme of white, but each has its own identity and veining: accentuated in some cases, barely perceptible in others. Miele is a warmer colour, while the real wow factor comes from the dramatic Grigio Striato shade.

The gloss finish enhances the surfaces, creating a timelessly elegant feel, emphasised by the impressive proportions and technical properties of the porcelain stoneware.

Marble effects also came in smaller formats, of which Cercom’s To Be Marble was one to really capture the vibrant new ways in which marble is being used today.  It is one of three design threads from Cercom’s trendy To Be concept.  This range, more than any other, embodies Cercom’s new vision for elegant, contemporary ceramics offering combinations of different materials and surface finishes: majestic marble in To Be Marble; solid modern concrete in To Be Concrete; and industrial wood in To Be Wood.

Another brand synonymous with beautiful stone-effects is Cotto d’Este and, at Cersaie 2018, the brand offered some stand-out new marble looks. The Vanity range features elegant, minimalist forms of marble.  Subtle patterns, light veins, and soft shading characterise this collection.  The finishes available are Bianco Luce, Bianco Statuario and Dark Brown, available in both touch and gloss finishes.  Touch, presented for the first time at Cersaie 2018, is a soft, velvet finish that is particularly pleasant to touch.

Bianco Statuario evokes the character of the stone typical of the Apuan Alps; a chalky, crystalline white patterned with grey veins.  The bookmatch design really stars in this version.

Vanity’s Bianco Luce evokes a particular characteristic of Carrara marble, with fine silver rays that accentuate the pure white background.  Dark Brown, on the other hand, is inspired by a Spanish marble, featuring brown and beige tones and a characteristic cloudy effect.  Vanity was shown in 1,200 by 2,600mm, and 1,200 by 1,200mm Kerlite versions, 6mm  thick.

At Cersaie, Del Conca also promoted oversize 1,200 by 2,600mm XXL slabs.  These overcome the limits of traditional ceramic, opening up new possibilities in countertops, tables, and furniture.  Boutique, the sophisticated and elegant marble-effect range from Del Conca, features the new Shine finish.  This achieved by applying a thick layer of glaze to obtain an impressive level of reflection and chromatic intensity. Format options include 1,200 by 1,200mm, 600 by 1,200mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 300mm mosaic.

Emilceramica’s Tele di Marmo collection now includes the Reloaded project: five new looks that expand the interpretation of marble.  In addition, the collection already had four different natural and semi-polished marbles.  

The surfaces are innovative, offering alternative installations of sections of the marble slab, such as seminato di tessere or battuto di listelli, achieved by laying marble dots or strips in adhesive.
The surface created by combining marble slats plays down marble’s monumental character, creating environments with immense design impact.  

The five designs of the Tele di Marmo Reloaded initiative includes Calacatta Gold Canova with gilded vein patterns that create elegant, sumptuous surfaces. Marfil Ordóñez is inspired by the finest of all Spanish marbles. The surface features almost imperceptible vein patterns that blend into the warm beige background. In Fossil Brown Malevic the random alternation of pale and dark fossils produces patterning with high visual impact. Quarzo Kandinsky is inspired by one of the loveliest materials, with the near ivory background pierced by warm, golden yellow veins of varying intensity. Onice Klimt is a kaleidoscopic surface in shades of grey that interweave in a warm, yet vibrant manner.

For Cersaie 2018, Fiandre Architectural Surfaces expanded the range of finishes for its best-selling Marmi Maximum range.  The decorative offer has been augmented by new colours: Atlantic Grey, Nebula Grigia, Soft Onyx, Azul Macauba, and Sahara Noir.  

Of these, Nebula Grigia recreates the elegance of noble marble for an on-trend effect that explores all shades of grey, touching taupe and beige. The available finishes – polished and satin – enhance this design’s bold personality.

Characterized by delicately hinted streaks, the fashionable Soft Onyx offers warmth and sophistication, mixing warm alabaster shades to create soft and delicate colours.  

Exalt is the new marble-inspired Cerim collection.  In conjunction with the Antique Marble and Timeless ranges, it offers a particularly wide range of colours and aesthetics.  The range has six marble effects with veining and delicate graphics for a versatile, modern look. Both 6mm and 10mm thicknesses are available, in both gloss and natural finishes.  

The large Magnum Oversize (1,200 by 1,200mm, and 1,200 by 2,400mm, both 10.5mm thickness - a novelty for Cerim) are intended for spectacular installations.  Other formats are 800 by 800mm, 400 by 800mm, 600 by 1,200mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 600mm; plus 300 by 300mm mosaics.

The Florim group also offered a range of worktop and furniture inspiration under its Florim Stone brand.  Here porcelain stoneware panels up to 1,600 by 3,200mm are available in three thicknesses (6, 12 and 20mm) and various finishes.  As well as marble-effects, Florim Stone also offers cement, wood, metal, monochrome, and stone designs.

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