We are all aware of the incredible pace at which technology is evolving; it probably brings to mind the ever-changing world of cellphones and computerized products. But in the interior design world, rapid developments in technology are creating a surge of new products for use in home and commercial applications. Never in my design lifetime have I seen so many new product offerings in such a short amount of time, and a perfect example of that is in the field of porcelain tile.
It wasn’t long ago that porcelain tile was considered the workhorse of commercial wall and flooring materials….practically indestructible and affordable, but unfortunately, really boring. The products were offered in mostly solid colors with plain, unimaginative surface texture. I can’t remember using a porcelain tile in a high-end residential application, ever. Then a few years ago, porcelain began to show up trying to look like wood! It was an intriguing idea, but the graphics left a lot to be desired, and in my design world, it was just too fake looking. At about the same time, some pretty cool porcelain glitzy-glam looking tiles were introduced, and that got our attention! But being a designer who is more “au natural” in design style, it wasn’t for me….unless I suddenly landed that ever-sought-after dance club project that demanded cutting edge Ladies’ Lounge walls!
In the meantime, our go-to hard-surface material (I’m talking primarily for flooring) had become natural limestone. Ceramic tile was unthinkable, flagstone (even in Arizona) was long gone style-wise, travertine was passe, and we craved a beautiful more uniform pattern, sans the holes and veins of the travertine, which was met with a new evolution of limestone offerings from all over the world. And yes, I still love limestones. They are soft and elegant, and move easily between the worlds of traditional and contemporary designs.
However, limestone tends to be very pricey, and there is still the fact that they do stain, and they should be sealed. Maintenance!
Enter the vast new world of porcelain tiles that are no longer looking like “wannabees”, but are increasingly offered in look-alike patterns that are actually believable and beautiful, as well as being affordable and practical. What’s not to like? My purist side is still rebelling against a product that is trying to look like something it isn’t (a perfect example is manufactured stone for the outside of buildings, made of concrete….it still screams “fake!”). But the purist side is losing the battle against the onslaught of one great porcelain tile after another, looking like concrete, like basalt, vein cut travertine, or bush hammered granite…the list is endless.
Every time I go to a good tile showroom (such as Villagio Tile here in Scottsdale, AZ), I am blown away by a new porcelain tile I find. And the ones that are supposed to look like wood………..actually do look like wood now!
We are currently working on a residential new-build design project, a gorgeous contemporary desert home designed by PHX Arch. Our clients don’t want a lot of maintenance, but they DO want something that is predictable (which eliminates concrete floors), maintenance free (which eliminates natural stone materials) and can go from the indoor spaces to the outdoor patios seamlessly (which eliminates wood). Our answer came in a porcelain that will provide a consistent soft textural look, with zero maintenance, comes in really large pieces for a great contemporary style (we are using 4’x4′ squares), can have tiny grout joints (1/8″) that practically disappear, and is also offered in a companion product that looks almost identical but has a surface texture that will provide a nonslip surface on patios that are exposed to rain and weather. What more could we ask for? Oh, and it’s affordable. Less than any other option would have been. Porcelain to the rescue!
One more thing….we haven’t used it yet, but porcelain is now coming out in 6mm thickness, large slabs available in five different modular sizes up to an astounding 5′ X 10′, this “Plane” collection is the first panel option of its kind. Some of its features include amazing flexibility, crack resistance, mold resistance, heat and frost proof, with no artificial binders and no VOC emissions.
Available in fifteen beautiful colors, Plane is ideal for interiors, exteriors, countertops, veneers, and much more. I can’t even imagine doing a remodel without having to rip out old tile walls, but apparently it’s totally feasible. And the design implications of having these huge sheets of beautiful, impervious material for cladding shower walls, fireplace walls, exterior walls and countertops……….is mind-boggling. The good news is, it can’t get anything but better! Technology has definitely hit the world of interior design.