Tiles are often seen as the finishing touches on a project. However, the visual impact a decorative covering can have on a room is huge and should be incorporated into plans and designs as early as possible. It is also widely accepted that investing in the quality of your kitchen, bathroom and other high-traffic areas on any refurbishment or new build adds value.
However, with the wide range of tiles on the market, choosing the right ones – in terms of size, colour, material, effect and finish – and using them in the right place can be daunting. But they can create a real statement on any new build or renovation, so spending time researching and selecting is worth it.
Advancements in printing technology now allow tile manufacturers to replicate a whole host of natural materials – from marble to limestone, dozens of wood effects, through to slate and more. This allows homeowners to achieve a high-end finish at a fraction of the price of the natural materials, with the added bonus of higher resilience and less maintenance.
Porcelain tiles are perfect for use in high-traffic areas, as their hardness and density make them durable and hard-wearing, while their resistance to chips, stains and scratches means that they look good for years. They also make effective temperature regulators as they conduct heat efficiently so can be used with underfloor heating systems, offering a cool surface underfoot in the summer and warm, cosy floors in winter – something that is worth considering when planning bathrooms, kitchens, living areas and conservatories.
As one of our planet’s natural resources, supplies of natural stone can be limited and, as such a timeless material, it is highly sought after and rarely goes out of fashion. Thanks to hyper-realistic reproduction techniques, stone-effect tiles offer a more affordable, easier to maintain option without sacrificing any of the design impact or beauty.
As an example, French limestone – a hard sedimentary rock formed of calcium carbonate – denotes sophistication and decadence, used across the centuries on the walls and floors of castles and abbeys. But the qualities that make French limestone unique – such as its colour and mineral content – are also the very things that make it difficult to work with. It is porous, so requires substantial care and protection to avoid damage from dirt and stains. Fortunately, there are a plethora of porcelain tile reproductions with countless colours and textures, enabling you to recreate that sophisticated, ancestral look without the maintenance.
Marble and marble-effect tiles
When it comes to luxury finishes, white marble is always up there – with Carrara and Statuario the most popular choices, and this is another natural material that has inspired a huge market in natural stone-effect tiles. Marble takes its colouration and unique veined appearance from the minerals in the ground local to its origins. Well-known examples include black Nero Marquina marble, which is extracted from the Markina region of the Basque county in Northern Spain, and white-grey Carrara marble, quarried in Tuscany, Italy.
Tile replication has also introduced an expansive, vibrant colour palette of marble effects. Following years of minimalism, refined stone effects are emerging with new vibrancy and verve as interior designers seek bright colours and exciting effects in green, blue, orange, silver and white. The design opportunities are limitless with strong or mild veining, cloudy effects reminiscent of onyx or bold, striated surfaces.
An additional benefit of porcelain marble-effect tiles is the variety of finishes available – not just the sought-after, highly-polished finish, but matt and honed surfaces and the semi-shiny Lappatto, which can all be used to create a luxurious feel along with depth and contrast.
To add to the startling realism of these tiles, non-repeating patterns can be used to create unique, seamless-look living spaces. Or, if you wish to create a statement, you can choose a classic ‘pattern’ option, such as book match – two tiles which are mirror images of each other – or end match, which is a pattern that runs across four tiles. These striking effects would be impossible to create without the technology to print two or more identical or symmetrical stone-effect tiles – thus taking natural stone to a new level of design.
Size also matters when it comes to tiles. Large-format tiles – usually up to 60 x 120cm – have been ‘big’ news in recent years. And while some believe large formats are only suited to large rooms, the opposite is, in fact, true. Large-scale tiles are ideal for use in bathrooms and other compact spaces, as they create an illusion of scale by tricking the eye into believing an area is much bigger than it actually is.
At one of the major Italian tile shows, just months before the pandemic, another new trend at the larger end of the scale was prevalent – the production of ‘artwork’ tiles. Exhibited as enormous formats of up to 1.6 x 2.8m – these were tiles with patterns that are more usually found on wallpaper, ranging from tropical prints to abstract shapes and panelling effects. Again – an opportunity to really make a statement.
Of course, new builds and renovations are not just about the inside. The penchant for creating a seamless living spaces that flow from the inside to outdoor areas continues to grow. Outdoor areas are increasingly becoming spaces that we consider as additional, external rooms – including dining spaces, living spaces and even games rooms – and the focus on creating seamless integration between internal and external spaces with flooring is critical to mastering this trend.
As such, many manufacturers are now adding 2cm-thick versions to their collections, making them suitable for use outdoors, allowing homeowners to extend their interior living spaces outside, creating integrated patios and al-fresco dining areas. This 2cm thickness is suited to outdoors as it is resistant to thermal shock, heavy loads and stresses. Outdoor tiles such as these will also have an R11 A+B anti-slip rating, meaning they are safe even in slippery, wet weather conditions (which, of course, is extremely beneficial in Britain) – often an advantage over natural materials.
In essence, the improvement of technology to increase the range of aesthetics and the areas they can be used both inside and outside the home presents homeowners and developers with limitless opportunities to tile things and create a perfect finish.