The Future is Here

by Ron Treister

Your company designs commercial interiors. You create upscale working venues that don't just look good—they represent a client's strategic investment in an environment which performs at optimal levels. As a true professional, you owe it to your client, your firm, yourself, and ultimately, to the many workers and visitors who will interact at your project's location, to exceed every agreed-upon design expectation. Obviously, a job well done will last a long, long time—that's why you specify such high-quality products. Tile and stone fall into this category.

Even though the anemic American economy has affected the number and size of projects you've been working on, it hasn't slowed down the amazing smorgasbord of tile and stone materials now being offered to the design community. The good news is that you now have more tools to add to your design arsenal that not only look good and last virtually forever (if installed correctly), but offer limitless creative options.

This past March in Las Vegas, Coverings, the tile and stone super-show welcomed exhibitors from all over the world to showcase the newest, strongest, wildest and most interesting tile and stone materials found on earth. The following is a synopsis of some of the highlights of the show, as well as a look at the trends in tile and stone for commercial interiors. The article will close with some tips to keep in mind for your next project utilizing tile and stone.

size counts.
Factories around the world continue to master the art of emulating natural stone, in both looks and performance, in the form of porcelain tile. Huge investments have been made in production technology to produce perfectly rectified and calibrated floor tiles as large as 24 by 36 inches (or even larger). This is an exciting development, for a few different reasons. Porcelain is supremely durable and requires very little maintenance to keep its original look. And when using these large tile formats, there are fewer grout lines, thus making a floor appear more monolithic. Therefore, not only does the area visually seem larger than it really is, it requires less upkeep. Why? Because grout joints, which are the most difficult part of the floor to clean, have been minimized both in number, and due to the precise tolerances of each tile, in thickness, as well.

On a related note, advances in technology have made it possible to bring and correctly install big stone pieces inside commercial projects. See the article "Bringing the Outdoors In" in this special section for a more detailed look at the use of massive stones and boulders to make a statement.

thin is in.
Production technology has evolved to such a science that remarkably thin ceramic and stone tiles are now being produced—so thin that in many cases they can actually be installed right over existing tiled areas, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming removal of older material. On vertical surfaces, think of this process like wallpapering over old wallpaper. If the installation process is done correctly, your clients will have a very long-lasting project. For floors, where thinner tiles can indeed be installed right over existing older tile, the real upside for specification of this new product category is in minimizing the load-bearing aspect—thinner tiles equal less weight.

the floor is going faux.
The most noticeable addition in the world of stone and tile comes thanks to inkjet technology. Manufacturers of porcelain stoneware are now able to print amazing images of stone and wood on the face of tile bodies, which have been pressed to have a textured finish. The result is a look and feel that could almost fool Mother Nature. Get real close to these materials and see for yourselves. Now you can specify "wood" for the floors of your projects, even in locations with very hot and humid weather.

mosaic madness strikes.
Today's specifiers have a multitude of options when it comes to mosaic designs. Tiny, smooth river stones, mesh-mounted and ready to enhance walls, columns and any other vertical surface. Glass tiles in rectangles, trapezoids, penny rounds and colors so vibrant they epitomize the phrase "eye candy." Stately metal mosaics offering a strong retro look, engineered at a fraction of the weight of solid metal. Travertines, granites and limestones combined with dissimilar materials such as glass or metal, all ready to go. The most challenging aspect of designing with today's mosaics is simply selecting which ones you prefer the most. There are so many varieties from which to choose, your creativity will likely go into overdrive.

the industry is getting greener.
Ben Mednick of East Coast Tile, exclusive distributor of StonePeak Ceramics in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, says, "We see significant and powerful trends forward such as high design combined with high technical specification productions that are environmentally sound, meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), GreenGuard and U.S. Green Building Council standards in the commercial development process. For example, products such as StonePeak materials, which are produced in the United States, offer icing on the cake in that they reduce lead time and increase availability—and they are good for our national economy."

Tile and stone are already green materials, but they're getting greener. Some companies are producing tiles which contain up to 75 percent recycled material. Factories are recycling water, broken tiles are being ground up and used again in the manufacturing process, and huge efforts are being made to minimize energy in every possible way. Talk to your sales representatives to get the whole green picture. You'll discover that few industries are as entrenched in this process as the tile and stone manufacturing sectors.

comments on contractors.
Don't spoil a beautiful design project by skimping on installation expenses. According to Bart Bettiga, executive director of the Jackson, Miss.-based National Tile Contractors Association, "Too often tile contractors are selected on price alone. This can be a grave mistake. The economic conditions of today have made this issue even more prevalent than it ever was. Many contractors are bidding work out of desperation, just as are many builders and general contractors."

"It is highly recommended, especially for high-end, focal commercial projects, to consider the contractor's reputation and track record," Bettiga adds. "Not just on aesthetic work, but on timeliness, quality and safety. Talk to previous customers from a list provided. If you do not check out these things prior to letting them on your project, your client, your firm and your personal reputation are at risk."

Additionally, specify installation materials based upon performance, as well as those which offer warranties on both materials and labor. The only callbacks you want are those from satisfied clients requesting more work from your firm.

business still rules.
As in any creative business, designers' imaginations can be so fertile that their ideas exceed practicalities. And now that the tile and stone industries are offering so much with which to design, good business acumen must not be forgotten.

"In the end designers must not let their creativity run so wild that products being selected are cost-prohibitive or unavailable," says Hector Narvaez, vice president of sales and marketing with Marazzi USA. "In the last few years, a big push has been made to offer tile and stone materials produced domestically via value-engineered methods. When it comes to hotel chains, retail roll-outs and other commercial installations with designs that will continue on with new construction, it is paramount that products are selected today which still will be offered tomorrow. Luckily, major efforts have been made within our industry to address that."

get online.
There are few industries offering the amount of educational support that is offered by the tile and stone sectors. If you are interested in learning more, information is just a click away. You'll be surprised at how much solid, usable information is out there. While there are many websites to check out, good places to start are and www.john