Like many decorative finishes, ceramic tile often is designed to mimic another material. In most cases, that other material is stone. Thanks to improving technologies and new innovations, manufacturers are developing convincing new stone looks, from slate to limestone, that homeowners are looking for on their floors and walls.
Many of the new styles are emerging from a growing use of porcelain tile, a ceramic material that has witnessed a number of manufacturing innovations. Previously considered a niche product, porcelain tile production has grown in recent years because the tiles are durable and offer through-body color that makes it easier to replicate stone looks. New pressing techniques and finishing processes are helping to create more realistic color variations, veining, and texture.
Porcelain innovation is picking up especially in Europe, where many manufacturers, some of which import to the United States, are constantly looking for ways to improve on this building product staple. "The thing we have to recognize is that in the world, tile is used the way we use carpet," says Jim Dougherty, vice president of marketing and business development for Crossville. "So they are always striving to build a better mousetrap."
And it seems that no look is impossible. Aside from traditional stone imitations, companies offer tiles that mimic Old World European styles, Southern desert-weathered looks, and other exotic options. With these realistic looks and superior durability, manufacturers are banking on the rock-solid staying power of porcelain tile.
Daltile. Reminiscent of the Southwest, Desert Canyon porcelain tile comes in four rustic colors, Dune, Sunrise, Cactus, and Sunset, and three tumbled stone borders. The tiles, which can be used for floors, walls, countertops, and pools, come in 12- and 18-inch-square sizes. (800) 933-8453. www.daltile.com.
Walker Zanger. Reflecting the designs of Southern France, Avignon Decoratif includes hand-carved borders, moldings, decos, dots, and liners in raised and relief patterns of chapelle, collier, and triellage. The company's manufacturing technique creates dual-color variations. Walker Zanger. (877) 611-0199. www.walkerzanger.com.
Crossville. Milestone Mosaics are the first through-body porcelain stone-look mosaics, according to the firm. The tiles measure 3 inches square and feature a multi-colored slate finish. The tiles come in 10 stone-look colors, including Granite Green, Desert Stone, and Moonrock. (800) 221-9093. www.crossville-ceramics.com.
Esquire. Inspired by a 15th-century Italian castle, Medici ceramic flooring offers the look of Old World stone. The line is available in two colors and a range of sizes, including 12- and 6-inch-square tiles, 3-by-12-inch trim, and 6-by-6-inch decos. (877) 370-5503. www.florimusa.com.
Ceramic Tiles of Italy. Tappeti Orientali from Arkadia features one of four decorative motifs inspired by Oriental rugs. The accents are part of the Terramadre porcelain tile series, which is available in four sizes. (212) 980-1500. www.italytile.com.
Alcalagres. Volcanes porcelain tiles feature Integral technology, which uses varied earth tones in the pressing process, creating different colored veins throughout the tiles, not just on the surface. The tile series includes four designs that come with a rustic finish. (877) 640-0555. www.alcalagres.com.
American Olean. With a naturally clefted surface and textured appearance, Quartzite Brasiliana glazed porcelain floor tile looks like Brazilian quartzite. The tiles come in four colors and the shades vary from tile to tile. Two sizes and a range of borders are available. (888) 268-8453. www.americanolean.com. <<img xlink:alt="" src="tcm:15-53344" style="WIDTH: 300px"> American Marazzi. Designed to reflect the variety of shades and colors of the wind- and water-swept expanses of the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon tile collection features color movement from light to dark, diverse surface patterns and textures, and multiple shades of color on each tile. The glazed ceramic tiles come in five colors and two sizes. (972) 226-0110. www.marazzitile.com.
Gres de Valls. Foresta porcelain tiles offer the look of wood in walnut, cherry, oak, and teak finishes. Suitable for indoor and outdoor use, the tiles are resistant to bending, abrasion, chemicals, stains, and scratches. www.tilespain.com.