On the inaugural day of the 36th edition of Cersaie, FLOORS in Africa Editor in Chief, Marlene van Rooyen, joined 200 international journalists at the Palazzo Re Enzo in the heart of Bologna to hear from leading minds in the Italian tile industry. Cersaie Vice President, Emilio Mussini, presented the data of the sector.
“In 2017, we increased the value of Italian production. We have exceeded the €5.5 billion total turnover, which has been growing to this point over the past six years,” says Emilio.
Worldwide, the Italian ceramic tile industry is a €6-billion industry, with 73% dedicated to exports, 13% to domestic sales and 14% to internationalisation. The flooring products that are produced in Italy account for 35% of the market share, with China claiming a 25% share. President of ITA-Italian Trade Agency, Michele Scannavini, gave an overview of the challenges the Italian tile sector continues to face.
“Italian tiles are more expensive than foreign imports, so we are still experiencing pressure from the East, but this doesn’t mean that our market segment is sinking. Recent data shows that 73% of Italian tiles are still being exported, which reaffirms our track record for producing beautiful, quality products. But competition has become faster and fiercer, which is why we need to continue to invest in the industry,” says Michele.
The Italian government invests in several initiatives to help drive growth in the tile industry. Out of every Euro the government invests in the tile sector, they receive 4 or 5 Euros back. At 70.5%, the region in Italy that is dedicated to tile production has the highest employment rate, making social development and providing support infrastructure key priority areas of the ITA-Italian Trade Agency.
“The Italian tile sector is a public initiative that has five times return on investment. It’s something our government believes in and invests in, which means we all have a responsibility to look after the industry and its people. The world is evolving fast and we need to keep pace with digital developments. Today’s successful manufacturers are leading the way in terms of technological development, management and operational costs. Italian tile manufacturers know that we can no longer simply focus on producing premium products – we need to be more efficient and cost-effective to compete internationally,” said Michele.
Despite adding 5 000m² of new pavilions and exhibition space to Cersaie, all the spaces were sold out six months before the 2018 event. And the recent expansion is only the first phase of a redevelopment.
“In 2024, we will bring the exhibition area to 270 000m². At the 2018 edition, among the pavilions, there are 840 exhibitors from 40 countries, and 181 bathroom furniture exhibitors, with the representation of complete Italian parquet. Also included are some important companies that have not participated in some previous editions. The vice president of Confindustria Ceramica then covered the most important aspects of the event, also recalling the importance of architecture competitions,” says Emilio.
Trends, hot products, technology and things that caught our eye
Tiles come in any shape and size
Manufacturers continue to outdo each other with extra-large tiles. From 5x3m tiles with widths that vary from 2mm to 20mm, larger-than-life tile slabs were prevalent at the 2018 event. Large format tiles have moved into a space where there is no longer a standard size as manufacturers can cut a tile to any size that is desired.
Mixing textures, tones and materials
Manufacturers continue to trailblaze with the ways they express creativity through mixing textures. A common theme was to create tiles that have a carpet-like fabric look, giving the tiles depth and character. Sant’Agostino’s tiles showed a weft of entwined stripes, perfectly mimicking a carpet that has been set in concrete. Lots of textures were combined with unique materials such as high gloss marmer, terrazzo as well as mixing and matching digitally printed fibres with watercolours.
Brands are finding ways to tweak vintage inspired looks, oxidized metals, wood and old graphics to create unique aesthetics. Thanks to digital printing, virtually any look and texture can be achieved. Many manufacturers are also commissioning artists to create once-off works of art on their tiles.
Where stone and metal meet
This year, stone and metal were increasingly paired to create beautiful tile products. American minimalist sculptor and artist, Richard Serra, who is best known for working with large-scale assemblies of sheet metal, gave a presentation on this trend. During his talk, Richard showed how iron panels, copper brass, metal sheets and oxidated steel are being used for indoor and outdoor tiles. He uses special cutting techniques to create bathroom tiles and small tiles.
The details of the veins and prints of tiles border on the obsessive, with brands outdoing each other in the technology they use to create the perfect replications. Some of the products that caught our attention in this category are tiles that look like quartz with gold veining and micronized glitter effects embedded into the pattern. English artist and collector, Damien Hirst, gave a presentation on the ancient art of marble and discussed the elegant finishes that are now being created through polishing marble to such an extent that it shines.
“Ceramics have become a masterpiece because you can combine your passion with it,” said Damien.
Christina Faedi, Marketing Director for Cersaie, said that 270 tile attempts are produced before the first tile prototype sees the light of day, which shows the painstaking attention to detail that manufacturers are taking.
A number of brands also showcased continuous surfaces with marble, stone and concrete effects, with concrete being one of the flooring products that caught our attention. Manufacturers are linking the latest technology with concrete floors of the past in absolutely innovative ways. We saw glossy, smooth concrete-like tiles as well as concrete-like counter tips that were very refined. The shades are becoming lighter and brands are developing their own textures by experimenting with rough surfaces.
The wood-look trend
One of the trends that stood out the most was wood, with manufacturers creating hyper-real grain patterns and combinations of wood that do not exist in nature, such as combining the warmth of oak and walnut with interplays of colour from digital printing. The wood-look collections were available in every colour imaginable, either in large-format broad patterns or trapezoidal shapes, making them ideal for popular patterns such as herringbone.
Some manufacturers are combining masculine wood with textures that imitate tobacco, leather, as well as greasy oil marks and dark shades that look almost burnt, as if the wood has been reclaimed from a building that had gone down in flames. A traditional Japanese technique used to preserve and finish wood using fire, called shou sugi ban – was used by Versace Ceramics to create their Eterno range of tiles that has the charred, tactile motif rendered by digital printers. Gold inlay tracing is then used to frame the trim of the bordering to create a unique effect.
Shapes and patterns
Dotty patterns and spots were a theme this year, as were combining geometric shapes with other shapes. Combining traditional techniques and new technology to create functional art was a hot trend, with many brands creating both bold and subtle Moroccan-inspired designs.
Technology and customisation
Virtual reality kits were at many of the stands, giving attendees the opportunity to not only customise their own tiles and layouts, but to see what their chosen design would look like in 3D. One manufacturer teamed up with a university and a start-up software development company to create an app that can be used on smartphones and tablets. The app combines virtual and augmented reality techniques, enabling users to measure real spaces and create a 3D model that can be customised and visualised virtually, all in real time, on a mobile device.
Main image: IRIS Ceramica Group
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