Décor tiles – reinventing wall design

by Darren
Decor tiles reinventing

A sustainable choice: Ceramic tiles offer many benefits with styles to fit any design.


In a cyclical way, fashion and design gets reinvented now and then, with old styles coming back with a new twist by designers putting an innovative spin on bygone days.

“With inspiration coming from all fashion spheres, be it fabrics, clothing or art, the key for local architects and designers is to take note of the latest style trends and apply it to suit the local cultures and environment. South Africa’s diversity creates endless opportunities for architects to do something creative and push the boundaries in their designs,” says Rita Del Mei-Papadopoulos, co-owner of the local ceramic tile manufacturer Studio Del Mei.

This year, according to Del Mei-Papadopoulos, decorative tiles are one of the hottest trends on the tile scene worldwide and it is bringing a vintage touch with it.

Richard Nuss, Marketing Manager at Tile Africa Contracts, adds that wall tiles are becoming more dramatic, colourful and textured. “We have also seen semi-transparent ceramics enter the market, although this technology is still probably a year or two away from local production.”

“With the advent of Inkjet technology, beautiful layered designs are possible and have been shown all over Europe, such as at Cersaie 2013 and Cevisama 2014. Glossy, textured tiles are also gaining ground in the commercial market, whether it is on wood or concrete designs – quite a contrast from the expected matt finishes normally associated with these designs,” he says.

2014’s most fashionable styles, highlighted by Del Mei-Papadopoulos, are:

• Vintage
As a continuation of the vintage and wallpaper styles, flower themes as well as kitchen utensils such as coffee cups and spoons printed on large format tiles are choices that are blended into modern spaces. It is all about adding these little elegant details.

• Patterns
Heavily patterned Victorian and bohemian styles fused with sophisticated interpretations of concrete and cement are also at the top of the list.

• Texture
Texture takes centre stage with collections inspired by natural wood that replicates the wooden finish. Adding to the artistic look are borders that serve as accents.

• Muted colours
Nature-inspired hues with whites, off-whites, beiges, browns and grey are the most popular colours at the moment. In addition, splashes of green and yellow undertones can brighten things up, adds Nuss.

• Metallics
Mostly applied as accents on smaller building features, the gold, silver and bronze metallic colours and finishes create eye-catching focal points. The finishes range in gloss and texture, resulting in various degrees of reflection and shine.

• Patchwork
Patchwork tiles, which mix and match many different small designs and shapes on the bigger tile sizes, are applied to large areas or in smaller sections as wall features.

• Subway and smaller sized tiles
Bringing a little romance from France, the subway tile’s popularity is growing once again as a fresh architectural shape and size. These 100 x 200mm tiles, as well as other smaller sized, customised tiles create unique focal points, but their use is somewhat restricted because only a select few tile companies manufacture tiles on specification.

Custom designs
According to Del Mei-Papadopoulos, with screen printing, custom designs in several colours can be printed on tiles and one can choose which type of glaze, décor and surface finish to apply. It is also easy to cut these tiles to custom sizes, even small quantities.

“The manufacturing techniques for ceramic tiles mean that architects can come up with any idea of their own and create unique styles fitted to their projects,” she comments.

Application: cladding
According to Nuss, tile cladding, both on the inside and outside of buildings, is growing both internationally and locally as its lifecycle is so much longer than painted walls. This is also an easy way to add details on facades.

“The long-lasting nature of tiles, along with its resilience against stains and scratches, remains unparalleled. If done properly, these surfaces will need little maintenance or care and will last for many years, in some cases decades,” he says.

Minimise installation challenges
“The challenge is to ensure that the correct products are specified and used, and that good workmanship is followed,” Sharon Margon, technical advisor at TAL, states.

“When selecting tiles for a project, it is important to verify that the tile is suitable for the application, preferably against a written supplier’s specification. Factors such as water absorption, irreversible moisture expansion, modus of rupture (MOR) and Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) ratings, chemical resistance and overall stability of the product need to meet the requirements of the service conditions,” she explains.

“Whilst the aesthetic finish of the installation is the specifier’s first priority, all the factors should be taken into consideration at the project design stage, and a detailed materials and methods specification should be issued. This specification should act as a benchmark and control document before, during and after any contract to ensure that contractors tender on the correct products, and that they do not deviate from the specification on site. 

“On site, the tiling subcontractor will need a flat, level and integrally sound surface and the main contractor should ensure that the substrate is of a quality and consistency suitable to receive tiling. Incorrect or inadequate preparation can result in the adhesive and tile delaminating or debonding from the substrate, resulting in an installation failure.”

Margon further mentions that tile manufacturers include important instructions regarding the installation of their products on their packaging. Reading and following these are crucial when installing tiles, as is using a skilled tiling contractor.

“The use of the correct adhesive and grout systems are equally as important,” she adds. “These must cater not only for the selected tile, but also for the traffic conditions, expected movement, chemical attack and other extraneous effects that can adversely affect an installation. Allowing the completed installation to completely cure before being trafficked or exposed to subsequent service conditions is also imperative.”

Adhesives: new improvements
“On the adhesives front, our products nowadays have low volatile organic compounds (VOC) content to conform to the VOC requirements stipulated by the Green Building Council of South Africa,” indicates Margon.

Another innovation is one-component, flexible adhesives that do not require additives or surface priming agents. The adhesive is simply mixed with clean water and therefore mixing errors that may occur on site are alleviated.

Large-format tiles (600 x 600mm, 600 x 1 200mm, 1 000 x 1 000mm, and up to 1 000 x 2 000mm) further necessitated the formulation of a pourable, high-strength and rapid-setting adhesive specially formulated to provide good wet-out on large-format tiles to ensure solid bedding with no buttering required on the tile backs. However, due to the flowable nature of pourable adhesives they are only suitable for floor tiling.

Whether designing a new building or doing a renovation, ceramic tiles remain one of the most efficient options.

According to an article in Cerespaña 32, apart from their durability and low maintenance requirements, because ceramic tiles’ porosity can be controlled, heat transfer can be managed, and a building’s thermal functioning can be improved. By correcting thermal bridges energy cost savings of as much as between 25% and 40% for heating and cooling is possible.

In addition, ceramic tiles ensure better sound insulation and reduce noise pollution by an average of between 10% and 20%.

Chaitan Manga, general manager at TAL, adds that sustainability is largely driven by Europe and there are many raw materials that are now cross-functional in use.

“This works well for us as South Africa has adopted EN standards for adhesives and therefore raw materials are compatible in the production process,” he says. “It is important that manufacturers employ rigid quality control measures.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Studio Del Mei, Ceraspaña 32, TAL and Tile Africa for the information given to write this article.

2014 trends in a nutshell:


– Vintage.
– Patterns and texture.
– Muted colours.
– Metallics.
– Patchwork.
– Subway tiles.
– Cladding. 


– Low VOC content.
– One-component adhesives that do not require additives or priming agents.
– Pourable, high-strength and rapid-setting adhesives.
– Lightweight and low-dust adhesives coming soon.

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