With global travel restrictions and lockdowns restricting the usual round of sales presentations, showroom tours, and global tile events, more emphasis is being placed on digital communication platforms. International correspondent Joe Simpson reports on what happened when the Coverings trade show was called off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cancellation of Coverings, the largest tile and stone exhibition in North America, came after most of the big factories had already selected the latest designs to spotlight, prepared supporting photography and literature, and designed the stands.

As soon as Tile Today was informed that the New Orleans event was off, I wrote to all exhibitors to ask them to forward their product information. My aim was to compile a virtual Coverings story, the edited highlights of a show that never was.

The manufacturers’ response was overwhelming. In the course of editing and selecting from this massive mountain of material, some clear trends emerged along with a few real gems.

Emerging trends

One tile design I was most looking forward to seeing at Coverings was the influence of maximalism, with its emphasis on colour and pattern. This has led to fresh directions like the bright, bold, colourful marble-effects that so caught the imagination at Cevisama in Spain back in February.

With Wabi Sabi, or deliberate imperfection, also influential in design, many top European tile manufacturers have gone back to their roots and reinvented glaze effects, patterns, and formats from tile’s glorious historical heritage.

Peronda is a brand that has perfected the Wabi Sabi distressed-effect look, with care-worn decors. It has managed better than any other tile maker to translate a Japanese world view centred on the acceptance of transience and irregularity, delivering beautiful tiles that are “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

The growth of inside-out design has fuelled the expansion of 20mm thick external grade tiling. Some factories have chosen to specialise in this area, producing 20mm tile lines for their own catalogue, and exterior grade tiles for other brands who do not have the production capacity in this specialised area.

Factories are now able to produce so many different formats such as 1,200 by 1,200mm floor tiles, extra wide and long plank formats, and every other format down to the classic 100 by 100mm. So in the 2020 tile market, anything goes including matte, satin, and gloss glaze combinations, geometric shapes, 3D forms, textured reliefs, and historical architectural styles like Art Deco. All these trends would have come together in New Orleans in a glorious banquet of ceramic eye-candy and technical porcelains.

Visitors to Coverings may have been drawn to Ceramica Sant’Agostino’s Lakewood featuring oiled wood-effect planks with a hand-planed surface, or Vallelunga’s Cava range of satin finish marble designs. Or would they have preferred the SICIS Vetrite Gem Glass line of 13 semi-precious stones captured and amplified between giant sheets of glass. Another potential star was Refin’s Stardust that combines the nebulous veining of alabaster with elegant metallic effects.

One design direction that would have turned heads is rare marbles and semi-precious stones shown alongside tiles with a pearlescent finish such as Rhapsody by Naxos, Oro by LaFaenza, Onyx & More by Casa Dolce Casa, Moon Stone by CoEm, Infinito by Fondovalle, and Nolita by Vallelunga.

I also think that visitors to New Orleans would have loved the latest sculpted wall tiles like Peronda’s Donna range, the Underground collection from Keraben or Natucer’s fantastic Custom d’Autore series. In all these ranges, the emphasis is on creating authentic, one-of-a-kind looks.

New Orleans would have provided further evidence that sculpted, shaped, and decorated tiles — with ridges and creases through to more sculptural surfaces like boiserie — are enjoying a full-scale revival. Ample evidence comes in the form of Cevica’s Chintz, Roca’s Rockart, Apavisa’s Intuition, Valelunga’s Soffio, Made+39’s Drapes, Atlas Concorde’s Aix, Fap’s Lumina, Piemme’s Materia, and Vogue’s Dekorami.

I was also keenly awaiting the tropical garden vibe, encapsulated by the Tahiti tiles from 14 Ora Italiana. More tile manufacturers have drawn on horticultural illustration to create bold floral forms on XXL porcelain slabs. The resulting hyper-realistic wallpaper-effects takes “tile” to another dimension. Outstanding examples include Colli di Sassuolo’s Extra, Florim’s I Filati di Rex, Francesco de Maio’s Verde Verticale, Casalgrande Padana’s Limpha, Emilceramica’s Tele di Marmo Revolution, Fap’s Nux, Ragno’s Maiora, and Vallelunga’s I-Sense.

Manufacturers are marketing these products as ceramic wallpaper, offering digitally printed patterns on gauged porcelain panels. To my mind, the leader in this arena is ABK that has introduced the Dark Edition capsule collection — inspired by the Gothic side of nature — to its peerless Wide&Style portfolio.

Marazzi is leading the way among tile companies looking back to their own history for contemporary inspiration, with its Crogiolo series.

But my personal preference is for ranges that reference the 1960s and 70s. Featuring psychedelic colours, playful geometries, and trippy patterns this should be a fertile design field for years to come. Examples include Aparici’s Altea, Arcana’s Komi, Imola Ceramica’s Let It Bee, Vives’ Pop Art, Ceramica Vietrese’s Oro di Napoli, Bardelli’s Fleurs, Caesar’s Join, Emilceramica’s Dimore, Fioranese’s Cementine OpenAir, Marca Corona’s Paprica, and Ornamenta’s Décor.

Wood-effect tiles remain a major trend this year, with a vast number of styles and timber varieties available. A great alternative to real timber, today’s wood-effect tiles offer unmatched durability and style. The beauty of timber grain, now enhanced by some of the leading manufacturers with dual-printer technology, comes to the fore in the larger plank formats. BUt timber-effects can also play to the shabby chic and country cottage aesthetic, with distressed tiles and faux parquet looks.

It is pleasing to note that we are now seeing wood-effects make an impact on wall applications, and emerge in unexpected forms, such as hexagons. Good examples include Provenza’s Alter, Piemme’s Materia, Emilceramica’s Millelegni Remake, Floor Gres’s B&W Marble, and Sant’Agostino’s Timewood.

Given post-modernism’s recent comeback, it is not surprising that seminato surfaces have returned. Micro and macro fragments, technicolour dots, and playful interpretations of terrazzo have all played a starring role in dozens of new range introductions. The best examples include Casalgrande Padana’s Macro, Refin’s Risseu, Del Conca’s Frammenti, Ergon’s Medley, and Florim’s Le Palladiane di Rex.

Hexagonal tiles and fish scale tiles are still very popular. They are sharing the limelight with rhombus-shapes and dots or larger circular tiles.

Stand overview

The following companies would have exhibited at Coverings. Here, we list some of the major tile brands and the products that would have been showcased in-person.

Blaze wall tiles from Iris Ceramica come in a classic 100 by 300mm metro format. Featuring a matte, shaded surface, Blaze has a neutral colour palette with precious metal tones in four matte colours, complemented by four different glossy decorated backgrounds: Decor Yellow, Decor Pink, Decor Avio, and Decor Grey. The elegantly linear, simple motifs are counterbalanced by a careful gradation, giving any room a glamorous gold effect. The matte finish plain tiles, all 7.5mm thick, are available in Yellow, Pink, Avio, and Grey.

The concept of “authenticity” has driven tile manufacturers towards ceramic surfaces that offer both visual and tactile appeal, what may be thought of as authentic simulations. This is clearly evident in the new generation of wood-effect tiles, like Blustyle’s Green Wood. These porcelain stoneware slabs have a hyper-realistic finish that evokes the true beauty of the natural timber itself. The range offers three colour shades: Ash, Oak, and Bay. These highly durable 9.5mm-thick 200 by 1,200mm plank format floor tiles are both elegant and sophisticated.

The Royal Stone and Great Royal Stone collections by Iris Group brand Porcelaingres are billed as the creative meeting place between the solid heft of stone and the timeless elegance of marble. Royal Stone comes in a traditional tile format while Great Royal Stone is made in XXL slabs. Combined together they are suitable for both interior design projects and outdoor spaces. Royal Stone is available in five colours: Black Diamond, Imperial Brown, Palladium Grey, Noble Beige, and Platinum White (indoor and outdoor). Great Royal Stone comes in three colours: Platinum White, Palladium Grey, and Black Diamond.

Maiora, the concrete-inspired slimline large slab range from Ragno, is now being produced in a 1,200 by 2,780mm rectified format in three main colours: Bianco, Grigio Chiaro, and Grigio Scuro. This new size, to be offered alongside those already in the range, provides slabs able to cover the full height of a standard wall, with no cuts or additions.

Adding impact to this eye-catching range is Maiora Concrete Effect Botanical, the decor that reflects the world of nature and floral patterns. It comprises three modules of 1,200 by 2,780mm that can be used individually and together, with horizontal graphic continuity between the three slabs. Two new colours have been added to the range. Paonazzetto, inspired by the highly prized Carrara marble of the same name, has a white and pale yellow background with very deep, striking vein patterns ranging from shades of green to purples and blacks. Bianco Extra, is a selection of choice Statuario marble with an exceptionally white background, variegated by subtle black vein patterns.

Ariostea’s XXL format Crystal reinterprets the mineral world in top-of-the-range porcelain stoneware. Available in soft shades of Dark, Grey and Sky, the texture of the Crystal range is characterised by inclusions that add depth to the surface. The large 3,000 by 1,500mm format, 6mm thick, is ideal to convey the delicate design nuances that explore tones of grey and powder blue. Crystal is also available in 1,500 by 1,500mm, 1,500 by 750mm, 750 by 750mm, and 750 by 375mm, all with a gloss finish.

Ceramiche Refin had chosen Coverings 2020 to present its latest spring collections to the US market. When the event was cancelled, Refin chose to virtually recreate the stand designed for the show in a digital experience that allowed customers to see a preview of the collections that would have been on display.

These included Prestigio Onyx, a range that reinterprets onyx in a contemporary style. The attention to detail and colour contrasts define a surface with refined aesthetic depth. It offers a choice of two surfaces, Soft and Lucido (shiny) and three delicate shades: White, Grey, and Beige. The formats are 750 by 1,500mm, 750 by 750mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 600mm, plus a 300 by 300mm gloss mosaic.

Also new from Refin is Pedra Azul, which draws inspiration from a limestone sourced from the Iberian Peninsula. The surface is characterised by a slightly wavy graphic, in which light areas and dark ring marks alternate in a gentle harmony of forms. The presence of delicate fossil inclusions embellishes and defines a skilfully balanced surface.

The colour Natural is faithful to the original material, and flanked by the earthy, warm Greige, the light-coloured Ivory, and the Grey cold nuance.

A structured version is added to the matte finish, characterised by light, regular incisions that run along the surface in a longitudinal direction, giving it continuity and liveliness. The range is completed with two mosaics: one with regular tiles and the other, Mosaico Mix, that alternates matte and structured surfaces of different sizes.

ABK’s latest collections include Atlantis, an elegant stone-effect range inspired by volcanic stone. Here, neutral, dusty colours are interrupted by veins of varying intensity, giving each piece a natural and distinctive look.

Atlantis comes in four different finishes. The natural version stands out for its sober, contemporary sophistication. The lapped surface is tasteful, and the hammered surface offers a digital reproduction of the manual stone working technique. The non-slip R11 grip finish version, essential for outdoor applications, is available in both 9mm and 20mm thicknesses (OUT.20 section).

This range can be used in many applications including floors, walls, countertops and furniture surfacing. The colour options are Smoke, Grey, Sand, Moon, and Taupe.

Iroc from Antica Ceramica Rubiera is suitable for floor and wall applications in residential and commercial buildings, both indoors and out. This through-body porcelain stoneware range is offered in Greige, White, Multicolor, and Black. The 9.5mm thick 600 by 1,200mm rectified gres tiles have an R10 slip rating, while the 9mm thick natural finish 310 by 620mm porcelain tiles have an R9 rating. Additional design options are provided by matching listellos and 310 by 310mm mosaic tiles.

Ariana’s Luce collection combines the visual appeal of plaster with an on-trend colour palette specially created for the world of contemporary architecture and interior design. The collection’s elegant minimal chic aesthetic is enhanced by the translucent effect of the surface, which varies in intensity according to the ambient lighting conditions.

Luce comes in six cultivated colours. Along with the two shades, Verderame and Gold that arte reminiscent of brushed metal surfaces, there are four other colours that feature a manual trowelled effect and are inspired by plaster and resin palettes: Piombo (Lead), Peltro (Pewter), Acciaio (Steel), and Perla (Pearl).

Its decorative potential is enhanced by the small white body 50 by 250mm brick format tiles, which are available in both satin and gloss finishes.

Luce surfaces can be combined with the Ariana Decora slabs, which allow the field tiles to be customised with metallic screen-printed effects in 1,200 by 2,700mm, and 600 by 1,200mm sizes.

Blustyle by Cotto d’Este has added to its portfolio of contemporary Italian ceramics for commercial and residential settings. It was originally intended to make Coverings the launch pad for three new series: Élite, Green Wood, and Outdoor. The last two are fairly self-explanatory. Elite, however, is something a bit different. The range takes the timeless charm of precious marbles and reinterprets them with surprising realism. The search for natural inspiration stretched from the most prestigious Italian quarries, through Spain, to the African hinterland.

The resulting collection offers six types of marble, including two genuine classics: Calacatta, and Statuario. Onice offers voluptuous shades with a luminescent effect. An exquisite grey colour with thin irregular white veins in the Fior Di Bosco is particularly versatile thanks to the simplicity of its marbled structure. Pietra Grey has a charcoal grey background crossed by thin white veins, while Dark Brown is distinguished by its dark colour and warm veins.

This collection is presented in the traditional 10mm thickness in 600 by 1,200mm, 600 by 600mm, and 300 by 600mm formats. The collection is completed by book matched or “macchia aperta” compositions.

Join by Ceramiche Caesar combines the modernity of concrete with organic nature of resin in one product. The collection has a precious, material feel, with a softness to the surface finish and impressive adaptability of use.

There are four innovative surface finishes. Soft, with a tactile finish gives the product a sense of originality to a setting. Matt R10 A+B is ideal for combining performance levels with aesthetics. This finish is suitable for settings which require an increased anti-slip coefficient without compromising on the pleasant feel of the surface.

Graph is inspired by the continuous brushing resin application technique. This finish creates a three-dimensional surface, with a fine 3D scoring that can bring originality to any space.

Aextra20 is characterised by a structure that guarantees a R11 A+B+C non-slip coefficient and a thickness of 20 mm. This finish can enhance outdoor living.

The tactile nature and structure of the Ceramiche Caesar tiles are unveiled in the 10 different colours, seven sizes and three thicknesses available, ranging from inviting shades of grey to ethereal white and imposing black. There are also three colour accents. Completing the range are the Dusk, Hoop, Reed and Deco decorations and a number of special pieces.

Stemming from the collaboration between Ceramica Bardelli and Meneghello Paolelli Associati, Zip is a collection of designer tiles with a bold twist that transforms ceramic tiling into a dynamic visual system. The 600 by 600mm and 600 by 1,200mm rectified porcelain tiles, 10mm thick, are available with shaped edges to create unusual decorative effects reminiscent of the full and empty volumes of zips.

With their matte finish and uniform surface texture, the three colours of Zip — Anthracite Black, Ivory White and Antique Terracotta — act as a neutral background capable of enriching the decorative role of the joints. These form an essential element of the design, bringing the tiles together in a single, continuous surface.

Flaviker’s new Re_Tour collection marks a symbolic return to a material from the past, a distinctive French stone that has been reprocessed in accordance with the industrial-style mood board used for the company’s latest-generation products. Re_Tour reproduces the aesthetic appeal of French rustic stones in large sizes (1,200 by 1,20 0mm for floors and 1,200 by 2,700mm for walls), exploiting the material’s varied colours.

Produced in four colours – Fog, Mud, Ivory and Rope – the range is also available in 600 by 600mm, 600 by 1,200mm, and 900 by 900mm sizes, as well as a pre-mixed selection of three different formats that offers wide scope for composition. The collection’s vintage appeal also makes it ideal for creative mix and match solutions together with the latest wood, metal and marble effect surfaces from the Flaviker catalogue.

Heritage by Ricchetti redefines the concept of a romantic lifestyle. The collection is modelled on a recycled stone that originally came from castles in the South of France. The calculated, uneven texture and shaped edges embellish the surface and the material, highlighting the nuanced effects that help create an aged, artisan appearance.

An eclectic decoration, either installed alone or with the base tile, either randomly or to create a rug effect, makes this a suitable range for many types of light commercial and residential use, in floor and wall applications. Thirteen different graphic patterns are available in all the colours – Blanc, Sable, Cendre, Noir and Multicolor – and mixed randomly in the boxes (10 tiles per box).

Dekorami is a collection of glazed stoneware tiles designed by the Marcante-Testa firm for Ceramica Vogue. The design of the 3D structures uses simple geometric shapes that bring to mind decorative elements from the past, as suggested by their names: Kolonne, Koriandoli and Kodici. It features three designs in the 260 by 260mm format, available in Blue, Green, Seta and White, and is characterized by the brightness of its glazes. A softer matte version in White is available in any of the designs. A selection of backgrounds and décor details complete the collection.

If Florim had been able to appear at Coverings, the focus would have been on Magnum Oversize XXL porcelain slabs, displayed in many different applications. For example, contemporary and minimalist indoor and outdoor settings using Floor Gres (B&W_Marble), Rex products (i filati di rex, and les bijous de rex), and Casa dolce Casa – Casamood (Motion and Onyx&More), and Cerim (Rock Salt e Elemental Stone).

All of this would have been enhanced by the use of FlorimStone surfaces for applications requiring thicker materials such as countertops and furniture, and design surfaces from CEDIT, Florim’s ultimate designer tile brand.

Inspired by an exquisite natural stone, Kron is offered in a choice of three neutral backgrounds that sit behind criss-crossing fine white. The collection offers a choice of three different shades of grey. The palest, Pearl, and mid tone, Gray, are ideal for creating restful settings while the darker option, Charcoal, creates surfaces with added personality and drama. It comes in a 2,600 by 1,000mm format in a natural finish.

The Kron 4D collection is designed to harmonise with other designs by Museum such as Supreme 4D and Calacatta 4D marble-effects, Witsman Oak and Sherwood Oak 4D wood-effects, Lave stone effect, and Iron 4D metallic-effect ranges.

Odine by Argenta is a stoneware tile inspired by aged marble. The veins bear the markings of the passage of time, while preserving its rich variety of details. This range has a natural elegance that stands out thanks to the warmth of its smooth matte finish. The medium and large formats (300 by 600mm unrectified and 600 by 1,200mm rectified), used in Argenta Cerámica’s porcelain range, make this a very commercial product.

Metallica by Armonie is a hybrid project that combines the most appealing aesthetic aspects of two contemporary materials: cement and metal. The material texture of the first is enhanced by the marks left by the incessant course of time on the second in a play of muted oxidation and delicate colours. Interpreted in four shades in 300 by 600mm, 600 by 600mm, and 600 by 1,200mm formats, Metallica offers a touch of metropolitan style with added industrial appeal.

Century, part of the Fincibec Group, has added Stonerock to its portfolio. This stone-effect porcelain stoneware range features characteristic veining, with a bold directional orientation emphasised by elegant variations in hue. The grip surface, available in the normal thickness or a 20mm option, is specifically intended for outdoor spaces.

This range comes in five colours: White Stone, Light Stone, Ash Stone, Rust Stone, and Black Stone. The format options are 600 by 1,200mm, 600 by 600mm, 300 by 600mm, and 150 by 150mm with a natural surface and rectified edges; 300 by 600mm with a grip surface and rectified edges; and 300 by 600mm with a structured surface and rectified edges. There is also a mosaic on mesh backing, skirting, L-shaped pieces, steps, large step, corner step and special pool pieces. The 20mm thick option comes in 500 by 1,000mm and has an R11 A+B+C slip resistance rating.

NovaBell’s BrickUp is a 3D range that combines the look of natural materials with all the convenience of porcelain stoneware. Vibrant BrickUp surfaces create strikingly realistic walls, and are suitable for all uses, both indoors and outdoors. The two Ocean and Street modules, in association with the corner special trims, enable the realisation of unbroken wall coverings. Alternate installation and tone-on-tone grouting reinforce the material’s tactile power and form more realistic surfaces.

The stone and wood looks of the BrickUp modules have a rich assortment of patterning and precise natural details. The collection’s three-dimensional surfaces are still very easy to clean. This tactile, pleasantly textured material is water-repellent and does not retain dirt, making it particularly suitable for locations such as bathrooms and kitchens.