By Megan Salzano
While the tile market is under pressure from the realistic visuals and waterproof technologies of resilient product lines, porcelain is taking its market share back through innovative new products. Porcelain slabs and pavers, in particular, have expanded tile’s possibilities within the home and helped grow its market share during a time of intense competition.
“Consumers today are looking for options that will make their spaces stand out above the rest,” said Mara Heras, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile. “New, fresh styles and larger sizes have increased options for residential applications. The potential for growth is unlimited.”
New tile technologies have helped forge this new place for porcelain, whether it’s the creation of unmatched wood and natural stone visuals or the unprecedented sizes—10 feet, 20mm and even 2cm thicknesses—now achievable. These opportunities have been a boon to tile manufacturers.
“The latest technologies have definitely helped these new categories grow our porcelain business in areas where the more traditional sizes and thicknesses had limited us before,” said Dave Pantaleo, senior product promoter, MSI.
Noah Chitty, technical director, Crossville, echoed Pantaleo’s sentiments, noting Crossville’s potential for growth with the new product segment. “The introduction of Crossville Porcelain Countertops really takes us into the countertop market unlike ever before. With these products, we now have surfacing solutions that directly compete with the most commonly preferred countertop materials.”
These new looks and sizes have not only allowed porcelain tile to enter rooms in the house previously thought unfeasible, but it has also allowed porcelain tile to take market share from adjacent categories. “Designers and consumers have a unique opportunity to let their imaginations run wild,” noted Ben Redding, director of counter- top sales and operations, Dal-Tile Corp., parent company of the Daltile brand. “If they’ve ever dreamt of using limestone in places limestone should never be used, [large-format slabs] can help them make those dreams come true. Or, if they’ve ever wished they could bathe a room in marble, now they can create that look at a fraction of the cost.”
‘Paving’ the way
Porcelain pavers have tapped a growing home design preference: outdoor living spaces. Consumers continue to push the boundaries of design by bringing livable space outside its four-wall confines, and newly designed porcelain pavers now allow consumers to seamlessly extend their interior design into their outdoor spaces.
“The trend for indoor-to-out-door transitional living continues, and porcelain pavers is an important offering for anyone looking to extend their internal living space to the outdoors,” Emser’s Heras noted.
Outside of the house, the 20mm tiles allow for the replacement of natural materials, such as stone, in all the areas, experts say. This includes areas such as decks, patios, swimming pool edges, pedestrian walkways, even outdoor furniture and myriad more. “Obviously, the reason why these products are so successful lies in the great qualities of porcelain stoneware itself,” said Mauro Manfredini, sales and marketing director, Casalgrande Padana. “It’s easy to clean and maintain, resistant to all types of wear, hygienic, frost-proof and non-absorbent with an aesthetic level that does not have equals in any other materials, compared to which it is often cheaper.”
MSI’s Arterra Porcelain Pavers offer all the features of natural stone pavers with the added benefits of porcelain.
Slabs open opportunities
The size and shape of today’s porcelain slabs have helped the category as a whole reach new heights. New porcelain tile slab installation possibilities and visuals also support consumer and new home construction trends, such as open floor plans, and have helped expand the category’s possibilities within the consumer’s home.
As such, tile manufacturers have noted the ongoing potential of residential porcelain slab usage. “These new, innovative products make it possible for specifiers to use porcelain in ways we once might not have even imagined,” Crossville’s Chitty noted.
Porcelain slabs have also expanded the design and aesthetic possibilities regarding how spaces are designed. “The large- format size combined with the fashion-driven designs and color options available let designers and homeowners achieve seamless, continuous design,” Daltile’s Redding said.
What’s more, what began as a product segment specified particularly for the commercial sector has finally taken hold within residential spaces and given the slab segment—and those that supply it—a boost. “The unlimited design capabilities paired with superior technical performances made porcelain slabs a desirable material to be used not only in commercial settings but more and more in residential projects,” explained Michele Ballarin, director of Florim Stone – North America market. “Flooring, interior cladding, kitchen counters, vanities, furniture cladding—these are only a few of the applications where the porcelain slabs have been used in the home.”
Casalgrande Padana’s Manfredini noted that today’s porcelain stoneware is particularly useful for kitchen counter- tops as it carries all the advantages of porcelain and can replace the materials once used. “For kitchen countertops, porcelain slabs are ideal because it is a 100% healthy material, does not have any kind of harmful emissions, is very easy to clean, has a lifetime duration and it can be proposed in a huge number of aesthetic options.”
Manufacturers agree that any time application opportunities are expanded a category has the potential to thrive. Today’s porcelain slabs and pavers are leading that opportunity for tile and its full potential is yet to be seen. “We’re quite early in the game and look forward to seeing the potential unfold,” Chitty said.