Miami, Fla.—During Tile of Spain’s Coverings Connected press conference held earlier this week, Ryan Fasan, Tile of Spain’s technical consultant and tile and stone expert, outlined the state of Spanish tile in the U.S., its influencers and leading trends that point to opportunity ahead.
“This has been a very pivotal year, and 2019 was a pivotal year leading up to it as well,” he said. “There were a lot of things that set the stage for us to be able to cope with what has happened in 2020. There is a lot of optimism that can be taken from that, and there are some interesting things that have shaken out over this year.”
According to Fasan, one of the bright spots for the Spanish sector is its rise in the U.S. despite a bearish market for the second year in a row. Spanish tile imports to the U.S. grew 5.81% over 2019, accounting for one-fifth of total U.S. imports by volume. Imports grew as well, rising 6.83% over 2019 to account for more than one-fifth of U.S. total imports by value.
“The market is losing share a little bit; less than 10% over the past two years,” Fasan explained. “Despite that, by the final quarter of this year, Spain has risen to the No. 1 exporter to the U.S. by volume and second highest by value. What that means for us in terms of what you’re going to see from the Spanish sector is that it’s very focused on North America colors, design preferences and needs.”
Another major market challenge that lent itself to Spanish tile’s success in the U.S. was the adoption of anti-dumping tariffs. In November of last year, after receiving a petition from a coalition of eight U.S. tile producers claiming injury, the U.S. Commerce Department made a determination that Chinese exporters had dumped ceramic tile in the U.S. market at less-than-fair value. The department has imposed hefty duties—this is on top of the current Section 301 tariffs imposed on ceramic tile.
“That has meant a 98% decline in imports of Chinese ceramics into the U.S. market,” Fasan said. “A lot of that happened to be in specialized categories—something the Chinese supply chains specialized in such as small, mosaic formats. As a highly specialized and technical segment, it’s not easy to step in to fill that gap without a seasoned workforce and plants set up for it. Spain has been one of the major countries of export that really stepped in to fill that void.”
Fasan added that it also taught the manufacturing sector a way to develop product lines that are responsive to a declining market demand and still provide vibrant options. “All of this has built a story that has let Spain really flourish in a very difficult market.”
Leading macro trends
During the event, Fasan highlighted five macro trends he believes will have an impact on tile design today and into 2021. “Trends, by definition, are an evolution of what came before,” he explained. “To get a clear vision of what this year’s progression will look like, we reach far afield to see what’s trending in ubiquitous fields that will affect social consciousness.”
The five key macro trends are as follows:
“Surrounded by unrelenting uncertainty for a year, we find deep connection to simple things with transparent value and honest, relatable context. This trend supports natural materials with few embellishments; flat color, mid-spectrum tones; and basic geometries. Some of the most effective programs for 2021 are the seemingly simplest ones. There is great attraction in creating spaces that embody mindfulness.”
“Little Greta [Thunberg] reminded us of our responsibility to our collective mother. Isolation taught us the importance of green and living things to lift our spirits, improve our air and give us something to care for.”
Tile rediscovers its deep roots this year with a plentitude of programs embracing the aspect of fired earth. From classic small formats to large tiles through gauged porcelain slabs and panels, we’re seeing the tones and movement of raw earth re-enter the state of essential neutrals for 2021. Light and dark—the natural and raw aesthetic of simply worked timber is a common bedfellow of simple clays and plant life. These simple and natural materials references are gaining ground this year.
“When we look to recreate other materials this year, we are looking to reveal their soul—the quintessential essence that makes a stone as stone, nothing more. As we refine technology the mimicry possible is staggering. What impresses most, though, is when restraint is used to keep things simple.”
There is increased attention to subtle texture and softly variegated finish. Metals, woods, concrete and stone looks are taking a softer approach to embellishment this year. Luxury products are restrained instead of ostentatious. It’s the attention to detail that speaks luxury louder than embellishments could.
“We have never been forced to look more closely at how our spaces perform and satisfy our needs. More importantly, what do they ask of us to maintain and sanitize? Advanced gauging allows us to select the ideal format for any use-case and design for flexible livability without sacrificing style.
“It’s time to think about frequently abused, touched and used areas and design for life with ceramic. Whether shelter-in-place mandates return, we realize the necessity to design for contingencies. Ceramics offer options to handle anything and clean up quickly in between.”
“A maturation of Maximalism, which transitioned to Abstract Expressionism. We have been challenged again this year, and through challenge there is growth and change. The boundaries of what is stylish or acceptable are becoming personal decisions rather than societal mandates. We’re reaching out to define our own style.
“The trend is celebrating, again, the beauty of fired earth. Timeless classics are getting fresh makeovers. We are seeing a rise in programs that are inspired by the rich history of ceramics. Going through adversity allows for realization of what matters to us. Even if it’s just design language, defining something for ourselves holds great importance. Designing with materials for a space like an artist specializing in a particular medium—you must work within the constraints of the paint and canvas. How many constraints do you burden yourself with?”