By Megan Salzano Orlando, Fla.—After a two-year hiatus of in-person events and a one-year layoff from the show itself, Coverings 2021 kicked off here July 8-10 at the Orlando Convention Center, where it welcomed more than 350 exhibitors representing more than 20 countries across 240,000 square feet of space. While there was a lingering question mark as to what attendance would look like at one of the first large-scale, in-person events to take place in the U.S., close to 10,000 attendees showed up to view the latest and greatest trending tiles.
“I feel, as one of the first handful of major trade shows to take place, Coverings is knocking it out of the park,” Jennifer Hoff, president of Taffy Event Strategies, the event planning company for Coverings, told FCNews at the show. “At first, I was wondering if Coverings would still have that Coverings feel, but the exhibitors built the booths from the ground up and they are artfully designed—and you can intensely feel that people are engaging, really engaging.”
The show floor was indeed abuzz with high-energy meetings, product demonstrations and educational opportunities. Exhibitors welcomed the chance to meet with customers in person once again and even make new connections. “I’ve been really pleased with the number of customers that have come out, both our distributor customers and new customers,” said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville. “It’s not just regional, people are traveling—even our distributor from California was here—so I’m pleased with who we’ve seen.”
Micah Hand, director of marketing and product development for Florida Tile, also noted the quality of attendees at the show. “I think there are more people than I thought there would be already, and I think tomorrow, [Thursday], will be even busier,” he said. “It’s an important event and it’s great to see this many people here. It’s a good boost of energy, getting everything kick-started again.”
Tile market grows
While last year was extremely difficult for the U.S. ceramic tile market, which was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis and declined for the second consecutive year, 2021 is off to an excellent start. That’s according to Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), who kicked off a special press conference with some positive news. Through the first quarter of 2021, total U.S. ceramic tile consumption was up 17.8% by volume vs. Q1 2020, Astrachan said. If the current pace continues for the full year, U.S. consumption would reach a record-high of 3.34 billion square feet, he surmised.
Astrachan noted that the drop in tile consumption felt in 2020 was in large part due to the anti-dumping regulations that officially went into effect earlier in the year. “There’s no question that when you take 700 million square feet of Chinese tile out of the tile market—essentially overnight—that it affects the market,” he said. “Fortunately, some of it went to more expensive tile, but some of it went to plastic and some of it just resulted in delayed projects as people started to look for other sources of supply. Fortunately, everyone who makes tile and isn’t dumping benefits when you take a bad actor out of the market, but it doesn’t mean tomorrow people are going to turn around and say, ‘OK, we can’t buy the stuff that is being dumped, let’s go buy American tile.’ That’s just not going to happen.”
As far as continuing imports, in Q1 2021, the U.S. imported 532.5 million square feet of ceramic tile, up 26% from Q1 2020. Imports made up 71.2% of U.S. tile consumption by volume in Q1 2021, up from 69.3% the previous year.
In Q1 2021, Spain retained the top position as the largest exporter to the U.S. by volume with a 20% share of U.S. imports.
Much of the talk at the show also focused on tile’s loss of share to the resilient category. Astrachan warned of the dangers of LVP’s waterproof claims as well as less-than-reputable ingredient lists. While ceramic has lost share to the booming resilient category, industry observers expect ceramic will recoup some of its lost share this year.
Coverings 2021 was alight with both familiar and burgeoning trends across platforms. From large-format floor tiles to 3D deco wall tiles, eye-catching designs were seen across the show floor from various tile suppliers. Following are some of the trends that stood out.
The consumer love affair with biophilia—a design concept to help increase human connection to the natural environment—only increased over the last year during the pandemic. The design concept was seen across the show floor through the use of color, pattern, shapes and sizes.
Crossville’s booth presence, for example, was steeped in biophilic inspiration, as was its tile introductions. “Biophilia is such a strong element in design right now partially because we have been inside so much and partially because I think people are realizing, from a scientific standpoint, how much of an impact nature and the natural world has on us as humans,” said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville. “And it’s much more than ‘put a house plant in it’ and ‘bring the outside in,’ but truly embracing the living world in our daily lives.”
While the trend is nothing new, suppliers agree last year marks the first time large-format styles were truly in demand. Many noted that 24 x 48 has become the go-to size and dealers and distributors alike are devoting much more showroom floor and warehouse space to the large-format platform.
“A 24 x 24 is a great size for us, but 24 x 48 is really where the industry is headed,” said Tim Hanno, national strategic accounts director, DecoVita. “For designers from Miami to Dallas to LA, that 24 x 48 is now a standard size. We’re even getting into bigger sizes—8 x 8-foot tiles—because consumers are moving away from grout lines. We have a beautiful 3 x 6-foot panel, and that’s where we’re headed. With a style like that, you’re getting a full pattern, unbroken by grout lines.”
Not Just Deco
Deco tiles have been growing in popularity in the last few years, but 2021 brought some stunning new designs to the forefront. From large-format panels showcasing “wallpaper” aesthetics in porcelain to mosaics in trending hexagon, retro circles and even modular square shapes, Coverings was awash in innovative decos that elevate the category’s design potential. “Anything unique or different to make the floor pop and do something creative with it—that is what people are looking for,” Florida Tile’s Hand said. “The graphic wallpaper-inspired look is a great way to bring in those artistic visuals.”
In line with the biophilic trend, natural materials are in high demand in 2021. As such, stone and wood-look tiles continued to reign at this year’s show. However, while wood looks used to garner high demand, stone-look tiles have elevated their visual and textural styles, gaining ground against their wood-look brethren on the show floor. “Stones looks are a staple,” said Maher Kayali, senior brand manager, Anatolia. “They are so stunning and so versatile, and they really do bring another element of nature into the home. And because they are so versatile you can mix and match them with a lot of different looks to create a really cool design. For example, putting a marble look with a wood look with some contemporary tiles, you can really customize and create your own interior aesthetic.”