If you've been to a newly renovated home or a designer showroom lately, you may have noticed a thing or two about tile.
Maybe it looked like wood, or came in an unusual shape, or each tile seemed unusually large.
"It's amazing how creative they have gotten with tile," says Michele Delisle, a designer at Hauppauge-based Pascucci Delisle Design Group.
What follows are some of the hottest tile trends for 2011, from size to shape to color to placement:
'Gray is the new black'
Tile is moving toward warm tones with manufacturers now mixing in shades of brown and red. That has brought gray to mainstream use, replacing habitual tile colors like white, beige and taupe.
"Gray is the fresh neutral of the minute," says Nancy LaCalamita, a designer at Twice as Nice Interior Design, an East Islip-based design firm.
A representative for Long Island-based Cancos, a Northeast distributor and retailer of tile and stone, agrees. "Gray is the new black," says Bernadette White, an owner and a vice president of the chain. "The tone of gray that is (popular) right now is a very soft gray. Beige lovers are OK with the gray. It's a very acceptable and easy-to-work-with color as far as home design goes."
Big tiles are big in design in the new year. "Size is different as far as flooring goes," says Mary Middlemiss, a designer at Twice as Nice. Some tiles are now as large as 18 by 36 inches. "It helps open up the room," she says.
But flooring isn't the only space where larger tiles are used. Think walls. "In bathrooms, where wood and water don't necessarily mix, we're seeing wainscoting in tile and natural stone," says Jackie Higgins, principal designer of Huntington Bay-based Beach Glass Interior Designs.
Larger tile also means fewer grout joints, which means easier care, plus the appearance of more space. "In a smaller room, one of the perceptions is that you want to use a small tile; actually, the opposite is true," says Lori Kirk-Rolley, senior marketing director for Daltile, a manufacturer of ceramic tile and natural stone products in North America. "You want to use a large tile in a small room, because you'll have less grout joints breaking up the space."
Glass tile, both an affordable and interesting design element, has gotten a makeover by tile designers and manufacturers. Recycled content, slimmer rectangular shapes, and a variety of colors, textures, sizes and styles are replacing the mesh sheets of small glass square tiles that once flooded the home design market.
"Glass was so popular years ago," says Delisle of Pascucci Delisle Design. "I think it was saturated in the industry. Now they have so many shapes, colors and textures."
Artistic Tile, a New Jersey luxury stone and tile firm with several showrooms across the country, including one in Manhasset, is among the tile firms exploring this old medium's new possibilities. Included among its collections: the Little Satch line, created with Tiffany-like glass with variations of shading and textures, and the La Leaf line, which applies copper, gold and silver leafing to the underside of glass tiles before sealing.
Kitchens, baths and entrances are still at the top of the list for tile use. Still, other parts of the home - like great rooms, fireplaces, even ceilings - can benefit from tile's versatility, designers say.
Pascucci Delisle Design recently used finely sliced mother of pearl tile on a ceiling in a powder room. "It's so beautiful," Delisle says, noting that the material is not as durable as porcelain and would not make good flooring but was perfect as a ceiling accent. "The weight is not as heavy, so you can easily install it on a ceiling."
This type of accenting can have economical benefits, too, adds Betsy Pascucci, a designer at the firm.
"If you choose something interesting and just do it either on the ceiling or in a smaller area, like the powder room, it's a way to still have an interesting home without spending an exorbitant amount of money," she says.
More DIY options
"The do-it-yourself market has always been an active one," says Daltile's Kirk-Rolley. In addition to developing traditionally installed tiles, the company in October launched its Cliks DIY collection of interlocking porcelain tiles sold online and at Long Island Home Depots.
"With the economy being what it is, individuals still want to go ahead and do smaller remodeling products," Kirk-Rolley says.
She explains that Cliks are tiles that homeowners install on their own and can be placed over most existing hard-surface floors. The tiles have built in mortar and grout, cutting down on installation mess and skills needed. "Essentially, what you would do is just click the floor tiles together," she says.
Faux can be fabulous, at least in tile. Designers and manufacturers point to new tiles that mimic the look of wood, stone, fabric and leather for wall and floor coverings, says Aprile Marchesano of Northport-based Aprile Interiors. "They imitate fabric; you think it's linen. They imitate wallpaper; you think it's grasscloth or bamboo. They imitate stone and do it so well you think it's marble. They also imitate leather and do a lot of tile flooring that looks like wood."
Delisle says there's even tile flooring made to imitate wood that comes in rectangular plank shapes.
Mimicking such materials, rather than using the true materials, offers some benefits. The durability of porcelain and ceramic, low maintenance and ability to hold up to water make it a good choice for bathrooms or high-traffic family rooms, for example.
Circles and swirls
Technological advances in the tile industry allow for designs and products that were not possible 20 years ago at a reasonable price, says Nancy Epstein, chief executive and founder of Artistic Tile.
Water jet machinery now allows tile and stone to be cut and designed with shapes that previously would not have been possible. "You can take a water jet machine and cut intricate circular patterns, which, by hand, would have been ridiculously expensive," she says. "Swirling organic shapes just weren't possible - not because we didn't desire them, they were not economically feasible."
Epstein also notes that with such technological advances, glass and stone can be combined in the same tile. "We're putting and placing glass and stone together because we can make them the same thickness now," she explains.