This post originally appeared on Metropolis.
For decades, Spanish porcelain tile has led the field in both technical performance and visual effect. Now, Tile of Spain, a private organization of tile manufacturers primarily based in Spain’s Castellón province, is also speeding up the process by which their products reach clients. Their Quick Ship collection, which was established in 2013 and includes 40 companies and over 150 products, makes certain products available for immediate purchase in the U.S., allowing architects and designers to comfortably meet deadlines. We asked Ryan Fasan, a Tile of Spain consultant, and Mark Becher from Sark Tile, a Nebraska tile distributor, about their thoughts on Quick Ship and other innovative styles and technologies from Spanish manufacturers, from inkjet applications to hexagon mosaics.
Dora Sapunar: How does Tile of Spain merge tradition and innovation in their manufacturing process?
Ryan Fasan: Tradition is a very important factor in the tile industry in Spain. Many artisanal factories still make similar products to what was made 50 years ago or more. That said, it is that rich history and generations of experience that makes fertile soil for new practices and ideas to flourish. Innovation has become the cornerstone of the Spanish tile industry. Institutions such as ITC (Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica), collaborative programs with Harvard and University of Liverpool, as well as the World Congress on Ceramic Tile Quality & Innovation (Qualicer) are among the many contributors to keeping the innovation rolling year after year.
Mark Becher: I think the Spanish are trendsetters when it comes to both technology and design—most American tile manufacturers are just a little behind from these standpoints. I think it’s just the passion and the excitement of the Spanish that they put into the tile. Both culturally and personally, they really get very invested in what they’re producing, and it makes it easier for us because I can go to Spain and talk to people who’ve designed the tiles to see their perspective and then I can give that to an architect or a designer or a customer. It definitely adds value and it increases everyone’s appreciation for the product.
DS: What are some tips you have for clients when they’re choosing the optimal tile for a project?
RF: Firstly, don’t over specify. It’s easy to select porcelain for every project because you know it will do the job but, by doing that, you narrow your options down needlessly. The tile industry makes four very specific types of tile for a reason, and each variety will survive for decades—even centuries—if used correctly.
Secondly, use variation and patterns to your advantage. No one likes cleaning more than they have to, so use patterns and high variation to hide heavy-traffic areas in homes or businesses.
Finally, unless you are specifying for a shopping center or airport, don’t use unglazed porcelain. Glaze seals off the surface porosity of a tile and makes it infinitely easier to clean and maintain with minimal effort and household cleaners. Through-body technical porcelain is made for the most demanding environments where nearly every piece gets heavy wear—not the home kitchen where you don’t want to see a chip if you drop a pot. The fact is, you will still see that chip every day and it will drive you crazy. Tile is one of the only products that can be spot-repaired beautifully so spec a glazed tile that’s easy to clean and beautiful and replace a broken piece if you have to.
DS: What are some new trends in ceramics and how are these showcased in Tile of Spain products?
RF: As with all things right now, there is a huge demand for vintage, artisanal, and salvaged looks. Circling back to your first question, there is a wealth of history to draw from in ceramics and many historical looks are finding fresh legs with modern reboots today. One of the most prevalent are the simple geometrics of Modernisme or the hydraulic cement with macro patterns.
Which brings me to the second major one: patterns, patterns, patterns. Macro and micro—and mixing a variety of them to create a unique and layered look. As user interfaces and Web design get flatter, our real world preferences are getting more nuanced, varied, and interesting. Many of these products are difficult and time consuming to make in the traditional ways but with the adoption of inkjet technology in ceramics making they are becoming easier and more cost-effective to produce. Mixing has also moved into metals; gone are the days that you were confined to one metal in a project. Currently, mixed metals in a space are creating another layer of depth and interest and we’re seeing bronze mixed with iron, gold and stainless steel—some burnished, some brushed, and some polished. Again, innovations in the field of inkjet are making metals much more common in ceramics.
MB: I think people are looking for natural-looking products, but they are also looking for a lot of blended looks that incorporate both cement and wood in the same tile, or linen and metallic. These hybrid looks that are very sophisticated. What I like about a lot of new tiles is that they have blends of both warm and cool colors. Historically, a lot of the tiles that came from Europe were very pastel and Americans were more interested in earth-tones. Now I think a lot of Spanish manufacturers are listening and catering to that need. The Spanish are pushing the envelope and designing different formats that haven’t been seen before, so it’s not just a square tile. The hexagon form is gaining momentum and popularity, and I think that they’re taking some risks in investing in producing something that’s off the beaten path.
DS: What are some challenges architects and designers face when purchasing European tile in the United States?
RF: There is often a disconnect between what is available in Europe and what gets brought here to North America, leaving many of the most innovative and exciting products out from design professionals’ collective radars. It’s mostly due to finite inventory budgets and the necessity for stock to turn multiple times per year that distributors have often been reluctant to gamble on more avant-garde collections. Tile of Spain’s Quick Ship program allows for a shift away from huge inventory investment to a larger marketing budget so distributors can sample a broader array of collections specifically for specifications and cater to the design profession much more effectively. Having this huge collection of material that is consistently available is one of the best tools in a specifier’s arsenal.
MB: We stock a lot of the Quick Ship material at Sark Tile so we can do small jobs with immediate shipping within four days. And if we need to replenish that or order for large jobs we are finding that we can get that material landed to the job site in four to six weeks, which is extremely doable for anyone in the construction industry. Before we had Quick Ship everything depended on the manufacturer, they still had to make the material, so we had to wait for production time and that could be four to six weeks in addition to shipping. You were looking at eight to 12 weeks to get the material here if all goes well, and now we’re able to cut that in half.