Coverings installation was education in current tile, stone trends

Billed as “the ultimate tile and stone experience” showcasing the breadth, depth and beauty of the tile and stone industry, Coverings 2014 recently celebrated its 25th consecutive year in Las Vegas. More than 900 leading manufacturers and suppliers from around the world revealed the latest tile and stone patterns and designs, many with jaw-dropping displays that filled both floors of the vast Las Vegas Convention Center.

Representing the American Society of Interior Designers Central California/Nevada chapter, I was fortunate enough to have a featured spot in this great event where I was not only able to exercise my design “chops,” but also to improve my understanding of the performance characteristics for all types of hard surfaces as well as the trends in tile and stone, how they’ve changed and where they’ll go next. In other words, it was a golden opportunity to explore the entire spectrum of tile and stone designs to create any environment, mood or ambiance you can imagine.

The Installation Design Showcase, in which I was a participant, is described as a “must-see attraction” at the Coverings show and “a chance for attendees to observe what happens when leading installers and local design organizations partner together and collaborate in order to showcase the synergy between great design and superior installation.”

Attendees had the opportunity to observe firsthand diverse vignettes created by AIA Las Vegas, ASID, UNLV and the U.S. Green Building Chapter of Nevada featuring complex tile installations with each space showcasing a different design aesthetic created from inception to completion over a four-day period on the show floor.

My choice of design was a bar/lounge area, a natural choice I thought for this corner of the world. The other designs featured an indoor courtyard, a retail space and a sustainable, accessible bath. The designers worked side-by-side with several five-star contractors (of which there are only 33 in the United States), all members of the National Tile Contractors Association.

I learned so much about the trends in tile and stone as well as their installation while collaborating with Stone Peak Ceramics, the manufacturer of the materials used throughout my bar/lounge, along with my brilliantly talented installers, Elizabeth and Daniel Lambert of Lambert Tile &Stone, based in Vail, Colo.

My collaborators explained to me that because of process advances and cutting-edge digital technology, both the look and application of tile has been transformed as of late, creating limitless opportunities for designers while opening up new channels for customization. Superthin, superthick, supersmall, supersized — the very format that tile comes in has been pushed to extremes, expanding how and where it can be installed.

Ironically, I learned that sometimes the same technology that helped bring these new tiles and stone to market has frequently resulted in a struggle for the fabricator. Dealing with these often resined slabs requires knowledge about how to handle them, especially with color matching and edge polishing. My installers were justly proud, by the way, to call attention to all of the polished edges in our bar/ lounge installation, which was quite a feat considering the time constraint and the nature of the materials.

I was able to observe firsthand the special application challenges to producing a sound, durable installation with tiles of reduced thickness and lighter weight along with the best process and technology for installing large format thin tile such as those used on the bar walls that measured 5 feet by 10 feet. Extraordinary — and the hottest ticket in the tile world today.

These very large and very thin slabs require great care and cost $1,200 a tile should they break during the installation process. But, oh what a look once they’re in place!

And along with the new supersized tiles, glam digital imaging and advanced ink-jet printing technology (and no one does it better than the Italians) provide unprecedented pattern variation and realism and have allowed ceramic and porcelain tiles to take on the look as well as the feel of just about anything such as exotic stone or even brown marble and precious metals. My own installation bears witness to that as the actual bar material was a dead ringer for real onyx when truth be told it was a brilliantly executed ceramic. The perfect doppelgänger!

It’s safe to say that patterns are now a massive design trend in Europe and certainly played a major role in my own bar/lounge installation where, for example, the gray floor resembled and felt just like distressed wood planks that is a top trend along with other vintage looks such as brick and concrete. The walls were of the larger format tiles, as previously mentioned, all in rectangles and highlighted with glass mosaic tiles, another “now” look.

It’s interesting to note that the trends in stone are actually much the same as those for ceramic and porcelain. Once again, we see larger formats and especially rectangles, vein cuts for a linear look as well as subtle and practical honed finishes. White (just like the bar walls) and earth tones are trending as well as accessorizing with artistic accents along with trims and mosaics incorporating glass and metal.

In a word, the current trend is tiles of ceramic and porcelain being found in places other than kitchens and baths. Tiles that look just like wood panels can be used in place of real wood on dining room walls, for example, as well as on the floors in the same space; and in that analogy you have the very essence of the modern trend in chic interior design.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is president of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (World Market Center, Suite A3304) and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to