09 October 2009

The Skinny on Ceramic Tile

Hey everyone: Saxon Henry here guest-posting for Paul. Coming away from my trip to Italy to cover Cersaie, the annual international ceramic tile and fixtures exhibition, with the caveat “thin is in” cemented in my brain may be of no surprise to most of you—after all, the country is filled with slim gorgeous people in some of the smartest fashion I’ve seen in ages. But it wasn’t all the eye candy that brought this phrase to mind. It was the innovations in the ceramic tile industry that inspired its repetition day after day.

The technological advances taking place in Italy will soon make that clunky ceramic tile your grandmother came to know and love a thing of the past. The good news transcends aesthetics, as less waste is created during renovations because the tile can be installed over other surfaces, making the need to rip out walls and floors unnecessary.

Marcello Becchi of Trend USA, a company that has been on the forefront of establishing green products and practices, called what is happening “an evolution of cradle-to-cradle sustainability.” Trend’s Trend Q, containing up to 69% post-consumer recycled glass, at 6mm thick is one of the products that easily clads existing surfaces. La Fabbrica’s super thin porcelains, some of which are available in both matt and glossy finishes such as Cathay, are among the skinny offerings to Cersaie.

Mutina brought new products in its Dechirer Collection, designed by Patricia Urquiola, to the fair. The company debuted wall tile introductions last year that measured 3mm thin. This year, a 4mm-thick tile that is suitable for floors with light traffic was presented.

The manufacturer’s booth was buzzing with excitement the afternoon Urquiola was in attendance to launch additions to her collection that include tiles with random cutouts formed by slicing through the ceramic with water jet cutters.

Ceramiche COEM was exhibiting its Travertino collection at 4.8mm thick, which includes embedded fossils. Refin Ceramiche’s “Skin” line is also 4.8mm thick, and includes smooth and patterned tiles that can work in concert to bring geometric textural interest to a room.

Enzo Mularoni of Del Conca treated the press to a fascinating presentation about the company’s new Therma collection that weighs in at 4mm thick. Mularoni, who is an avid sports fan, hit upon the idea of using carbon fibers under his tiles to heat them—inspired by the thermal coatings used on tires during motorcycle races. Because the carbon fibers add only an extra 1mm of thickness to the installation, the heat is closer to the surface of the tiles, making temperature adjustments more immediate. “An advantage of this type of heat,” said Mularoni, “is that it eliminates the need to pump water through pipes, saving both water and energy.”

These are but a few of the companies—out of nearly 1,000 exhibitors—bringing slim alternatives to the fair. I’ll be following advancements in the coming months. If you’ll check my Examiner page from time to time, I promise to bring you the latest developments. Ciao for now!


  1. Regarding that skinny tile; the manufacturers are providing specific stipulations as to what may be used to adhere them, and what surfaces are accepted as a substrate, right?
    I'm all for less waste in construction, but I know there'll unscrupulous builders out there trying to stick those high end tiles with cheap mastic.

    Also, I'd be concerned about how they plan to ship them without them arriving looking like a crushed sleeve of Saltines. Light traffic...Hmmm

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  3. Thanks for posting, Susan. Giorgio Squinzi, CEO of Mapei, spoke to us at a press conference about these very issues. Of course, if the right products aren't used, there will certainly be problems. In terms of the adhesive, Mapei has developed an ultralight adhesive material that is designed specifically for these tiles called Ultralight S1. You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/AFPuJ

    In terms of breakage, a Polyurathane backing goes on the underside to help reduce shock and prevent the tiles from breaking. I hope this helps!


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