The trend is being prompted by a rise in artisanal work, a love for the handcrafting and a renaissance of modern stonemakers.
Following the market’s madness for marble, it seems porcelain is the next tile material to take centre stage.
Tile porcelain is extremely strong and practically maintenance-free. It can also replicate many popular natural stone finishes without the porosity.
The Porcelain Tile
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are often confused, but there are some key differentiators.
While both are kiln-fired, ceramic or non-porcelain tiles are usually constructed from red or white clay where the glaze carries the colour and pattern.
In contrast, porcelain tile is “generally made by the dust pressed method from porcelain clays which result in a tile that is dense, impervious, fine grained and smooth, with a sharply formed face,” design company BuildDirect notes on its website.
In porcelain tiles, the colour and pattern can be seen throughout the entire tile.
Ceramic or non-porcelain tiles carry with them a 0 to 3 PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating. The rating – out of a maximum of five – outlines how resistant tiles are to wear and tear.
These tiles are suitable for interior applications such as walls and countertops, while porcelain tiles offer much more resistance, making them suitable for commercial floorings such as airports, hotels and offices.
They also have a lower water absorption rate (less than 0.5 per cent) making them popular in wet areas and the kitchen.
Porcelain’s durability keeps it top of mind as a building and decoration product with a long life span.
Italian porcelain tile manufacturer Ceramiche Refin acknowledges the European Union’s focus on sustainable building criteria in Europe, noting that porcelain can be a part of reducing carbon emissions.
“Porcelain stoneware tiles perfectly integrate with these criteria, not least thanks to their intrinsic features; Ceramic is a hard material, chemically and physically inert, resistant to adverse weather conditions, to chemicals, fire (class 1 with no need for tests),” the firm’s website reads.
The material’s environmental credentials stretch to the production side, as well.
“If we analyse the production cycle of porcelain stoneware, it is important to underline that the raw materials used are totally natural and not strategic, meaning that they can be found practically anywhere in the world, and their extraction does not result in a negative impact on the environment,” Ceramiche Refin’s website states. “Very little waste is produced during the manufacture of porcelain tiles, as almost the totality of raw materials, glazes and water can be recycled.”
Concept Surfaces in the US point out that porcelain tiles are indeed 100 per cent recyclable and can be turned into materials such as cement, brick or artistic tile mosaics.
“Porcelain tiles contain no sealants, waxes or other chemicals that could release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) into the environment,” the company’s website states.
One of the biggest reasons consumers love porcelain is its ability to accurately replicate a multitude of stone-type materials, but it can also be made to look like wood, grain and all.
Floors of Stone in the UK produces porcelain oak planks.
“These planks can be used inside and outside, they can go on walls and floors and are suitable for under floor heating systems,” Floors of Stone’s blog states. “They do not require sealing like natural stone or lacquering like natural wood and they are a very low maintenance flooring option as a result.
“They are installed with a very thin grout line of about 3-4 mm (like normal tiles) the grout is normally chosen to be as close in colour to the porcelain planks as possible to create a seamless look.”
Trend-wise, residential kitchens are replacing the popular glass splashback with practical porcelain while modern bathrooms are seeing the tile applied from floor to ceiling.
In May, this year, US tile company GIO said “tile marble effects” were becoming popular particularly in retail design.
“Luxury brands are using marble or marble effects to achieve a chic modern look in their stores, ” the company said. “Many retailers are using painted faux marble finishes and marble-like porcelain tiles on floors, walls and countertops to obtain this look without the expense and maintenance of real marble.”
Porcelain’s hypoallergenic attributes are also becoming well-appreciated, as it has a natural resistance to many types of mould, germs, bacteria and dust mites.
So with its green benefits, low maintenance and aesthetical attributes, it seems porcelain could indeed be practically perfect.