American Accents – commissioned article for Tile UK
(Originally published in Tile UK, November 2008)
With U.S. housing costs at an all-time low, the average new homeowner is, for the first time, able to spend more on designing interiors and less on closing costs. Fashion is moving into the kitchen and bathroom, say retailers, as the Formica and linoleum jungle of the last generation is giving way to a combination of arresting materials, textures and patterns.
While many consumers love the deep, classic look of marble, says Omaha, Nebraska retailer Tretiak’s (www.tretiaks.com), the growing trend is to spend less money for “cultured marble”, or cast polymer. Cast polymer is a blend of polyester resin and marble chips and is favored by consumers as a sleek and cost-effective way of getting the marble look without the expense. Cultured marble is custom-molded for a one-piece, glossy look and is often made locally (Tretiak’s works with Roman Marble Products Inc., located just a few miles away), which has the distinct advantage of avoiding both shipping and import/export costs.
Granite, too, is perennially popular in the heart of America, according to another Omaha retailer, Rockbrook Floors (www.rockbrookfloors.com). At about $50-$90 a square foot, however, a number of designers and homeowners are choosing to opt for “cultured” granite instead. Cultured granite, much like cultured marble, it is molded to individual specifications. Made from 93% quartz and 7% resin, it is well-suited to wear and traffic, but unlike granite, it is often fused with anti-microbial compounds (such as Microban ®) and requires no sealant and very little maintenance. Travertine, another natural stone lately growing in popularity, also has a money-saving alternative. Many distributers now carry the porcelain lookalikes and report that consumers are buying the less expensive option and using natural stone for borders and trim.
No longer does the lay-designer trust a bucket of white paint to make a room look larger, report Midwestern retailers. Instead, bigger wall tiles are being used in a diagonal pattern, often highlighted by single-sheet mosaics or small deco-style tiles. Textured and textile-patterned porcelain is also on the rise, offering a modern visual twist on the stylish and classic look of natural stone.
Another recent trend is to accent the movement toward larger, darker neutrals with smaller pieces of unusual color and texture. Eye-catching borders and trim “add depth and character to a space” through their very irregularities, says former interior designer Sandy of Rockbrook Floors. She reports that many are punctuating the natural-look stone with metal and glass tiles. Bright blue and bottle-glass green are back, as well as higher end metals such as brass and copper. Solare glass tiles are growing in popularity, offering irregular edges and opaque and iridescent shades for a deeper, richer look. Billabong crackle glass, made in Australia, is a popular textured and glazed glass tile in an array of colors and can be purchased by the piece for simpler accent jobs. Single sheet mosaics, such as the Listello Collection by Emser Tile, add a Roman feel and individuality and timelessness to traditional taupe and chocolate shades.
Three-dimensional vertical tiles are enjoying an increase in popularity as well. Sliced and stacked stone, often lava or river rock, is being used not only in outdoor areas such as saunas, but in bathrooms and kitchens too. Pebble mosaics from Maniscalco offer depth, cool, vivid colors and an earthy, edgy look. Requiring little maintenance and no grout, these rock mosaics are sold in one-of-a-kind sheets and are being used frequently in fireplaces, backsplashes and borders.
Many designers, such as Rockbrook’s Sandy, encourage customers to play around with shades, accents and materials. Clients are encouraged to mix and match and design a personal look for beauty and comfort. The overwhelming variety of styles, materials and hues available offer a dizzying amount of potential for individuality, as do the costs of high-end yet less expensive lookalike materials. Many Nebraska ceramics retailers offer installation, decorating advice and materials all on-site; it is now simpler than ever to achieve a classic, sparkling room full of creativity and charm.