If you’ve had the chance to tour some of the new model homes, retail spaces and restaurants across the valley, chances are you might have noticed the diverse variety of materials making unexpected appearances in these interiors. And the chances are also that the majority of those materials, the pristine marble, the reclaimed barn wood, stained concrete, oxidized metal, even the linen wallpaper, are actually porcelain tile.
Tile has not always been so ubiquitous and it’s relatively recent surge in popularity, especially in residential applications, can be traced back to the year 2000 when the very first inkjet printer for tile glazes was introduced to the market. This technology allowed tile manufacturers to print photorealistic images onto the surface of the tile, permitting previously impossible levels of detail, and variation to be produced. Porcelain tile, which had an association of being the cheaper alternative to natural stone, began supplanting the natural travertine of the early 2000s. Dealers were able to offer customers a product that was impervious to staining, never needed refinishing, virtually impossible to scratch and, thanks to the over saturation of the travertine market, an even better aesthetic appearance. Although a huge leap forward for tile, it would be more than 10 years before this technology would really start to change the fundamentals of design and materials. This change arrived with the explosion in popularity of wood-look tile.
While natural wood would often be avoided in heavy traffic spaces due to its susceptibility to scratching and moisture damage, wood-look tile has allotted for the appearance and warmth of wood to be used in homes, hotels and retail spaces. It’s an excellent source for exterior cladding, shower walls and even pool decking in the full Las Vegas sun. The natural resilience of porcelain tile with its versatility of design, texture and scale has allowed completely new applications of wood design. Along with empowering new possibilities, tile has been a democratic force allowing previously exorbitantly expensive design concepts to be scalable and available to a much more diverse clientele. Take for example the desirability of reclaimed barnyard flooring. The relatively small inventory of abandoned barns and the labor-intensive process of reclaiming and milling, makes the genuine article unobtainable for the vast majority of homeowners, but with tile the affordability makes this style especially popular. With this realization, tile manufacturers are responding rapidly, producing tile imitating the look of fabric, exposed brick, stained glass, gold leafing, metal cladding and even leather and animal print. Combing artisanal processes with the latest technology, the only creative limit to porcelain tile is convention. If the trend continues however, porcelain tile may continue shattering conventions, bringing a new freedom of expression to interiors for generations to come.