Within the last few years, tile manufacturers have significantly improved the stone-look tiles. For this bathroom, tile with characteristics of tumbled marble create an elegant Old World-style design. The tile is from the Bob Timberlakeâ„¢ Collection, available from Epro, Inc. Tile Manufacturer: Epro, Inc., Bloomville, OH

As is the case with evolution, trends, technology and human interest continually change over time. What was new and fashionable one day will soon be old and passé the next. The players behind the scenes in sectors such as fashion, electronics and even home building are constantly working to stay ahead of the cycle and offer innovative merchandise to consumers. This progression is also highly visible in the tile industry, where manufacturers have created countless colors, textures and sizes of ceramic, porcelain and glass tile for both interior and exterior applications.

Over the years, tile product lines have advanced tremendously. No longer is there just the basic offering of standard 12- x 12-inch tiles in white, beige or black. Today's looks are detailed and sophisticated. Tile collections have the ability to create distinctive styles, whether they are rustic, contemporary or traditional.

Expanding Size and Texture

In a notable development, product lines are showing varied tile sizes, which can be combined to form unique and eye-catching floor and wall patterns. Tiny mosaic pieces are creating intricately detailed murals appropriate for both residential and commercial applications. On the other side of the equation, large-format tiles are creating a unique, monochromatic look within a space. Moreover, tiles are also being developed with more of a three-dimensional quality to them, with textures replicating the look and feel of natural stone, wood and textiles.

Adding to the design options, tiles are no longer necessarily square, and they are certainly not limited to 12 inches in size. In addition to basic tiles of 4 x 8, 8 x 8 and 12 x 12 inches, there are now many sizes in between and beyond. These include short thin strips that are ideal for wainscoting and faces of bars and reception desks as well as broken mosaic pieces that can form interesting backsplashes and floor designs.

Furthermore, product lines are promoting the use of varied-sized tiles in a single pattern to create modular floor and wall designs. Mixing three or four tile sizes in a design is a simple way of creating a more noticeable and interesting look. Decorative pieces such as listellos, borders and chair rails are also significant essentials of current tile collections. These accent pieces can be utilized to enhance living spaces by breaking up the scheme of the tilework and creating a unique touch.

Bold-colored, rectangular subway tiles have also become a mainstay in today's designs, creating a hip trendy look for interior spaces.

Moving beyond aesthetics, homeowners and designers are satisfied that these collections are not only offering beauty and elegance, but are also meeting practical demands. In busy families with young children and pets, strength and durability is a legitimate concern. Tile manufacturers realize this importance, and as a result, work on advances in both the appearance and structure of new product lines.

Perfecting the “Stone” Look

The improvement in tile did not happen overnight. It has been a gradual transformation due to years of diligent research and development - especially in the products replicating the look of natural stone.

Several years ago, tile collections that were made to resemble the appearance of slate, marble and limestone were not as convincing as they are today. Initially, tile manufacturers did not have the capabilities or know-how to produce the tiles with the varying shades and veining found in natural stone. The tiles that were being manufactured were very consistent and identical - thus failing to capture the natural essence of stone.

Advances in technology now allow tile manufacturers to vary the look of individual tiles within a single collection. Manufacturing developments, such as different plates on a tile line and new methods to apply color, are used to create diversity in the patterning of the veins and hues of each tile. When installed in a floor or wall application, these tiles now conjure a very similar effect to that of natural stone.

Further contributing to the authenticity is the texture of the material. Polished, honed and split-faced finishes - the same applied to stone - are now being used for manufactured tile. All of these developments have added to the growing popularity in stone-look tiles. Similar to this development are tiles that replicate the appearance of wood. As was the case with stone-look tiles, the first product lines were not as believable as newer ones being manufactured today. Originally, the graining was not as defined, and the coloring did not look as realistic. Through research and persistence, manufacturers found the right combination. Not only has the actual look of the tile improved, but the format is superior as well. These tile collections are now available in a range of plank sizes, which further enforces the authentic look.

One of the advantages to these “wood” tiles is the low-maintenance factor. Unlike real hardwood, scratching, scuffing and warping are not a concern. These tiles are being employed in applications that were not imaginable with hardwood, including walls and floors in bathrooms and kitchens.

Shimmering Effects

With the abundant selection of tile on the market today, the enthusiasm of the design community is evident. Architects and designers are pushing the envelope - treating their designs as pieces of art, rather than just considering form and function. Shimmering mosaic glass and metallic tiles are bringing life to kitchen backsplashes and shower walls as well as dressing columns and fronts of reception desks in restaurants and hotels.

Within the last several years, there has been a growing popularity in iridescent glass mosaic tiles. Available in an array of colors, these tiles are being used in monochromatic schemes as well as in a mix of shades - adding to the vibrancy of designs.

The reflective nature of these translucent tiles also makes them ideal for applications that desire luster and pizzazz. When light hits the glass tiles at certain angles, they have the ability to shimmer and create visual interest. There is a surge in the use of iridescent glass tiles in a wide range of designs. The hospitality sector is one area where it is quite noticeable. Nightclubs, restaurants, spas and hotels are employing this medium on walls, columns and other architectural elements in public spaces throughout their establishments. The brilliant colors and glittering effects are eye-catching, and create a sophisticated and chic atmosphere that is inviting to patrons.

However, the use of glass tile is not limited to commercial design. Homeowners desiring a contemporary look are using the material throughout their living spaces. When combined with other building materials such as stone, ceramic and porcelain tile, stainless steel or solid surfaces, a classy upscale environment can be achieved.

Interest in metallic tile lines is also on the rise. Inspired by metal alloys such as steel, copper, aluminum and titanium, these tiles present new options to architects, designers and homeowners. The smoky gray, silver, rust and golden tones of these tiles can create a distinctive sleek design.

Among other innovative products on today's market are tiles that resemble the appearance of fabric. The textured look of silk, linen, burlap and leather offer endless possibilities, without the worry of maintenance. With all these latest developments in tile shapes, sizes, colors and textures, it is apparent that tile manufacturers have been diligently strategizing and working hard to create new products. They are sparking interest by offering new concepts in design as well as maintaining high-quality standards for strength and durability that are a necessity in high-trafficked areas.

And since evolution is a continuous process, tile producers will continue to surprise and awe architects, designers and consumers by unveiling product lines that have never been seen before - further pushing the limits of design while still providing comfort and meeting the demands for practical function.