Now that summer has officially arrived, many homeowners are utilizing their backyards as additional living spaces. Weekend barbecues, pool parties and other events are often hosted by homeowners who want their guests to experience a comfortable and inviting outdoor area. As a result, people are becoming savvier and moving beyond concrete patios and wooden decks. They are realizing that investments in higher-quality materials such as stone and tile are no longer limited to interior design.

Ultimately, the backyard is now being viewed as an extension of the interior. Homeowners are looking to create outdoor kitchens and living spaces that provide all the conveniences found inside the home - and they want these areas to look and feel luxurious. The article found on page 20 of this issue of Contemporary Stone & Tile Design - also our cover story - features a private residence in Austin, TX, which is extensively dressed in natural stone. The homeowner chose local sandstone for its rich warm color. A variety of limestone was also selected for applications such as the pool surround, outdoor kitchen and site walls.

Although not so prevalently seen here in the U.S., tile is also an ideal choice for outdoor design. Its strength, durability and low-maintenance properties mean it can stand up to heavy foot traffic and nature’s elements. And with technological advances at an all-time high in the industry, porcelain tiles are being produced with a truly authentic look of stone, wood and metal.

On a recent trip to Spain, I visited the seaside town of Benidorm, where the local government has been working hard on a revitalization plan with the intent of drawing more tourism to the city. One of the recent projects was the renovation of a portion of the West Beach Promenade, which had been neglected for some time. Carlos Ferrater and Xavier Martí Galí of OAB (Office of Architecture) in Barcelona, Spain, who were the architects for this project, opted for vibrant colors of customized Spanish tile for the walkway. The tiles not only are fun and brighten up the promenade, but they are also able to withstand the sustained foot traffic and harsh seaside environment. More details on the West Beach Promenade can be found on page 30 of this issue.

My trip to Spain is one of many trips I have been fortunate enough to make to Europe, and one thing that I always notice is that porcelain tile is often used in exterior architecture. Ventilated facade systems are not only attractive, but they can offer a great deal of energy savings. At the Coverings exposition this spring, I spoke with a representative of a large tile manufacturer, who explained how they are making a strong effort to market their ventilated facade system to architects in the U.S. With the green building movement becoming so integrated with design these days, this system should be particularly appealing to the architecture and design community. It can significantly cut down on a building’s heating and cooling expenses, among other benefits.

As I have expressed many times in the past, there are numerous stone and tile product lines that are continuously being introduced to the market - such as the ventilated facade system. One way for me to learn about these products is by visiting exhibitions such as Coverings. I then try to share what I have learned with our readers. Some of the latest stone and tile collections to be launched can be found in our Coverings Product Review, which starts on page 12.