Kitchens cry out for a perfect balance between beauty and practicality. Nowhere is the marriage of form and function more important than in the room where most American families spend the majority of their at-home time together.
Ceramic tile is the natural choice for kitchens. Homeowners appreciate its durability and designers admire the flexibility it gives them in creating beautiful, yet practical spaces. Now, advances in tile manufacturing, such as digital printing technology, and the endless creativity of homeowners and designers alike, are driving new trends in kitchen design.
Gone are the days when homeowners were willing to trade the spare, clean and peaceful look of an open wall for the storage convenience afforded by walls full of cabinets. “Cabinets and countertops were once the main focal point of a kitchen,” notes Patti Fasan, Tile of Spain ceramic tile consultant. “Today, open wall space is demanding more attention.”
Drawing on European influences, designers are now limiting the use of upper cabinets. Instead, they devote an entire wall of the kitchen to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet, similar to a wall unit, which easily replaces the storage space lost by eliminating upper cabinets. The remaining three walls are either cabinet-free, or boast open shelving units. The open wall space above the countertop becomes a blank canvas for a design focal point. Ceramic tile is at the top of the list of preferred finish materials for these walls, often taking centre stage as a stunning floor-to-ceiling backdrop to the sculptural stainless-steel range hoods currently in vogue. It’s also finding its way beyond the backsplash to the remaining kitchen walls.
“The shift in aesthetic tastes aligns perfectly with another shift in buyer behaviour,” says Fasan. “Consumers are increasingly demanding healthy, safe, sustainable and durable quality finishes. Ceramic tile is known for several inherently healthful characteristics. It’s fireproof, does not absorb odours, contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is low-maintenance and requires no toxic cleaners, sealers or deodorizers.”
Woods of wonder
A trend toward open floor plans, with the kitchen as a focal point of an entire living space, has led to some homeowners installing hardwood floors in the kitchen. While the appeal of an uninterrupted expanse of hardwood is undeniable, the material is rarely practical in a kitchen setting, where it may be exposed to moisture, food stains, heavy traffic and water spills.
Homeowners and designers have discovered a better alternative. Ceramic tile, available in a variety of plank-like widths and lengths, uses advanced digital printing technology to deliver the beauty and variability of pattern and grain that makes hardwood so enticing, but maintains the durability of ceramic tile. Wood-look ceramic tile can be installed with minimal joint lines, making it look even more like a real hardwood floor. And when it comes to cost, ceramic versions of popular hardwoods such as oak, beech or pine are cost-competitive with the authentic woods.
Designers are also taking advantage of the opportunities created by wood-look ceramic tile, and continuing the finish onto wall surfaces. Before, hygienic concerns and cleaning challenges made it impractical to use real wood on kitchen walls. This look can now be achieved using durable, beautiful ceramic tile.
Homeowners are opting for more personal and even eclectic colors and finish materials in their kitchens. Brave color accents and bold pops of color in the kitchen often match accessories or art in an adjoining room. A ceramic tile feature wall is a great opportunity to draw favorite colors from other design elements in the home into the kitchen. “This approach is especially popular mixed with ultra modern white, black and stainless steel designs,” says Fasan. “Larger format tile in square, rectangle or even a unique water-jet cut shape – one color, one size and one shape – over the entire tiled wall creates a ‘wow’ experience and rewards this colour courage every time.”