Country Floors is always searching for new interesting materials, ceramic tile inspirations, knowledge and historical connections. Our recent trip to Italy was just that.

We landed in Bologna after a brief Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul. Bologna, being a heaven for all kinds of cured meats and cheeses, had an airport shop that was a gem. Bright red subway tiles on the wall behind the counter is traditional Italian tile from 1960’s, very typical for that era. This is where we got our inspiration for our new Temple Brick Collection of glazed brick.

We grabbed a Focaccia and we hit the road.

Our host drove 200 kilometers/hour (140 miles/hour) chasing Ferraris and Porsches, while we ate our sandwiches in the car. It was dangerously exciting. Later on, we stopped by a gas station to drink an espresso.  I never understood the logic behind almost racing on the highway for hours, come to a stop and calmly sip espresso… I guess that’s the Italian style.

After an hour of driving, we finally arrived at our first stop in Sassuolo.  Sassuolo  is a small city well known as the Italian ceramic and porcelain tile center.  I guess I could say that it is the world center for ceramic and porcelain tile production.  Even though ceramic tile is produced all over the world, cutting edge tile fashion, new tile trends, new tile technology all starts here.

In Sassuolo there are hundreds of cottage tile producers, glaze developers, and machinery producers. Here you can find the most cutting edge tile technology, and latest in tile production.  From obscure  Italian ceramic tile glazes to new cutting edge large format porcelain tiles.

There are many companies now producing huge porcelain tiles like 36×36 tile, or  24×48. These tiles are so big and thin you can do an entire porcelain tile bathroom with few tiles, with almost no grout joints. Some of the well known names include Iris porcelain group, Marazzi porcelain group ( now part of Dal Tile ) and Florim tile group.  Smaller players include Versace tile which is produced by Gardenia Ceramica and Emil Ceramica.

We inspected our new ceramic production line in a huge factory with many high end tile finishing lines.  New Italian factories are so automated that there are hardly any workers on the floor.  Tile production lines are huge and very efficient.  They produce more than a container of tile per shift.

We are excited, our new kiln is very efficient and will increase production of our Temple Brick Collection and several new ceramic lines that are coming soon. Not only it fires ​it fires at 1200 C, and can produce glazed ceramic tiles from 5/8′ to 48″ planks, it’s gas fired and environmentally friendly.

The ceramic tile industry in Italy is recovering from a long recession and overall Italian economic hardship.  As a result of new producers in the world such as Chinese porcelain, Brazilian porcelain, and Turkish porcelain factories, Italian ceramic factories lost some market share and are still recovering from it. The factories had to move up the market and emphasize differentiation in their product lines such as  large format tiles, more random digital printing, and wall tile and floor tile combinations.

Previous technology precluded a good coordination between wall tile and floor tile. New tile production technology essentially presses larger tiles such as  36×36 and cut them to smaller modular sizes.

Another huge innovation has been in the area of thin porcelain slabs.  Most factories such as Fiandre, Iris, and Marazzi press very large slabs that are 8 ft by 4 ft in 6mm thickness or even 3mm thickness. The market has been resistant to these new sizes at first due to their installation challenges but now installers are catching up and taking advantage of this new technology.

These large format porcelain slabs are used in kitchen countertops, entire bathroom tile applications, shower tile enclosures and kitchen tile surface applications.  Easy to maintain and easy to clean tile is replacing Formica, and wood in most demanding tile applications. Here are the Iris Large slabs.

Please check out our new Temple Brick Collection,  locally made in Chantilly, Virginia.