Memory and tradition in Italian ceramics | by Cristina Faedi

In this second article devoted to memory and tradition we continue our journey through the aesthetic trends that emerged at last year’s Cersaie. The discussion was inspired by an article by Li Edelkoort on trends in the worlds of fashion, fabrics, interiors and food published a few months ago.

Cersaie 2017 saw a clear return to the past coupled with an appreciation of the craftsmanship that has always been synonymous with Italian expertise, a combination that has fuelled the second macro-trend: a sense of memory and tradition.

The products launched at last year’s Cersaie mark a further exploration of the concept of tradition, of a return to the ceramic materials of the past coupled with the exceptional stylistic effects developed by Italian companies through their research into porcelain technology.

The starting point is the earth, the colours of clay and the variegated terracotta typical of historic homes in the Po Valley in northern Italy. This concept has been reinterpreted with worn, ever-changing surfaces that almost appear to be inspired by the age-old decorative technique of Japanese paper marbling.

The reference to craftsmanship brings to mind the surfaces of rusty metal and rough brick, heterogeneous colours and natural stones reinterpreted in hybrid colours ranging from grey to smoke and a full palette of warmer tones.

This colour hybridisation also extends to wood-look ceramic, a material that continues to be enormously popular for its ability to lend elegance to any surface while expanding the range of sizes and available timbers with the addition of oak, teak, elm and walnut.

Wood-look ceramic combines the vitality of natural wood with all the advantages of porcelain. With their unparalleled technical characteristics including resistance to fire, wear, impact and staining as well as ease of cleaning, wood-look ceramic tiles are ideal for any residential, commercial or contract furnishing application, including interior floor and wall coverings (a kind of modern wainscoting) and exterior use on terraces and patios.

The variety of aesthetic styles is also highly diversified, ranging from the most elegant wood-effect ceramic inspired by the age-old inlay techniques to untreated industrial-look tiles that reach their highest expression in the field of large-size panels. Cersaie 2017 saw the market launch of industrial ceramic and laminar parquet, a very popular product in the 1950s that consisted of panels made from layers of wood slats glued and pressed together to make them stronger and more compact, but this time in a mixture of different in-tone or contrasting colours.

But Italian ceramic tiles are pushing the envelope even further, evolving towards a rustic-chic style inspired by low-value timber such as plywood or even the wood composite used to make crates, but in a range of colours capable of lending a unique look to any kind of space.

This wood-look trend also lends itself to hybridisation in the colder tones of grey, smoke and coal, and even petrified wood.

This brings us to stone-look ceramic tile, another type of product that was much in evidence at Cersaie 2017. White, Statuario and Calacatta marble inspired surfaces were particularly popular at last year’s show, standing out for their unique gloss and astonishing vein effects. Ceramic surfaces are now capable of recreating all kinds of stone, even the rarest and most sophisticated varieties such as Orobico Marble, Caldia Marble, Grigio Carnico Marble, Croatian stone, Bamboo Green Marble and Brit Stone, all displaying astonishing colours, striations and structural and surface effects.

But the research efforts do not stop here. They alternate between the opposites of “perfection and imperfection”, creating ceramic materials inspired by resins, cements, faded paints, trowelled plaster walls and worn industrial metals such as zinc, complete with oxides and fibreglass insertions. In keeping with the evolution of tastes in contemporary living, the most popular colours are smoke, ash, coal and even sand, along with dusty, textured or polished finishes.

Technical performance is another crucial aspect. Whether they take the form of large, thin panels or extra-thick slabs, these products are ideal for use in coordinated interiors, on continuous surfaces, in exteriors and even in the most complex architectural applications.

In a marked return to the industrial materials of the past, ceramic tiles are embracing a look that ranges from reinforced concrete to elegant terrazzo and composite floors.