Tile took center stage at the Home & Remodeling Show at the Dulles Expo Center this month as recent innovations in production and application have made it the go-to product for home remodelers.
"It's not just a porcelain tile anymore. You can make it look like whatever you want," said Mary Beth Schepp, of the Mosaic Tile Co.
Far beyond block, brick and diamond layouts, tile has become a chameleon, morphing into any style floor, wall or ceiling a homeowner might want.
The neighbor's new floor that looks like stone probably is tile. What appears to be slate, likely is tile, along with the flooring that looks just like reclaimed wood.
The revolution behind the evolution of tile is the ink jet technology that produces look-a-like finishes at a fraction of the cost of real stone or wood.
"It can look like anything you want it to. That's really enticing to designers," Schepp said. "It's the ink jet technology. Basically a picture is being printed on a tile."
Faux finishes in tile are nothing new, but the quality of the images is superior. "When it first came out years ago, it was kind of pixilated," Schepp said. "Now, it's evolving, and it's a crisper look."
Dave Paccassi, of Burke-based Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, said he loves the new tile options.
"You don't have to sell somebody on natural stone anymore," Paccassi said. "It looks real. And the interesting thing is people are doing stuff with tile that looks like hardwood floors."
Even touching tile to identify it is becoming less reliable as manufacturers are adding texture to products to mimic the feel as well as the look of natural finishes.
Edimax, an Italian company, makes a product called Slaty that looks and feels so much like slate that even when standing on it, it is difficult to tell the difference.
The application has gotten easier, too, especially with new thinner tile available. A 3.5-millimeter tile can be installed over existing tile, eliminating costly and messy demolition.
"Even if the product is more expensive, installation is so much easier than natural stone," Schepp said.
Paccassi said he prefers tile to the laminate woodlike floors that emerged in the 1990s. "It's going to hold up a lot better," Paccassi said. "Laminates, like the click Pergo, can feel hallow. It's inexpensive, and anybody can put it in. But it's a different finish; it doesn't look or feel as substantial."