The Future of Tile and Ceramics: A Review of Cersaie

As a designer, finding inspiration everywhere is crucial to staying relevant, educated, and curious. Sometimes that inspiration is right outside your front door and sometimes it takes you to regions of the world you’ve never experienced. Today’s post is written by Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, 1999 – 2000 IIDA International President, who had the opportunity to travel to Bologna, Italy, for Cersaie, an international ceramic tile and bathroom exhibition. Read what he learned, including the technological advances being made in the Italian ceramics industry and the big tile trends to expect in the coming year.

In September, I had the privilege of being a delegate to Cersaie (pronounced: tcher say e), the annual ceramics fair in Bologna, Italy. Although many of the exhibitors were Italian, the fair is an international showcase of ceramics. My hosts were the Italian Trade Commission and Confindustria Ceramica – the Italian Association of Ceramics.

Confindustria Ceramica represents over 260 ceramic tile, sanitary ware, tableware, and refractory materials manufacturing companies, with Cersaie focused on the first two manufacturing segments. U.S. and Canadian architects and interior designers might think that ceramic tile usually refers to bathroom and kitchen tiles and mosaics, but it encompasses many types of wall and floor covering tile and panel.

Some significant statistics about the industry provided by Confindustria Ceramica:

  • Overall recycling in Confindustria Ceramica factories is 99.5 percent with 100 percent of the water used in production recycled.
  • Italian ceramics industry is adopting LEED 4 at the end of October 2016.
  • Ceramics factories recycle material from other industry sectors, effectively making their recycling efforts more than 100 percent.

The products I viewed were porcelain and ceramic, with this year’s technological advance being large format panels – some 1×3 meters and thinner panels – down to 3 millimeters for wall application. Although the original source material for manufacturing the tile was the red clay that came from around the city of Sassuolo, not far from Bologna,, now the raw materials such as feldspar, quartz, and others are sourced from other countries. Fabrication begins with constructing the panels, which may also have intrinsic coloring and textures added during manufacture, and are then printed with surface patterns. The printed surfaces are relatively thin, but the strength of the underlying panel and extremely hard glazes applied over the printing makes the products strong and long-wearing. Confindustria Ceramica noted that their members’ tile has the best longevity of all flooring materials including carpet, wood, and marble. Panels can be used for floor, wall, indoor, outdoor, and special applications – often using the same tiles.

A unique new product is a ceramic porcelain roof tile with integrated solar panels. The solar panels are the same shape and size as adjacent roof tiles, and are installed using a plug-in grid system that then connects to the building’s electrical system. Very cool!

As a delegate, I toured a factory near Sassuolo to see first-hand how the panels are manufactured. The factory building was very large to accommodate the long production lines but with relatively few people required. I saw the process from start to finish, with the panels formed, textured, printed, baked in kilns, quality checked and packed for shipment – quite impressive.

During my three days in Bologna, I learned what trends to watch for (Warning: “This is not your grandmother’s tile,” said a member of Confindustria Ceramic):

  • Lighter colors with a softer feel and a predominance of blue as an accent color in tiles
  • Large format concrete patterned panels from all manufacturers
  • Almost invisible grout lines, highly rectified tiles
  • Increased use of patterns, both subtle and strong, including strong dimensional surfacing
  • More precious patterns, including geometric shapes such as hexagons and rhomboids
  • 3-D textures from lightly textured through highly visible shadowing
  • Small to large graphics, and all the stops in between
  • Fabric textures on tiles, with tartans, plaid, herringbone, and madras – finished smooth or with varying dimension and texture
  • Panels exhibiting more movement, with warps and wefts in the patterning to convey energy
  • Many wood effects ranging from somewhat accurate wood representation to artistic images implying wood
  • Greater focus on representing natural stone more effectively, including large-scale, book-matched marble, slate, travertine, granite, etc.

The show and its exhibits were quite striking, providing an excellent overview of Italian ceramic tile product and approach. The Italian ceramics industry produces high-quality products with a strong focus on design – and I should know – owing to all the Italian ceramic tile in my home.


Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, is Managing Principal of Pollack Consulting, which he created after founding and leading award-winning Pollack Architecture for 28 years. Pollack Consulting assists firms’ growth and success through improved business development, winning presentation techniques, business coaching, recruiting top talent, and ownership transition implementation. You can reach him at Richard@RichardNPollack.com or 415.508.6008.  

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