Clever porcelain copies reflect the look of stone, wood and concrete. Sharon Dale reports
It's easy to fall in love with natural stone. Marble, granite and limestone are geological wonders shot through with centuries of history.
It’s easy to fall in love with natural stone. Marble, granite and limestone are geological wonders shot through with centuries of history.
The fashion for using it on walls and floors took business away from the porcelain tile industry. Now, after much research and development,it has hit back with copies that are so good, even stone experts have to look twice to tell them apart from the real McCoy.
Jason Cherrington, founder of Knaresborough-based stone specialists Lapicida, which also has stores in London and New York, says: “There has been a revolution in the porcelain industry. With the old copies you could see the pixels on the photographic image they used in the process. Now you can’t.”
Lapicida has started stocking a porcelain range, though it will only buy from the best Italian manufacturers and it has the tiles made bespoke so they accurately reflect the rectangular shapes and sizes of real stone.
Cost is one of the main incentives to switch. The price of limestone and marble is rising and porcelain is between half and a third less, though some buyers are mixing real and the imitation.
“We are working on a listed building that is being turned into a hotel and so the planners want solid Carrara marble on the staircase, which we have done, but the floor is in a matching porcelain copy. Unless you’re an expert you can’t tell the difference. The conservation officer is happy, the designer is getting the look they want and the developer is keeping costs down,” says Jason.
White marble is the material of choice for many high-end bathrooms but at about £50,000 for the average expanse of walls and floors, it is a luxury. The porcelain version costs about £3,500.
Practicality is another reason for swapping natural materials for ceramics. It works for those who want a seamless flow from the inside of a property to the outside via bi-fold doors. Natural stone often weathers, creating a mismatch, while porcelain does not.
It’s not just stone that is being copied. The Italian designers have also managed to perfect the look of wood and the tiles are a favourite with cafes and restaurants, which have high traffic and don’t want to close for re-sanding. There are copies of concrete too, which is good news for those who want the industrial look without the high cost of pouring and levelling.
More good news for porcelain tile manufacturers is that the interior trends swingometer is moving back towards colour. Decorative Moorish tiles that stand the test of time are sought-after and they work in both period and contemporary properties.
*Buying the best Italian porcelain is worth the extra investment. The tiles are fired to a high temperature and are tougher than cheaper versions from China. The latter are sometimes baked with a wax in them, which makes them porous.
Buying from a reputable source should also mean you get a good tiler. This is essential. For high traffic areas, grout is out as it will discolour. Now, there are epoxy resins, sometimes known as “liquid glass”, that are impervious to dirt and liquid.