Despite starting construction in 1390, the Basilica di San Petronio at the heart of Bologna, Italy, remains incomplete, its facade only half-covered in marble. This landmark gains new symbolic meaning each September when the Emilia-Romagna region’s capital hosts Cersaie, an annual showcase of porcelain and ceramic tiles where Italian manufacturers unveil ever more realistic marble imitations.
At the exhibition fairgrounds last fall, it was easy to imagine a day where the upper half of Bologna’s central basilica could be convincingly finished in a stone-look product. Sure, many would decry this as sacrilege. But it’s a testament to the verisimilitude of today’s marble-like offerings — by manufacturers like Atlas Concorde, Florim and Cotto d’Este — that it’s actually possible to entertain the idea. Atlas Plan can even extend an extra-large porcelain slab’s veining to run along its side edges.
It’s not just stone-look tiles causing double takes. At Cersaie 2022, Ceramiche Refin’s new Canal Grande collection mimicked the mahogany used on Venetian water taxis, achieving a rich wood-grain effect offered in both glossy and matte finishes. Versions with brass-coloured rod inserts and arch-shaped embossing brought an additional element of art deco glamour.
Granted, this type of imitation is business as usual for Cersaie. Less expected was the political backdrop to this year’s festivities: The 2022 edition of the fair arrived in the immediate aftermath of a snap election that saw Italy rally behind far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni. During after-show drinks, there was much discussion about this sharp political turn, even if there was little evidence of the movement that fuelled it.
After all, Bologna is a university town, filled with communist street art painted by youths in edgy haircuts and crisp sneakers. Beyond all the impressive stone- and wood-look offerings at Cersaie, other manufacturers could be seen appealing directly to this next generation, presenting wildly fun collections that lay the groundwork for a brighter, bolder future.
Ultimately, the best thing about the top half of the Basilica di San Petronio is that it remains a work in progress — encouraging everyone to view it as is, but also to imagine what else it could someday become. Why finish a project in marble when there are fantastical new options like Ceramica Bardelli’s cloud-like Elements tiles? Turn the page for our recap of Cersaie’s top launches and defining trends.
Launched in 2021, ISO standard 17889-1 evaluates the sustainability of ceramic tiles based on 38 key performance indicators. While the minimum score required to be considered sustainable is 117.5, Italian manufacturers clock in at an average of 124 — a ranking that reflects their ongoing work to re-use wastewater and waste material in new production cycles, as well as their prioritization of rail transport as a way to cut CO2 emissions.
Building off this embrace of eco-friendly production techniques, many of Cersaie’s launches depicted scenes from nature. Standout floral introductions included Ceramica del Conca’s romantic, grandmillennial-approved Buttercup pattern (part of the manufacturer’s Deco Studio collection); Pastorelli’s whimsical botanical illustrations; and Tulip, an earthy clay-hued design by Naxos that resembles an impressionist landscape painting. Ceramica Sant’Agostino’s Dripart took things in a slightly more industrial direction, presenting a flowery mural that looked like it had been painted onto rusted metal.
A few booths over, Seletti leveraged the latest advances in digital printing to introduce Ceramica Bardelli’s Elements collection of photorealistic water- and sky-themed panels. Solid colour tiles further underscored designers’ ongoing regard for earth and sea. At the blue end of the spectrum, the watercolour like rectangles of Poetry Colors — Paola Navone’s latest creation for ABK — combined bright turquoise and deep cobalt tones. Meanwhile, glossy green Stripes panels from Ceramiche Piemme’s Homey collection featured vertical reliefs that evoked thick blades of grass.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, exuberant manufacturer 41zero42 channelled the sensory overload of a fast-paced TikTok into a kaleidoscopic booth highlighting its latest collection, Kappa, which is appropriately marketed as “pure energy.”
Comprising 12 colours of flat, glossy tiles plus a prismatic white tile with a plaster-like finish and a series of five skinny pencil elements (three made of glossy ceramic, one terracotta, and one natural wood), the collection thrives on eclectic mix-and-match compositions. Many of its hues call to mind the 1970s — avocado green is present and accounted for, as is rusty orange — but when arranged together, the tiles deliver an undeniably contemporary jolt of life.
Faetano offered another fresh take, arranging unconventional tile pairings into giant totems and curating arresting vignettes that featured lighting and furnishings from like-minded manufacturers such as Driade. In one such still life, a mash-up of terrazzo squares and glossy blue subway tiles covered a room filled with several tubes worth of tennis balls.
This sense of play carried through to ABK’s wonderfully whimsical Wide&Style Utopica, a capsule collection of wallpaper-like patterns that feel like snakes and ladders game boards reimagined for the metaverse age.
In a year that saw the travel industry build back major momentum, Cersaie 2022 was the latest in a series of very welcome reunions for the global design community. Appropriately, many of its launches celebrated the world at large.
Lea Ceramiche’s Pigmenti (modelled after wall drawings by American artist Sol LeWitt and English sculptor David Tremlett), was another testament to the cross-pollination of ideas that come from partaking in a bit of revenge travel.
In another hit of escapism, Cir’s Tadelakt collection transported attendees to Marrakech with designs that mimicked the hand-scraped look of Moroccan plaster, as well as the signature mosaic designs that decorate the city’s villas.
At Bologna’s annual ceramic tile exhibition, the 2023 forecast calls for clouds, flowers and trips to Marrakech.