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Marni Jameson: I can't believe this is tile

Modern tile designs mimic natural materials convincingly.
BY Marni Jameson, For The Oklahoman Published: April 30, 2012

I do not know what's real anymore. I used to be able to rely on my own five senses and a dollop of intuition when judging people and products, but lately my senses have been letting me down.

It can be disillusioning, destabilizing to encounter people and products that convincingly pretend to be something else. This happened to me yet again at the Coverings show, one of the world's largest annual international tile shows, held last week in Orlando, Fla.

I walked into the booth, one of 800 exhibits representing 50 countries. Covering samples hung on the booth walls. I approached a set of three labeled “Lodge,” featured in maple, cedar and teak.

Now I'd heard that the show had some phenomenal faux tiles that mimicked natural materials, so I was prepared to be fooled.

I got up so close to the product sample that had it been human, my glasses would have steamed. I examined it, ran my fingers across its ridges and almost got a splinter. Wood, I concluded.

“Is this wood?” I ask the vendor.

“What do you think?” the sassy handsome Italian replies in a heavy accent.

“I think it's wood.”

“Then it's wood.”

I eye him suspiciously. I don't like to be trifled with. Then, weird as this sounds, and no doubt looked, I press my nose against it and sniff. It does not smell like wood.

“This isn't wood,” I say.

He smiles wickedly. I wanted to stamp a “Do not trust” sign on his handsome Italian forehead.

“It's not nice to fool Mother Nature,” I say, glaring.

In half English he says something about how computers take a photographic image plus a mold of the real McCoy (that's Italian for actual item), then replicates it.

I'm positively floored.

Once I get over the fact that technology is besting my senses, I appreciate that this porcelain tile, which comes in floor-plank sizes, can go where reclaimed wood would look fabulous but be impractical — say in a bathroom, a laundry area or around a pool.

Next I'm in a booth filled with I-swear-it's-marble porcelain. Huge 30 x 30 tiles are dead ringers for the real stone, right down to the slight porous quality that marble has that usually gives marble wannabes away.

Only this rep doesn't lie about it. “We want to offer a porcelain product that looks like marble, and that is more affordable and easier to maintain,” she says. I consider this with caution.

I find the same trickery in a booth featuring tile that looks exactly like raw linen and another where it replicates weathered metal.

And, you watch, next year, they will probably even get the scents right.

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