The Finish Line: Borders, Accents, and Listellos
May 1st, 2006

May-June 2006

Borders, accents and listellos are more than a finishing touch. They can take a tile installation from good to great and offer you an upselling opportunity. Although many manufacturers include these pieces as part of an overall tile program to encourage the end-user to both personalize and trade up in terms of design, other companies have made their name in the business by just offering accents and listellos. But everyone TileDealer talked to agrees that these stylish “extras” are becoming more and more important in both wall and floor tile designs.

“We’re seeing more and more demand for the decorative tile and trims and borders,” notes Laurie Lyza, marketing manager of Crossville Tile in Crossville , TN , the largest manufacturer of porcelain stone tile in the United States . Lyza attributes this demand to changing tastes and a need for greater variety and versatility. “Tile is now looked at not as a commodity product but really as part of an overall design function. The trim and the decorative pieces really tie in nicely with that. Tile is part of an overall design now—and not simply just a floor or wall covering.”

Art tile has always been renowned for its crowns, molding pieces, and decoratives. Guy Renkert, president of The Ironrock Company in Canton , Ohio , says many people who have been interested in decoratives and listellos have had to seek out art tile lines because they couldn’t find what they like in more mainstream tile. “Say someone has bought one of the big beautiful Viking or Wolf stoves…while they may run more traditional 3 x 6 or 4 x 4 field tile under the cabinets, once they get back to the backsplash behind their stove [they want] to be able to frame in a an area that’s almost like a picture window of art.” Different elements in a line, like pencils and rope trim, can be used as a frame “to allow you to express your design so much better.”

Listello USA Ltd. in Southhampton , Pennsylvania , is one of the few companies to focus exclusively on this niche. The company designs its borders and decos in colors that coordinate with field tiles made from manufacturers like Dal or Florida Tile in order to achieve universal usage. Most factory tile comes with a limited variety of listello, notes sales manager Stephen Chiaravallotti, and much of it doesn’t match because the pieces are made in different runs which sparks complaints from homeowners. Listello USA recently launched a service called “Design America” to make custom listellos and borders for other tile manufacturers’ house lines based on a current batch of tile to guarantee an absolute match.

The manufacture of listellos and other decorative elements are certainly not limited to American companies.

Listellos on the floor

Though it has been common to use listellos and other borders to outline tub enclosures or delineate a backsplash, Renkert says a growing trend is to use more borders on the floor. Instead of picking one size and color of tile and applying it like wall to wall carpeting, people will create “rugs” in their tile using borders and tiles set on a diagonal. Even some of Meredith’s dots, which are mainly used on walls, have been set into the floor out of main traffic patterns. “It’s a way to add a little more color, flair, and texture,” says Renkert.

Floor borders have traditionally been made out of hardwearing material like stone, ceramic, or porcelain, but Listello has introduced four glass tiles in the Optima line suitable for floor use. The Optima line, says Chiaravallotti, gives people the ability to use the same elements on the wall and floor, “so it helps to unify a room, especially a bigger room where you may do a border on the floor or the wall and then do decos on the opposite piece. It does give a lot of flexibility and opportunity.”

Crossville manufactures a lot of floor tile but most of its borders and decoratives are meant for use as wall tile. One exception is Questech, with decoratives specifically designed for floor use.

While some companies like Listello USA design borders to work with field tile from other manufacturers, Renkert says it’s very unusual for a customer to pair factory field tile with Meredith’s hand-painted borders and decoratives. “Usually when that happens it looks awkward,” he says. “You wouldn’t mix a white wall tile with a Mexican saltillo strip – one is far too rustic in comparison to the other.” Mass- produced tile has uniform grout joints when set properly, but handmade tile tends to be more uneven and is often far thicker in depth. And he points out, Meredith’s hand painted decos and borders are what set the art tile line apart.

Renkert says that most tile showrooms steer customers away from mixing and matching tile lines “because they know it looks poor.” Renkert also feels that most consumers don’t know much about tile and how to match it: “I don’t know many people who have enough confidence to go in and spend lots of money on decorative molding and hand carved decorative tiles and then go down to Home Depot and buy 4 x 4 wall tile to go with it.” Only a handful of showrooms, believes Renkert, are good at knowing how to mix and match tile successfully.

Lyza isn’t sure how many consumers are staying solely within the Crossville line or mixing and matching with other manufacturers, but says, “Because we design in such a way that you can put together a glass from here a metal from there and a field tile to really put together a nice design you don’t have to search outside the brand….If we can demonstrate that we are a line, a product where you can get your field tile and your trim and you don’t have to go searching that just makes the entire line stronger.” (Renkert agrees with this, saying that “most people want something straight out of a can.”)

Decoratives can be the most eye-catching part of a line and the hook by which someone will buy the field tile, admits Renkert. “It’s typically the art tile decoratives and or molding selection which will hook the customer to stay with that company or manufacturer as a whole. It’s like looking at cars. If you’re in love with a Porsche you’re just not going to be satisfied with anything else.”

Manufacturers of field tile have long been accused of ignoring the decorative aspect of tile. “We ourselves have heard the need for the more decorative pieces to be part of an overall design scheme or solution,” admits Lyza, adding that dealers have been requesting more decoratives, because that’s what gets the attention. In response, the company now designs “in such a way that you can easily go from line to line. We have created some beautiful vignettes that create several elements from several lines. We may use a Questech metal border with a decorative insert from the Palais line or we may put some of the glass with the stainless steel.”

Crossville has a design director who helps its showrooms merchandise its product. Its extensive panel program “gives people an idea of how they can mix and use the different products.” Stunning effects can be achieved by using components in non-traditional ways, Lyza continues. As an example, Crossville displays an interesting use of listello on its website using nine rows of illuminescence prism glass wave listellos stacked nine high horizontally. There are no rules when it comes to tile, suggests Lyza: “What we tell people is it’s really their personal taste. I for instance really love the way bronze looks with our Napoleon blue tile – someone else may not. As long as there are no technical reasons people are free to use tile in any combination that they like.”

The use of decorative trims and borders is often driven by fashion. During the Victorian era people “went crazy with moldings,” notes Chiaravallotti, and it wasn’t uncommon to find eleven different layers from floor to wainscot in bathroom tile. Then there was a long period when it was customary just to apply field tile to walls and floors with no embellishment, using tile much like paint. Today, more homeowners are appreciating the wide range of effects that can be achieved with tile, inspired by the proliferation of lifestyle television shows like Home and Garden television and shelter magazines too countless to name. “Now there is very much a mindset of yes, I want to have decoratives in there,” says Chiaravallotti.

Crossville works with many home magazines to supply the tile on projects because, says Lyza, “we know people are getting so much inspiration from the magazines and from the home shows, from the HGTVS and the DIYs. They see an idea on an episode and want that tile, so we do see that a lot of inspiration is coming from those outlets.”

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