Styling Tile

A trio of HOK designers from St. Louis, Toronto and Miami helped ceramic tile manufacturer Lea Ceramiche make its mark on the commercial design marketplace with the design of two new porcelain tile collections.

The Italian-based company, which primarily serves the residential market, sought HOK’s insights into how designers select products for a range of environments.  

“It was a great opportunity to work from a simple question of what’s missing in the marketplace,” said Valerie Greer.

Eclectic design partnerships are familiar territory for Lea Ceramiche, whose previous product collaboration partners have included Kravitz Design, founded by musician Lenny Kravitz, and architect Zaha Hadid.

“They valued that each of us at HOK came from different market sector backgrounds because they want to reach designers who may be specifying their product for diverse commercial or residential projects,” said Jessica Ticas, a Toronto-based HOK senior interior designer.

With each HOK Product Design team member in a different city, the group leveraged virtual collaboration technology and an in-person design charrette to develop several concepts presented to Lea Ceramiche. The project benefited from the regional aesthetic influences that each designer brought to the collaboration. 

“We wanted to create a product offering that took into account the scale and range of project types that we work on,” said Kristyna Borden.“They embraced what we were showing them, as it ended up branching out to two distinct but related product lines.”

Lea Ceramiche encouraged HOK’s designers to explore colors, patterns and textures that extended far beyond the realm of its existing ceramic tile collection.

“We began to explore the things that we find in nature as inspiration – from dappled light to visual texture that happens at different scales,” Greer said. 

The “Pixel” collection emerged from a study of Italy’s coastal, highlands and pastoral landscapes. It features vibrant blue, green and red color families, with a blend of light, medium and dark shades available. 

In contrast, the “Nest” collection offers designers an infinite pattern variation. It can be used with triangle cut-outs or applied as an interlocking pattern resembling the Pac-Man arcade game.  

“Tile is usually very rectilinear, but when you’re thinking about commercial spaces at the scale of an airport concourse or convention hall, you want something that can be grand while also providing a sense of human scale and tactility,” Greer said.  

Both collections can be adapted to wall or floor applications in commercial and residential spaces. Designers can opt to achieve a randomness of colors or patterns or to treat the design as more of an art installation for large-scale public environments. The products also can be used as a wayfinding device that guides visitors from one area of a space to another.  

“The idea behind both lines is to provide a kit of parts for the designer to mix and match,” said Borden. “There are endless possibilities for a designer, and the products can look totally different from one project to another.”

Lea Ceramiche also invited the HOK Product Design team to design its showroom to introduce the new collections at Salone del Mobile 2014 in Milan, Italy, the world’s largest furniture and design trade fair. In addition, the team had the opportunity to help name both collections as well as the red, blue and green color palette.

“There was a lot of room for creativity as well as giving them a story, allowing us to take the design that we presented and follow up with marketing ideas and a showroom design,” said Borden. “They always kept us part of the collaboration, and I really enjoyed the creative expression with Valerie and Jessica.”

While each designer brought unique perspectives and experiences to the assignment, the collaboration enabled them to celebrate their universal passion for design.

“The three of us shared the feeling that it really came down to the basics of design,” Ticas said. “Playing with geometry, color, light and texture in an interesting new realm brought an element of fun to the process.”

Borden appreciated the opportunity to participate in a project that will benefit the entire design community. “The possibility of using these new products on our projects and to see them come to life is exciting.”