At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, Enzo Mularoni, vice chairman for promotional activities at the Italian Trade Commission, says that the contraction in Italian tiles in the United States relates to price points and not to market loss. The commission believes in the U.S. market and is confident the growth will start again.

In recent years as the housing industry and real estate cool, European tile manufacturers have seen a slight decrease in consumption of their products. Tile imports from Italy and Spain--higher-cost producing countries?have decreased: 4.1 percent for Italy, 5 percent for Spain, and 4.8 percent for Brazil, the council says. At the same time, imports from lower-cost producing countries--Mexico and China--have increased. China, in particular, saw a whopping 53.9 percent increase over 2005, while Mexican imports increased 10.6 percent.

Still, the Italian tile producers are upbeat about the future and continue to develop trends that will, hopefully, entice U.S. buyers. This spring, they will be focusing on mixed formats such as 12-by-12-inch tiles paired with smaller pieces. "Tiny mesh-mounted mosaics are mixing with over-scaled rectified porcelains to create versatile looks for indoor and outdoor settings," the Italian Commission's spring trend preview says.

Manufacturers say tiles that mimic the look of wood look are still hot and re likely to continue. Expect for dealers to display planks measuring 24 and even 48 inches that look like teak, oak, or maple.

One of the leaders in contemporary design, metallic looking tiles are pervasive at the show. The pieces, measuring as much as 48 inches by 24 inches in some cases, take on the appearance of stainless steel, copper, or Corten steel. And advance glazing technology has been mixed with real metal to give pieces an authentic appearance.

Lastly, large format tiles continue to be extremely popular over seas and are only now starting to make inroads in the U.S. market. Sizes such as 36 by 24 inches and 48 by 24 inches are now common, even though not as popular in this country. Manufacturer Floor Gres says American buyers are now getting into those sizes, though slowly. Part of the reason, the company says, is that substrates have to be extremely flat to accept large tiles and installation has to be done well.