Designer Views: Floors, Walls & Ceilings Focus

David Spence of SHH and Lewis Taylor of David Collins Studio tell us how important the choice of surface materials is to the success of their many standout projects

Edited by: Toby Maxwell

David Spence of SHH and Lewis Taylor of David Collins Studio tell us how important the choice of surface materials is to the success of their many standout projects. It is undoubtedly the textures and colours of surfaces in a space that set apart the good from the great, and the task of specifying the right product for the right project has become a more complicated – and significantly more creative – one in recent years. Manufacturers continue to develop increasingly sophisticated and highly customisable surface solutions for walls, floors and ceilings, giving architects and interior designers a huge armoury of tools for creating something out of the ordinary.

Among a diverse set of projects featured in this special focus on surfaces is a Montreal office-cum-cafe that manages to mix the best of old and new in repurposing a former bank building, a Madrid hotel that utilises modern materials to impress guests with bold, high-impact showpiece design, and an office for a law firm that delivers a modern and practical workspace that is in keeping with its historic landmark location in the centre of Milan. Over the following pages, we bring you a selection of inspiring projects from around the world, each with a very different take on how to innovate with surfaces, as well as a selection of key new products that you should know about.

Brendan Heath, one of the ‘S’s in practice SSH. Photography - Maxime Brouillet
Brendan Heath, the ‘S’ in architecture practice SHH. Photography - Maxime Brouillet

We also hear firsthand from designers who embrace the rich diversity of materials now available to ensure that their projects have the leading edge. ‘The success of a project comes down to how it responds to a brief, how well it functions, and how the results makes people feel,’ says Brendan Heath of architecture practice SHH. ‘Materials are important in this as they convey character and atmosphere and are something that people immediately respond to. We live in a time of almost all-pervasive technology and the smoothness of its products that we interact with. Surfaces used to be slick and clean.

The irony in recent years is that the actual spaces we physically inhabit and design are the complete opposite – with patina, imperfection, texture and a certain rawness being preferred. ‘We probably specify ceramics more than anything else. It’s such a versatile material in terms of where it can be used and how, its format, colour, scale, texture, pattern, shape, durability. Ceramic offers almost endless possibilities. ‘All projects are governed to some extent by budget. Money can never be removed from the equation, but it’s what you can achieve with the money that you’re given that makes design so interesting. Often a shortage of money means you have to be more intelligent in how you choose to spend it.

Dining space aboard HMS Belfast. Photography - Maxime Brouillet
Dining space aboard HMS Belfast. Photography - Maxime Brouillet

But ideally always on the spec list would be ceramics, stone, concrete, timber, a bit of metal, with maybe some leather. ‘Something we came across recently – and that Boffi has used for some time on its kitchens – is a stone surface from the company Nero Sicilia. It’s a simple idea and process really: take stone quarried from Mount Etna then fire it in an oven. The resulting colour and surface texture of the stone varies depending on the oven temperature. It can also fire the stone with glass powder, fusing the two materials together to create an all-over coloured glaze or delicate decorative patterns. What’s interesting is by using just two base materials and the application of heat, a whole world of possibilities opens up.

‘Of our recent projects, Tom’s Kitchen Deli at HMS Belfast for the Imperial War Museums is one of the most pleasing. Propped on some piers over the Thames and looking straight on to the ship, the location and views are impressive. What we added to the space needed to have its own strength and character, and be easily read as a food offer – yet it mustn’t shout or compete with what’s there around it. The limitations on space meant the offer had to be broken into different elements, which ran the risk of looking like a jumble. Instead, all the parts were unified by the installation of ceramics by DTILE, with radius tiles that are robust and avoid awkward corner detailing, standard old flat tiles for walls and counter fronts, and profiled tiles that form shelves to carry menu boards and utensils. There’s something very satisfying about how everything tidily knits together and does a job.’

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