Rachel Harding, Sophie Ashby, Oliver Heath and Hannah Floyd tell us about their preferences in surface materials.
Words by Toby Maxwell
London-based designer Rachel Harding has found a new way of working with solid surface material Corian -- by inflating it with air
Corian is a material with a wide variety of uses -- most commonly for kitchen and bathroom surfaces, but now increasingly in a broader range of residential and commercial applications. Some of these uses take advantage of the thermoforming properties that enable it to be heated up and then moulded into bespoke shapes.
'I knew that Corian could be thermoformed,' says Harding. 'You usually use a process a little similar to vacuum forming, but I was interested in other processes that could be used while the material was in a flexible state. The inspiration for the project really came from the desire to create an inflated form with the texture of granite or marble -- I really wanted to create inflated stone.'
Harding worked with Corian's Phillip Hutfield, Max Klaentschi and fabricatoring firm Cutting Edge to produce the full-scale prototype of her chair, made at the McD Marketing Corian workshop in Pitstone, Buckinghamshire.
'The first experiments for this project were created in a domestic oven with a bicycle pump. The fabricators were quite surprised when I showed them my initial tests, because Corian doesn't stretch like metal or rubber they didn't think it was possible.'
Rachel Harding is working with inflated Corian
'When the Corian is inflated, it creates an interesting shape, but it also adds strength,' Harding continues. 'The chair is a natural outcome of this new manufacturing process; its feel and texture is that of stone or ceramic, but its form alludes to soft inflatables. These chairs are impossible pieces, at once soft and hard, playful and serious.
'Usually, when designers use a solid surface product like Corian, they just use it in sheet form. This is the first time anyone has actually inflated a solid surface material.'
Interior designer Sophie Ashby explains why splicing materials can unlock a host of creative possibilities...
'We are using quite a lot of new aggregates and terrazzos at the moment. Terrazzo -- made from post-consumer materials such as stone and glass -- has been around for centuries. Its sustainable credentials and affiliation with mid-century spaces worldwide has made it very fashionable at the moment, and the bolder the better. Olivia Aspinall's Chip material is particularly striking with huge chunks of monochrome combinations making a serious statement, whether applied to furniture or surfaces. We have just designed a large, metal-framed dining table with our own customised Olivia Aspinall aggregate in a selection of cool blues, moss greens and rusty tans.
'Max Lamb's collaboration with Dzek to create a designer-led architectural material has also been a great success. We like it because the surface skilfully balances the 15th-century craft traditions with modern engineered stone technologies. Stephanie Tudor's Jesmonite is also a really innovative, colourful material with a slightly translucent, matt patina. She has a very modern colour palette and plays with the gradients of density to create different formations.
Marcin Rusak's Floral Screen
'Splicing materials together also forms a surface we are quite excited about. Splicing shows great technical skill and attention to detail. Bethan Gray's Band collection pairs coloured marbles with warm burnished brass to create half-moon pieces -- the effect is exquisite.
'The talented Lara Bohinc has designed a collection called Lunar for Lapicida and the results are beautiful. The side table in particular is a remarkable feat and harmoniously splices at least four types of marble together, with brass banding and a minimalist pedestal tying it all together. A new discovery this year was Marcin Rusak. Marcin has painstakingly developed the technique of capturing dried and fresh flowers in resin and has realised the material in a series of design pieces. The resin has a transparency, which gives the material a beautifully whimsical character. He has created a room divider out of his material, spliced and rearranged in an irregular pattern -- and the effect is gorgeous.
Dining table from the Lapicida Lunar Collection
'We also have our eye on the beautiful, hand-blown Cathedral glass that Rupert Bevan produces. We really want to make something very simple out of it -- a restaurant bar, concierge desk or simple cuboid table would be stunning. It has a very raw, lumpy quality that is very soft and is a good example of the power in the poetry of a material.
His showroom is an ode to what can be achieved if you combine imagination, creativity with unique raw materials; he has this crackled cream gesso, which is very organic and would make beautiful wardrobe doors and wall panels.
'And the studio of master leather specialist Bill Amberg is just around the corner from us, and spending time there has given me a little bit of a leather obsession. We are dreaming of using his buffalo-leather flooring tiles in a project. The natural patina and ageing that happens with leather is so beautiful. I love the smell too.' studioashby.com
Oliver Heath, interior designer and biophilic design ambassador at Interface, explains why he thinks the interiors of the future will have an altogether more natural flavour...
'My prediction for interiors this year and beyond is for a continued growth and interest in biophilic design -- design inspired by our instinctive love of nature -- that is proven to have a positive impact on our wellbeing when executed well.
'Creative use of colours and textures on walls and floors can be the simplest and most practical way to bring biophilic design to life in a project. There are many academic theories that support this, for example the "Savannah hypothesis" outlined by Bill Browning, one of the green-building industry's foremost thinkers and strategists. The theory states that humans tend to seek out colours which are within the colour palette of nature when it's thriving. Therefore, the theory follows that using colours within this palette can rejuvenate or inspire us, and changing the colour of the walls can be one of the simplest ways to do this.
'While traditional building materials still have an important role in interior design, there are a number of new products in the market that offer an innovative twist. For example, German company Organoid produces wall boards made of organic products, such as Alpine grass, rose petals and straw. The boards are an innovative way of bringing organic elements into an interior, having both an aesthetic as well as a sensory benefit -- in particular from the aroma produced by the plants used to create the boards. Scorched timber cladding, such as larch and cedar boards, are also becoming increasingly popular for striking, sensual surfaces that incorporate the random beauty of nature.
Equal Measure from Interface, inspired by the calmness of weather-worn materials, can be used to create biophilic interiors
'A variation in the use of textures in a space is a great way of creating biophilic interiors. Flooring is often the simplest and most practical way to do this. For example, Interface's Equal Measure and Near & Far modular flooring collections are inspired by the calmness invoked by sensual weatherworn materials, with varieties in textures and pile heights. By reconnecting workers to nature, the use of these types of surfaces can have a positive impact on wellbeing.
'The clever use of products, colours and textures, whether organic or man-made, can create a canvas for work spaces that can inspire or rejuvenate.' interfaceflor.co.uk
High-performance yet low in environmental impact, Solidwool is billed as a new way of working with wool. Hannah Floyd, co-founder of Solidwool, explains the thinking behind this innovative material...
'Solidwool came about because we wanted to find a new way of working with wool. We were inspired by our hometown of Buckfastleigh, an ancient wool town in south-west England. It used to have lots of wool-based industry, but over time that has moved north or abroad.
'We started to play with wool and then came upon the idea of using it in a similar way to the glass in fibreglass.
My husband is a product designer and has designed with composites before, and so we applied this knowledge as a starting point.
'We use coarse wools from the iconic Herdwick sheep of the Lake District, historically used in the UK carpet industry. Demand for this wool is in decline and is now considered almost worthless, a by-product of sheep farming.
Detail of a chair, with a Solidwool seat and ash wood legs, from the Solidwool Henbury Collection
'The wool is combined with bio-resin in a unique process we have developed. With this material, we have designed and manufactured the Hembury Collection, a range of beautiful, classic furniture, designed to last and made to cherish. The collection includes a chair and side table made with Solidwool material and UK-sourced ash wood legs.' solidwool.com