New materials in the world of interior design


Natalie Sparkes

July 14th, 2020
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The world of design is looking to constantly evolve, creating new trends to wow clients. Interiors are now looking to integrate seamlessly with the users, regardless of their style tastes. Combined with the need for durability and sustainability, interior designers and their clients are willing to pay higher prices for finishes that they know will last that much longer. Manufacturers across the globe are now creating new and innovative materials that are not only beautiful, but that also focus on being environmentally friendly. However, creating 100% brand new products is difficult in modern times, so designers are also re-evaluating the use of existing materials and how these can be featured in original ways to create beautiful schemes. Here are just a few of the new ideas being created for residential interiors.

New Finishes

There are companies out there that have been able to develop brand new finishes, mainly focusing on hard finishes for walls, floors and ceilings. These are designed to not only look great but to also be hardwearing for daily residential use. One of note is Max Fine, a new collection of tiles from Italian ceramics company FMG. The large scale tiles are only six millimetres in thickness, meaning they can be used not only on walls and floors but also across hard furnishings. “It breaks down the barriers between surfaces for architecture and furnishing” FMG explains. Crafted from porcelain, the surfaces of the tiles are ultra-realistic, designed to mimic various natural stones, metals, and marble. To ensure durability, FMG has made the tiles to be scratch-resistant, as well as UV, stain, and mould resistant.

1 New finishes

Image credit: Max Fine by FMG

Endicott is another company developing new tile solutions. Using clay and natural minerals, they have created an ultra-thin glazed brick, with a thickness of only ½”. This versatile brick can not only be used on both interior and exterior surfaces, but it also comes in a huge range sizes and colours, to suit any design scheme.

Tile solutions are proving popular with manufacturers, with another company developing and producing porcelain tiles. Spanish company Aparici has created an environmentally friendly tile for both walls and floors, from porcelain rather than ceramic. Aparici has also considered the transition from exterior to the interior by creating a 2cm thick exterior tile that matches the 10mm thick for interiors.

Stepping away from tiles, architects are increasingly using a new interiors material normally found in the aerospace industry – Alucore. This is an aluminium honeycomb with two cover sheets, which has high formability, making it very versatile. Designers are turning to Alucore as it not only looks sleek and elegant, but it’s also incredibly strong. Its strength comes from the manufacturing process, which bonds the honeycomb centre with the cover sheets continuously, not giving the material the chance to become brittle.

In 2013, the cement industry was listed as the most energy-intensive manufacturing industry by the EIA, better known as the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Therefore, a new concrete-like product that reduces the use of energy in manufacturing is a welcome thing. Microcement, created by Topciment. is a coating formed by combining cement with water-based resins and minerals, creating a fine, soft finish, with a thickness of only 2 to 3mm. Microcement is incredibly versatile, being able to cover floors, walls and ceilings, whilst having no joins in the material, making it hygienic and easy to clean. Being handcrafted, no two coatings are the same, giving the client a unique product to their property.

Sustainable Materials to Create Modern Designs

The initiative to reduce energy emissions has led to the increased use of sustainably sourced timber, both inside and outside residencies. Despite being a classic material, timber is being used in ways to create modern, welcoming spaces.

As well as timber, interior designers are incorporating plants within their design schemes, especially in built-up urban settings where green space is minimal. The concept of bringing the outside in has long been explored by architects and designers. It can create peaceful spaces for residents, allowing them to forget about the hustle and bustle of the world outside their front door. However, designers have to consider the longevity of these projects, at times making sure that the plants require minimal care to not impact on busy lives.

Bringing the outside in

Image credit: © Dilanka Bandara and archdaily

Recycling Materials to Create Something New

With the current focus on reducing waste and carbon footprint, it’s important for manufacturers to consider not only how much waste their product will produce, but how it could be recycled for another use. Or, like London based design company Newtab22, they can look at how they can take a waste product from another industry to create something new and innovative.

Designers Hyein Choi and Jihee Moon have developed a new concrete-like material made from discarded seashells. These shells are harvested from those destined for landfill, having been discarded by the seafood industry. As they are non-biodegradable, seashells are contributing to the pollution of both sea and land, and so Newtab 22 upcycles them to create a zero-waste material. The shells are largely made of calcium carbonate, giving them similar properties to the limestone that is more commonly found in cement. Once salvaged, the seashells are then ground down and combined with natural binding agents to create the concrete-like material. Whilst currently still in development, Sea Stone is one of a long line of steps in the right direction for sustainable new materials.

3 Seas stone

Image credit: Sea Stone by Newtab-22

Another company using waste products to create something new is Scottish start-up Kenoteq. Their new K-Briq is made 90% from construction waste and is unfired, meaning it generates less than a tenth of the carbon of house bricks. Produced in any colour, whilst the K-Briq looks and behaves exactly the same as a standard brick, it has better insulative properties. Kenoteq sent the product to mass production earlier this year, being one of the first companies researching sustainable construction materials to do so.

4 K-briq by Kenoteq

Image credit: K-Briq by Kenoteq, Forbes

Using Existing Materials in New Ways

Incredibly popular with interior designers is looking at using existing products in inventive ways. How can they take a well-known material and make it interesting? Some combine materials to create something new, such as Kaldewie, who are offering a unique range of bathroom products made from a combination of steel and glass, creating what they have named ‘steel enamel’. This material gives you strength and robustness, along with high thermal stress resistance. It also has high scratch resistance, making it more hygienic than ceramic tiles, which can harbour bacteria in small scratches and cracks. Being made from natural materials, steel enamel is also classed as 100% sustainable, as it can be fully recycled at the end of its use, which would be a lifetime with the 30-year guarantee that comes with all of the range.

Another relatively new combination is that of laminate and vinyl flooring to create Luxury Vinyl Tile or LVT. This combines the strength and warmth of laminate planks with the water and slip-resistant qualities of vinyl. LVT is ideal for apartments as it is known to reduce noise by up to 30% compared to standard laminate flooring. Manufacturers, including QuickStep and Amtico, offer a range of finishes including natural wood and stone effect, and on-trend geometric patterns. LVT is becoming more and more popular with designers for being such a versatile flooring that can be used throughout the residence.

Designers have also been known to take materials and use them for a new purpose. One example is using sheet vinyl as a wall covering. Being a relatively flexible material, vinyl can adapt to go around curves, leaving a smooth and sleek finish. New geometric designs are allowing modern, hardwearing looks throughout the home.

Soft Design Solutions

Hard materials such as tiles are not the only products being developed for use in modern interiors. Lighting is also being considered, and even the simplest of lighting can completely change the feel of a room. Colour therapy is becoming increasingly popular, with clients looking to use coloured lighting to enhance the atmosphere of specific spaces. Designers are now using neon lighting in creating these spaces. Normally associated with signage in tourist traps such as Times Square and Las Vegas, neon lighting is branching out into interiors, and not just for wall signs to create kitsch vintage schemes. Now neon lights are being used to create atmospheric spaces within the home, as it has the power to completely transform the look and feel of a room. Even just simply lining the ceiling can create a dramatic effect.

5 Neon lighting

Image credit: With.It Home / BodinChapa Architects. Image © Rungkit Charoenwat

Color Kinetics has created a luminous textile – multi-coloured LED lights integrated with fabric panels. These are used to not only create beautiful lighting effects but to also give a sense of movement and texture to the room. Hung from the ceilings, the panels help to control sound penetration for neighbours above. Much like neon lighting, the LEDs can be configured to create whatever desired effect the resident has at the time.

Another way to create a colourful, atmospheric interior, is by using translucent coloured panes in the façade. Rodeca is a leading manufacturer in translucent panes, normally found in commercial buildings. The company is now branching out to residential projects, using the coloured panes to create beautifully lit interiors. Unlike neon lights, the light emitted from the panels cannot be controlled by the residents, so can be problematic if the desired effect is not achieved.

This is just a snapshot of the products entering the market, with many more in development. The focus on sustainability is driving manufacturers to come up with innovations to suit the values of designers and users alike. Our job as designers is to keep up-to-date with new interior design trends, which includes new materials. We need to think about how we can be innovative, how we can stand out from the pack, to create beautiful and memorable spaces for our clients. Spending more on finishes will lead to longer-lasting, timeless schemes that will inspire other designers and residents alike.

Header photo credit: Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

About Natalie Sparkes

Natalie has studied both architecture and interior design at university, and now combines her passion for design with her love of writing.

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