Small rooms, big ideas
Surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms are central to creating the mood of a home, but some choices can be overlooked. Surfaces are no longer limited to the obvious such as stainless steel, granite or marble.
Choices are plentiful, from imitation stone and timber to leather tiles, toxin-absorbing wall panels and even veneers made from materials such as banana trunk fibres.
Technical innovations, especially smart coatings, have allowed manufacturers to produce surfaces that not only look and feel new, but are environmentally friendly. Materials once considered too porous or soft, such as bench tops made of cork or recycled paper, are now able to be used thanks to these smart coatings. The latest coating is known as Titania (titanium dioxide), which is applied to ceramics and paint, enabling it to repel dirt.
One of the more exotic veneers is produced by Papyrus, an Australian-based company that uses the outer and inner layers of the banana trunk to produce laminates, veneers and furniture. The product is said to be good for wet areas, with low flammability, and it does not transmit grease, oils, solvents or moisture, even at low thickness.
In recent years, concrete has been perhaps the most recognised material. But with concrete being the third-largest man-made source of carbon dioxide on the planet, carbon-negative concrete is now revolutionary. The product released by British firm Novacem uses magnesium silicate to absorb and store carbon dioxide. Australian company TecEco has released a similar product, Eco-Cement.
Concrete is similar to natural stone and, as a porous material, it requires regular sealing. For something different, concrete bench tops can be inlaid with aggregate, glass, metal, resin and other textures for a custom-made finish.
For a cost-effective alternative to concrete, Axolotl's concrete shale surface, with carved blossom and resin inlay, is a sustainable, lightweight 0.5mm veneer. It can be applied to any solid surface and embossed, etched or inlaid with metals or coloured resin.
Italian company Salvatori has also produced a surface with a conscience by reforming marble offcuts into recycled stone called Lithoverde. It comprises 99 per cent marble and 1 per cent natural resin. The stone is suitable for floors, walls and basins.
Engineered stone is a composite of stone materials such as Caesarstone or Smartstone. These offer the look of stone without the maintenance or cost. Made from more than 90 per cent quartz with a resin base, they are highly durable and resist heat, stains and scratches.
Textured surfaces with the look and feel of natural stone are now a viable option, such as Stone Italiana's Jaipur. Semi-precious stone aggregates such as Caesarstone's Aragonite have added to the scope of interesting design possibilities with vivid colours and naturally formed crystal clusters.
Caesarstone also recently launched a stunning crocodile-effect bench top surface. Motivo Crocodile is a sophisticated and bold pattern that is highly tactile and will add depth, intrigue and mood to interiors.
One of the cheapest options is laminate. It is making a strong comeback because of innovations in printing technology that enable manufacturers to mimic practically any natural material.