Specifiers have their say on sintered stone

Sintered stone specialist Neolith has been asking architects in London, Paris and Verona which of its prototypes they’d like to see in production next year

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Neolith 'live tested' eight new surface prototypes at the London Design Festival.
Neolith 'live tested' eight new surface prototypes at the London Design Festival.

In a pop-up showroom in London’s Bethnal Green during the London Design Festival, architects gathered to run their fingers over eight new surface prototypes from sintered stone manufacturer Neolith. Variously resembling stone, timber, concrete, metal and terrazzo in both looks and texture, these new designs are vying to be chosen as the 2019 additions to the Neolith range. 

Unusually, it’s the architects who will decide. The London event was one of three ‘live-testing’ sessions held in September as part of a process instigated to ensure that Neolith’s range meets the needs of specifiers. Architects attending the London pop-up and similar events in Paris and Verona were invited to give feedback on the designs and nominate which they’d like to see in production. These events were followed by further primary research in Neolith’s key European and US markets. 

‘It’s a reassurance that what we launch next year is actually what the market wants,’ said Neolith director Mar Esteve Cortes. 

In this way, she added, the company gains valuable insights into architect and client preferences and so reduces the risk of unpopular designs, while specifiers get the opportunity to influence the latest additions to the collection.

The new prototypes have been under development for a year and reflect Neolith’s research into a number of emerging surface design trends.

‘The past five years have been all about super bright white for applications such as kitchens in the high-end residential market. While that’s still a lasting trend, we’re seeing a subtle move towards darker, more intimate, a little more masculine colours such as blacks, browns, reds, and more grainy designs as well as continued use of grey,’ said Esteve Cortes.

 

  • Architects were asked which Neolith sintered stone prototypes they would like to see in production.
    Architects were asked which Neolith sintered stone prototypes they would like to see in production.
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It’s reassurance that what we launch next year is what the market wants

This new direction is referenced in Neolith’s two new metal prototype designs Sofia Iron 1 & 2, which have sober, burnished-effect patterns, and in two new grey tones. New York-New York responds to the continued demand for the industrial look and a recent revival of interest in concrete for domestic interiors and worktops, while Moonlight draws inspiration from both Jura stone and the cratered appearance of the moon.

There are two strikingly grained stone-look designs. The ripple-effect Mar de Plata is inspired by the Brazilian Dark Pearl granite while the gentler Mont Blanc is a homage to white quartzite and a response to trends for a more understated look. In these designs, the ‘veins’ of the marble can be felt on the surface for the first time in the same way that ‘grains’ of wood are perceptible to the touch on Neolith’s timber designs. The resulting texture gives an even more realistic impression of the natural material it references. 

Another trend, said Esteve Cortes, is that of terrazzo, which has been used extensively in the design of surfaces, furniture and fabric over the last few years.

‘It’s a vintage material that’s really coming back,’ she said.

This was the inspiration for Neolith’s Venice Midnight prototype, which was the most challenging to create out of all the new designs because of the complexities of ensuring the high contrast between the dark background and the white ‘terrazzo’ flecks.

In response to the continued popularity of Scandinavian design over the last decade, the new prototypes also include a new wood design, Scandinavia, inspired by untreated oak with a softly contrasting grain.

After gathering feedback at the live-events, Neolith will decide on four or five designs to take into production, possibly with refinements to design details such as grain and colour to reflect comments from those attending the live testing sessions. The chosen new designs will be available initially in 6mm or 12mm thick formats as part of the Neolith collection from January 2019.

  • Neolith sintered stone's prototype Venice Midnight has a dark, terrazzo-style finish.
    Neolith sintered stone's prototype Venice Midnight has a dark, terrazzo-style finish.
  • Neolith's Scandinavia sintered stone prototype is inspired by untreated oak.
    Neolith's Scandinavia sintered stone prototype is inspired by untreated oak.
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New techniques
The Neolith manufacturing process for sintered stone has been refined to deliver its new designs in a more ecologically friendly way. The company is switching from solvent to water-based pigmentation by adopting the HYDRO-NDD 2.0 decoration technique. This reduces contaminating emissions while retaining the same quality of design.

‘We are very conscious of our responsibility to operate in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Further to this, our clients are demanding greener building materials to deliver on specific sustainability rules and guidelines linked to their builds,’ said Neolith director Mar Esteve Cortes.

Neolith is manufactured using high-resolution images of natural materials, which are then digitally manipulated to create the final design. In order to achieve its aim of achieving the highest degree of realism, Neolith has developed inks that behave differently when heated in the kiln to give variety to the look and feel of the surface. Previously, the texture of the pattern was achieved through a pressing process.

‘These inks can create a number of different effects including moments of shine or polish at specific points on the surface which literally pops up parts of the slab, or those which lightly penetrate the material,’ said Esteve Cortes.

Another recent innovation is the introduction of a shorter size of slab, 2.6m x 1.2m, which has the advantage of less wastage for interior applications such as residential kitchens.

London market
Neolith is expanding its presence in the UK following the launch this year of a dedicated distribution hub in Harlow, Essex, and the reopening of its London showroom in the Business Design Centre, Islington.

The Harlow facility is the first distribution centre that Neolith has opened outside its Spanish homeland and is an indication of the company’s confidence in the potential of the UK market. 

‘2019 is a critical year for us in the UK,’ said Neolith director Mar Esteve Cortes, adding that the country is one of its most important markets in Europe.

‘Residential is the bread and butter of our business. But in the UK there is also so much potential for commercial uses in restaurants, bars, hotels, offices… The material has the technical characteristics to be used everywhere,’ she said.

Recent completions include a project in Hove, East Sussex featured on the George Clarke Channel 4 programme Old House New Home. This kitchen island project features the Estatuario E01 design, which was created to emulate the veined appearance of Carrara marble. The elegant product was chosen to complement the contemporary update of the Victorian property, which includes a modern glass extension. Estatuario was used in 12mm thickness with a silk finish with the slabs book-matched to give a seamless spillover from the island worktop to the cladding.


For further information on Neolith’s new collection, contact Neolith UK, Lovet Road, Harlow CM19 5TB, 
T: +44 (0) 1279 454301, neolith.com

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