The Natural Stone Show- Hard Surfaces will run from 30th April to 2nd May. The event promises both an outstanding selection of surface solutions of all kinds, but also a powerful programme of seminars and presentations that will add real value to attendees.
Hard Surfaces is set to attract both building professionals - architects, interior designers, consultants, and developers - and the construction trade sector - wholesalers/importers, kitchen/bathroom/tile retailers and specialist fabricators. Good representation is also expected from local authorities, central government, and NGOs.
Because Hard Surfaces is co-locating with the Natural Stone Show, it already has an established core visitor profile that will be boosted the extensive marketing activity that has already taken pace and will continue in the run-up to the show.
Visitor highlights from the 2017 Show included 8 of the top 10 UK architectural and design practices and 25 from the top 50; including BDP, Broadway Malyan, Feilden + Mawson, Foster + Partners, Gensler, Jestico + Whiles, RMJM, Swanke Hayden Connell, and Wilkinson Eyre.
Leading UK building consultancies, contractors and house builders, including Arup, Balfour Beatty, Barratt Homes, Grosvenor, Kier, Persimmon Homes, Redrow Homes, Sir Robert McAlpine, Taylor Wimpey, and Weston Homes, also attended.
They were joined by buyers from top retailers, distributors and major hotel chains, including Accor Hotels, B&Q, Fired Earth, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Harrods, Homebase, John Lewis Partnership, Norcros, Porcelanosa Group, Radisson, RAK Ceramics, Tile Giant, Topps Tiles, and Tile Warehouse.
One of the key reasons why Hard Surfaces has been added to The Natural Stone Show is to reflect the significant advances in surface technology that has taken place in recent years. This means that the ExCel event will showcase a very broad portfolio of cutting-edge surface solutions that reflect the very latest advances in material manufacturing technology.
Material focus: ceramic and porcelain
The difference between ceramic and porcelain essentially comes from the materials selected and the heat of firing. Porcelain is normally be made from finer materials that are fired at a higher temperature, which makes them stronger, denser, and less porous. These are ideal properties for kitchen worktops, which is why they are becoming a popular choice in the KBB market.
However, the terms 'ceramic' and 'porcelain' are sometimes used as interchangeable, and the materials used for worktops are the result of the advanced development of such techniques, applying technology used in the tile industry to create products in large dimensions that can be used for custom-made worktops, floors and wall linings. They tend to be thinner (like ceramic and porcelain tiles) than stone, quartz or some UCS.
Jetstone is one company offering these worktops and it now has more than 20 colours available in its ceramic collection, including metallic, rust and concrete. Another version is the own-branded Ceralsio from CRL Stone, available in 27 colours and in three thicknesses – 12mm for a slim worktop, 10mm for floor tiling, and 6mm for wall cladding.
Reflected at Hard Surfaces will be the rise of mass-produced large format, ultra-thin ceramic and porcelain tiles. Virtually unheard of 15 years ago, 2,400 by 1,200mm, 1,800 by 900mm, 1,200 by 600mm, 900 by 900mm and 3,000 by 1,000mm formats are now widely available from thicknesses of just 3 to 5mm, which is less than half of a standard 11 to 13mm porcelain tile. Pressed at forces of up to 15,000 tons, these tiles are extremely durable and perfectly flat, allow faster coverage and fewer grout lines. They are also light, and easy to cut, install, and maintain. This has all been made possible through highly advanced technology that provides the ultra-thin porcelain plate elasticity and strength. Major manufacturers in this market include Italian pioneer Cotto d’Este (now part of the Panariagroup) and other European firms such as Ariostea, Laminam, Porcelanosa, Graniti Fiandre, and Laminam.
And, of course, the latest trends in the wider ceramic tile market will also be on display, such as metallic, retro, and gritty chic inspired designs.
Material focus: ultra compact surfaces
One of the latest developments in hard surfaces is ultra-compact surfaces or UCSs as they are commonly known. They are also called sintered products because they are made by sintering a mixture of natural ingredients in a kiln at high temperatures of up to 1,200ºC. The most familiar brands in the marketplace are Dekton, Lapitec and Neolith, but the sector is evolving rapidly with new manufacturers expected to launch ranges at Hard Surfaces 2019.
Like porcelain, UCSs are tough and resilient. They are made in large sheet sizes so that horizontal or vertical surfaces have minimal joints or even none at all - allowing designers to continue solid surfaces and straight lines. UCSs can be made in sheets of 20mm and 30mm thick, which is a popular worktop thickness when using granite. But they can also be thinner for lighter weight materials for splashback and shower lining applications.
UCSs can be made to look like many other materials, such as stone or wood, either by the choice of materials to form them or, like porcelain, by printing on the surface after the sheets have been manufactured. Add to this the vast selection of textures and colours available and it easy to understand why UCSs offer such an attractive solution for contemporary designers.
Material focus: solid surfaces
Although commonly regarded as a very modern material, Solid Surfaces have actually been around for a long time; with Dupont having already celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Corian brand. These days Dupont faces competition from companies such as Hanex, L G Hausys Hi-Macs, Samsung Staron, Avonite, Formica, Maia, Wilsonart, and others.
These pliable surfaces are man-made materials, usually composed of a combination of Alumina Trihydrate (ATH), acrylic, epoxy or polyester resins and pigments. Lately, solid surfaces have started using acrylics rather than polyester as the basis for their fabrication. Polyester is less expensive than acrylic but the newer acrylic-based materials are generally considered of superior quality, although polyester is easier to thermoform (a method of shaping solid surfaces using heat). It is also generally considered that acrylics result in more vibrant colours.
Traditionally used for seamless worktop installations, Solid Surfaces deliver a non-porous and hygienic performance ideal for retail, healthcare and food-service interiors. They are also being increasingly used to provide bespoke solutions for architects and designers, as production techniques become more sophisticated and precise.
Material focus: engineered quartz
Engineered quartz is probably as familiar to most designers and householders as solid surfaces. Although it has been around a long time, the explosion in its use has taken place since the turn of the millennium. For some companies traditionally supplying granite worktops, quartz has taken over as the most commonly required material.
Quartz is strong, resilient and consistent. Because it is held together by resin it can also be thermoformed, although this is not a property that is widely exploited. It can look convincingly like white marble, which is currently a popular look for surfaces in UK kitchens and bathrooms, taking over from the blacks and blacks with sparkly chips in them that marked the beginning of the rise of the popularity of quartz.
Silestone from Cosentino is the market leader in the UK, but as sales have grown so have the number of brands. DuPont have rebranded Zodiaq to Corian quartz, Samsung promote Radianz and there are plenty of specialist players, such as Caesarstone, Cambria, Compac, Arenastone, Cimstone, Diresco, Hanstone, Okite, Quarella, Technistone, Trafficstone, and Unistone.
Engineered quartz contains a high proportion of natural quartz, finely crushed, mixed with pigments and other ingredients to create solid colours or patterns and stuck together with resin.
Material focus: terrazzo, concrete and mosaic
Terrazzo and mosaics have been used as resilient flooring solutions for millennia. Although the actual materials used these days have developed somewhat, they are still essentially cementitious with stone (or other) inclusions. This is a specialist area and companies working in it include Diespeker, Advanced Terrazzo & Tiles, Andrews & Sons, Agglotech, Quiligotti, Fegan Terrazzo and Zanetti.
The fact that cement can be coloured or stained means just about any colour is available. Currently, the grey scale is popular, no doubt influenced by the trend in polished concrete.
Another growing trend is the outside living room, separated from interior living spaces by bi-fold patio doors. Here terrazzo and polished concrete are a popular option.
Hard Surfaces will feature companies like Concreations that specialise in the design and creation of bespoke handmade, polished concrete surfaces using advanced cement formulas for interior and exterior use.
Material focus: glass and metal
Glass has only recently been introduced to the work surface market, but is finding no difficulty making an impression. Many designers have found it to be stylish, versatile and strong enough for use in contemporary design. Glass worktops use a specially treated glass that will prevent scratches on kitchen surfaces when coming into regular contact with utensils and general living.
Again, glass is a material that is practically non-porous, is available in even larger sizes than other materials, can be cut to just about any shape relatively easily, is hygienic and easy to clean, durable, heat resistant and can be easily coloured and decorated.
Glass entered the KBB market primarily as a splashback but is developing rapidly now for other surfaces, both vertical and horizontal. It has, of course, been used in rainscreen cladding and fenestration for many years.
Metal, like glass, is also starting to make inroads into the hard surfaces market. Stark, sleek and minimalist, metal lends itself to contemporary design, especially when used subtly to complement other materials. Dimensional metal surface systems are now available on the market as panel-based applications. They can be used to create seamless feature walls, columns, dividing walls, ceilings and other innovative architectural applications.
In the worktop market, stainless steel is the material of choice in the commercial kitchen sector. It is strong, durable and easy to clean, waterproof, not affected by most foods and cleaning materials, can cope with extremes of heat and is light. Designers are also now starting to see its potential as a feature on domestic kitchen islands and smaller workspaces, and several specialists have emerged in the UK market to offer a bespoke design and installation service. Many original surface solutions in glass and metal will feature at Hard Surfaces 2019.
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