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Surface Design Show 2023 TSJ Reports

For most visitors, the strongest enduring image of Surface Design Show 2023 will be its constantly crowded walkways. Held last month at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London, the event was attended by a mass of architects and designers from across the UK and beyond.

Exhibiting companies included a strong international presence from both Italy and Spain as well as a dedicated New Talent area hosting a series of start ups.

Christopher Newton, director of the show, had only positive feedback: “The surface design industry put on an incredible display of its creativity and ingenuity as more than 180 companies gathered in London’s Business Design Centre for this year’s Surface Design Show.

“A huge 28% increase in visitors over the course of the show’s 2½-days gave a big boost to companies looking to meet with our audience of architects and interior designers. Amongst the many highlights were a Main Stage Programme of presentations from leading designers tackling Surface Design Show’s theme of ‘Shaping Communities’.

“Our New Talent exhibitors brought a wide range of surface designs and materials, on display for the first time and our Surface Spotlight Live ‘table of innovation’ was, as usual, a must see for all our visitors.”

While, in comparison to some industry exhibitions, SDS takes place over a relatively modest footprint (one building as opposed to the entire district of Clerkenwell, for example) its liveliness is easily comparable with larger shows. Visitors navigated three floors of exhibitors covering a diverse range of surface types, from tile and stone to carpet, metal, glass and various textiles.

In this environment, tile and stone companies found themselves presenting alongside several other materials, all vying for designers’ attention and consideration. Fortunately, despite the stiff (or in some cases, soft) competition, the tile and stone industries were once again a highlight of the show’s offering. Below, we’ve listed just a few of the most eye-catching, novel and intriguing selections from this year’s SDS.

Fancy finishes
Perhaps predictably, at a show dedicated to the frontiers of design and aesthetics, companies didn’t hold back when it came to showing off their boldest ideas. Italian stone specialist GM International, for example, showcased a series of highly artistic surfaces, combining floral prints with intricately patterned mosaics, even demonstrating how its stones can be embedded in more natural surfaces like wood. The company describes this concept as “an exclusive product that mixes inside nature, art and technology in a complementary fusion”.

In its permanent showroom at the Business Design Centre, Grestec took the convenient opportunity to prove its own creative credentials, with its gigantic Horrock Art porcelain slabs, which feature a stunning watercolour forest design. Last year’s Cersaie exhibition saw the introduction of countless large format tiles with nature-inspired visuals, and here at the Business Design Centre in London, that trend seems to be finding purchase.

European excellence
Just as it attracts visitors from across the globe, so too does SDS serve as a useful location for international companies to boost their profile in the UK. This year, both the Italian Trade Association and Tile of Spain, the country’s national body for tiling manufacturers, brought a small sample of their respective outputs. The Italian delegation included the aforementioned GM International, as well as Arvex Italstyle, which introduced a terrazzo range made up of 45 colours at the event, and Zagross Marmi, a 50 year-old producer of white marbles from Tuscany and Sicily.

Tile of Spain’s product collage demonstrated the imagination of the country’s manufacturers, from realistic marble-effects to glazed metro tiles. It also indicated an increased interest in the use of contrasting shapes, placing hexagons directly alongside more traditional rectangular formats.

Stellar stones
The Stone Gallery, returning to this year’s SDS, offered a clear demonstration of just how much visual distinction can be found in even the most unprocessed of materials. Architectural firm Squire and Partners collaborated with Stone Federation GB to once again bring their Stone Tapestry installation to the very centre of the show.

The project placed together a series of stones sourced from quarries across the globe, illustrating their provenance on maps suspended above each section. Each stone, from Brazilian onyx to Indian marble, was presented in a range of finishes, textures and patterns, which illustrated both continuity between the materials but also their individual identities.

Better bespoke
Individuality was a sought-after quality at SDS 2023, with many brands showcasing the ways their products could be customised to a given designer’s preferences. On the Colour Hive stand, for example, Studio GdB’s tailor-made tiles displayed an array of harmonious colour combinations, while Ketley Brick offset the simplicity of its offering with custom engravings. Taking this concept to the extreme, IP Surfaces provided an entire case of artistically modified surfaces, boasting the ability to “create any texture, any shape, any design, on any surface or material for anywhere”.

This was, of course, only a small sampling of what this year’s SDS had to offer. It would be impossible to capture everything within these pages – only attending in-person can provide the full experience. If you didn’t manage to make it to the show this year, however, we highly recommend you visit when Surface Design Show returns between 6-8 February in 2024.

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