Porcelain worktops: provenance and progression

www.DiaryofaTileAddict.com’s Joe Simpson explores the ethos behind the new Surface Area zone at InstallerSHOW.

If I had to make the case for visiting the Surface Area feature, I would choose one word: provenance.

Every product designer of note places their work in historical context, always mindful of what previous designers have accomplished. Commercial design is generally an evolutionary process, refining the product in a series of small but quantifiable improvements. Only very rarely is this cycle broken by an evolutionary leap.

This is true of today’s solid surface sector. The current generation of awe-inspiring porcelain or sintered stone worktop designs is based on a continuing sequence of small advances. Aggregated together, these small steps have built on the legacy of the earliest porcelain worktops – still less than two decades old – and refined them, minute detail by minute detail, to the supreme level of visual and tactile sophistication we see today. This process, of course, will continue in the relentless search for competitive advantage, and commercial success.

Surface Area will showcase a selection of supreme slab surfaces from five top exponents: Neolith, Sapienstone, Coverlam, Peronda, and Casalgrande Padana. While it will have some fantastic eye candy, what will truly mark out Surface Area as a must-visit feature will be face-to-face context.

Along with my colleague, Jane Addis, I will be offering every visitor a personal tour of our carefully curated products. These wonderful wood-, marble-, concrete-, granite-, limestone-, slate-, and metallic-effects look impressive. But once visitors understand the full back story – special raw materials, processing sophistication, cutting-edge manufacturing technology etc – they will truly appreciate the material value of every sample on display. What’s more, visitors will learn the language and vocabulary that will help them sell these supreme surfaces on to their own customers. This is the “provenance” I mentioned at this beginning of this article.

It is my experience that once the client – homeowner, developer, interior designer, facilities manager, architect, conservation body – truly understands the level of thought and expertise that has gone into creating these beautiful surfaces, they will be inspired to use them more.

By demonstrating your understanding of these materials, and the technologies that underpin them, installers, contractors, and fabricators reinforce their credibility in the client’s eyes. And they will also find that once the client truly understands what they are buying – technical, aesthetic, ecological, hygienic, engineering, longevity – price is no longer the critical factor. I believe that once the technical story of the latest porcelain or sintered stone worktops is told, the question is no longer “Can I afford this product?” but rather “Can I afford not to use this product?”.

Aspiration begins with understanding. And understanding is achieved by telling each material’s story. This is the message Jane and I will be delivering loud and clear at InstallerSHOW.

We will cover the health, safety, and maintenance advantages of porcelain worktops, while showing visitors a choice selection of the beautiful porcelain worktop styles that are winning customers’ hearts around the globe.

We will explain why porcelain tile panels/slabs are inhospitable to the growth of bacteria. We will also introduce you to worktops with antimicrobial properties that can suppress – or even kill – harmful microorganisms such as mould, bacteria, and fungi.

We will explain why porcelain/sintered stone does not contain or harbour allergens; and why there is no need to use worktop sealers; formulations that often contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We will also explain why porcelain worktops are free from adhesives, chemical binders, and other sources of VOCs or formaldehyde that are present in alternative worktop materials.

Surface Area will also lay out why porcelain worktops are low maintenance, water-, scratch- and stain-resistant, as well as flame and heat-resistant. In this post-Grenfell era, it is important to know that porcelain is non-combustible, will not give off toxic fumes, and will not melt, burn, or smoke when exposed to heat or fire. This means porcelain worktops are safe near a range, oven, or open flame. Homeowners can even set hot pots directly on the worktop surface without fear of damage.

Sintered stone/porcelain panels/slabs can be manufactured in almost any design. Natural stone looks, like granite and marble, remain popular, but now homeowners can choose the look of rare precious gemstones, such as agate or onyx, or forsake the natural look altogether and opt for solid colours, creative patterns, or composite surfaces based on a new man-made material combinations such as wood/cement, or resin/concrete.

Whatever worktop style your customer chooses, ceramic tile’s versatility means that clients will be able to co-ordinate (match or contrast) the worktop with their flooring, splashback, or wall tile… regardless of whether the worktop is in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or home office.

Common marble-effect colours include white, black, and grey, but the market is fast-developing to embrace pinks, blues, greens, and earth-toned marbles. Veining is an important consideration: subtle veins in a colour that does not stand out can create a calm or dreamy look, while thick veins in a contrasting colour create a bold vibe. And, as Surface Area will demonstrate, in today’s market, effective veining is as much about feel as it is about look.

Many homeowners would be happy to use more natural timber in their homes, as they appreciate that wood tables or worktops provide a warm, rustic look. Unfortunately, wood can be easily damaged by moisture, stains, scratches, or heat: and may even crack if it is not properly maintained. That is why wood-look porcelain worktops are becoming more and more popular. They provide the look of wood combined with the low-maintenance benefits of porcelain. Gauged porcelain tile provides design flexibility with wood looks, allowing clients to find the exact wood type, colour, and grain pattern they want.

Visit Surface Area to experience the benefits of the current generation of porcelain panels/slabs at first hand. This will give you the knowledge to become an active advocate for these high-performance, stylish worktop materials.

The Surface Area attraction will be located on stand 4C18 at InstallerSHOW 2024 and forms part of the wider Installer Kitchens & Bathrooms event. Installer Kitchens & Bathrooms is set to debut at InstallerSHOW 2024, offering a blend of technology, tools, innovation, and inspiration for attendees. This new addition will provide a packed content programme across two theatres, aimed at bringing the industry closer through education, knowledge sharing, and networking opportunities. It is backed by a number of organisations including the BMA, BiKBBI, NKBA, AMDEA UK and the Unified Water Label, as well as a host of leading manufacturers.

Joe Simpson is a renowned tile expert whose writing is featured in publications around the world. His website, Diary of a Tile Addict, offers valuable insight into all things tile-related.

Register for your free ticket to InstallerSHOW 2024 here.

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