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Module 1: Surface Materials and Textures

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Surface Materials

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The power of surfaces and textures
Surfaces and textures go a long way in determining the overall look and feel of a space. They can transform an otherwise stark décor into an appealing space, change the brightness of a room and act as elements that tie together otherwise incompatible objects and pieces of furniture. In short, they can be used as an effective means of expressing a client’s personality. In the context of interior design, “surface” refers to any physical plane – this includes not only walls and ceilings, but also the sides of furniture and fittings. Surfaces are so important that there are even degree courses available in the subject. For example, Somerset College offers a BA (Hons) programme in Surface Design. “Texture” refers to the look and feel of a surface. Texture can be visual, tactile, or both. They can be rough, smooth, or anywhere in between. When an architect or interior designer devises or builds a surface, they consider its colour, texture, pattern and even images.
It must be emphasised that when designers talk about surfaces and textures, they are not simply considering fabrics and accessories. Later in the course, you will study the role of textiles in their own right. This is because, despite the fact that all textiles by definition have their own texture and change the appearance of a space, texture applies to materials and surfaces of all kinds, both hard and soft. Therefore, the discussion of texture in this module goes far beyond soft furnishings such as curtains and cushions.
Common surface materials and finishes used in interior design
If a designer is working on a new build, they may be asked to liaise with an architect to decide on the materials to be used when creating the space. If the client has requested that they redesign an interior, they will probably need to work within predefined limitations. Fortunately, most popular effects require only superficial rather than structural amendments. A designer needs to work with a client in order to establish what kind of appearance they would like to see in a surface, the extent to which they are willing to replace or upgrade their surfaces and their budget.
Activity: Surface Materials
(Time: 5 Minutes)
How many different surface materials can you name? If you get stuck, think about the surface materials used in your own home or place of work. Why did you choose these particular materials? If someone else selected them, what was the rationale behind their choice?
Common surface materials include the following:-
Stone: This is a popular choice in high-traffic areas and in spaces that need to be resistant to dirt and water, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Limestone and marble are not only easy to clean, but absorb grease! The disadvantage of stone surfaces is that they can be very expensive, especially marble. At the same time, they can prove to be a sound investment, as they will typically last for decades. Stone surfaces are typically left in a natural state, so they take on a timeless, neutral appearance that makes them compatible with many styles and colour schemes. Stone can be used for flooring, counters and as tiles. It must be properly sealed, but once it has been installed it is relatively easy to care for. Stone is not commonly used in bedrooms or sitting rooms, as it is considered a “cool” surface, both literally and visually. However, well-placed rugs and other textiles can soften the look. Underfloor heating systems can also mitigate the problem. Stone can also be used as an accent. For example, a few stone tiles around a fireplace can add a pleasing focal point to a room.
Fact: Marble is mined in various countries around the world. Over 39,000 tonnes of green marble are extracted from nearly 200 mines in India each year.
Source: Down To Earth India
Metal: Metal is very durable and stain-resistant, so is widely used in kitchens and commercial settings as a hygienic option for counters and units. It can also be used in the construction and finishing of storage units, furniture and even flooring. Steel, aluminium, gold, brass, copper and bronze all have their own unique appearances and requirements, when it comes to maintaining their colour. Metals can be purchased with brushed or polished surfaces. A brushed finish appears matte, whereas a polished finish will reflect light and look “shiny”. A metallic surface can add interest to a room, but if multiple colours and finishes are used, the final appearance can be overwhelming. Warmer metals such as bronze and copper are best for spaces that need to be warm and welcoming, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.
Tiles: Tiles are available in a wide range of materials, from brick to stone. They are a popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms, as they are easy to clean. Depending on the material, they can be a relatively inexpensive surface material. They may require careful cutting and placement, especially if the area to be covered is of an irregular shape. The size of the tiles can make a significant difference to the overall appearance of the room. For instance, a surface covered in small, light-coloured tiles will usually create an impression of a large space, relative to big tiles in dark colours. However, the overall result will depend on the dimensions and colour scheme of the space. The disadvantage of tiles is that they often require regular grouting (the white material placed between the tiles) in order to preserve a high-quality finish. Grouting can be a laborious process, so both the client and designer will need to bear this in mind before deciding to tile a large surface. Low-quality tiles are also liable to break quite easily. Furthermore, if a space contains fragile objects such as ceramics, hard tiles may not be a sensible choice because delicate items will smash or crack upon contact.
Linoleum: Linoleum is usually preferred when a client needs a relatively cheap floor covering. It is commonly referred to as “lino”. Lino comes in a wide array of textures and colours, is made from natural fibres and is often designed to imitate high-end natural surfaces such as marble and natural wood. It is fairly easy to cut, so a client or designer can fit it themselves. However, unlike natural materials, it must be resealed every year. Furthermore, it is not truly water-resistant - unless it is kept dry, the lino will develop mould. Lino is available in a tile-like pattern, so it represents an easier option for those who want a tiled floor surface but need a warmer feel underfoot.
Fact: The average lifespan of an adequately maintained lino floor is 30-40 years.
Source: The Spruce
Vinyl: Unlike lino, vinyl is made of synthetic materials. Until relatively recently, it was considered unattractive and significantly inferior to other types of floor covering. However, there are now many aesthetically-pleasing options available. It is often good value, durable and resistant to stains and water. This makes it a good option in kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms. Vinyl flooring can be purchased either as sheets six or 12 feet in width, or tiles of nine or 12 inches square. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Sheet vinyl flooring is cheaper, withstands moisture and requires relatively little time to install. However, vinyl tiles are often preferred for their appearance, as if they are chosen well, they can resemble a floor that has been tiled with a more expensive material. Some types of vinyl flooring contains several layers that are all dyed the same colour, whereas others have a top coating. The downside of the latter variety is that over time, normal wear and tear will result in an uneven appearance. Vinyl is generally hardwearing, but scratches may show up easily. Furthermore, if it is placed in direct sunlight, it may fade over time. This can lead to an unattractive appearance.
Carpet: Carpet can be made of natural materials such as wool, but cheaper synthetic carpets made of nylon, polyester and similar fibres are also available. Carpet is warm underfoot and is therefore a popular choice in bedrooms, playrooms, dining rooms, sitting rooms and spare rooms. It can also work well in offices, provided that it is made from hardwearing fibres. They are relatively easy to maintain, cost-effective and only need to be deep-cleaned every 18 months (unless badly stained). They come in numerous colours and pile lengths. A long-pile carpet gives a more opulent finish compared to short-pile options. As long as a space is measured accurately, it is relatively easy for a non-professional to fit a carpet to a high standard. However, if the carpet is particularly thick, it is best to recruit a carpet-fitter. Carpet is an effective “quietener”, so it makes a space appear more welcoming and “cosy”.
Natural wood: Many people favour the look of natural wood and aside from its appearance, it carries many advantages – it is hardwearing, creates a “warm” feeling within a space and can be used as a foundation for many different colour schemes. It is therefore a good choice for those who like to update their décor on a frequent basis. However, natural wood needs to be monitored and maintained. It is not typically water-resistant and should be covered with a suitable oil or lacquer-based product in high-traffic areas. Some softer woods, including pine, are easily dented. Furniture placed in rooms with natural wooden flooring should be fitted with protective felt coverings on all surfaces that come into contact with the floor and anyone walking across the floor should avoid wearing high heels. A designer should also advise their clients that natural wood may warp and shrink over time and that this is to be expected. Ideally, all those using the space will remove their shoes upon entering, but this may be an unrealistic requirement.
Engineered wood: This material is best thought of as reconstituted wood – it is made of natural materials, but is manufactured in such a way that anomalies in appearance and the risk of warping is reduced. This makes it a more predictable material that is easier to cut and fit to the desired size. Engineered wood is also sold ready-treated, meaning that it requires less maintenance and finishing compared with natural wood. However, it is still vulnerable to damage and dirt, so protective pads should still be placed on the bottom of table and chair legs.