In the wake of Hotel Designs’ spotlight on surfaces throughout the month of February, editor Hamish Kilburn gets a behind-the-scenes perspective of one of the leading ceramic surface brands in the industry. Matteo Martini, UK & Northern Europe Sales Director at Atlas Concorde, joins Kilburn to explore surface trends, creative materials and sustainability…
With each collection that Altas Concorde launches – from the Boost Pro Collection to the colourful Prism Collection and Marvel Shine – the Italian ceramic surface brand solidifies its place as one of the leading names in surface design. Aside from launching sensational products, though, I want to investigate the research and development that goes into each new line. To do this, I have caught up with Matteo Martini, UK & Northern European Sales Director at Atlas Concorde, who’s passion for innovation and stylish surfaces is unmatched.
Hamish Kilburn: Welcome Matteo… Let’s get straight into it. We recently published a piece about Atlas Concorde’s Prism Collection. Can you tell us more about how you came up with these 13 colours?
Matteo Martini: Prism is the latest project born from the collaboration (began in 2018 with the capsule collection Canone Inverso) between Atlas Concorde and Piero Lissoni, famous Italian archistar with a long-lasting career within furniture and design.
The concept behind Prism comes from Lissoni’s imagination and his great sensitivity to colour variation: the hues of the range represent the light’s refractions while crossing a prism, going to create a rainbow.
Colour is a key part of our lives, conveys our emotions, our moods, it influences the way we approach to everyday experiences, it defines the spaces that we choose to live in. Prism combines sic neutral colours (Cloud, Cotton, Cord, Suede, Fog and Graphite) with seven bright, characterful and contemporary ones, perfect for wall application in both the 50x120cm ceramic wall tile version and the 120x278cm large porcelain slabs in 6mm thickness.
Prism offers to architects and designers the chance to transform their feelings into actual architectural surfaces that convey emotions, granting soul and character to residential and commercial spaces.
HK: We’re seeing huge demand at the moment for the ‘imperfect’ surface; a rough, industrial-looking product that still performs exceptionally. What challenges do brands like Atlas Concorde face when delivering such a look?
MM: Porcelain tiles are a tactile product defined equally by colour, graphics and surface, which together create its soul. In the last few years we have witnessed the massive spread of digital printing technology which on one hand has enormously scaled up the decorative possibilities, but on the other one it has put at a disadvantage the tactile aspect of the products, which have become progressively more flat and bi-dimensional.
Atlas Concorde has chosen to take the opposite route, studying natural and imperfect surfaces and faithfully recreating them.
Texture and structure are key components to give depth and integrity to the porcelain tiles. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential to invest in research on new and alternative sources of inspiration.
Let me explain better: for the Aix collection, inspired by a limestone stone typical of the French region of Provence (Aix en Provence), our laboratory has recovered an original 18th century flooring, studying into details all its imperfections and the wear and tear effects that make this material so unique and fascinating.
To create Raw, a scraped plaster/concrete effect, our technicians and researchers went scouting for worn out surfaces among the historic and fascinating buildings of Milan.
This is certainly an expensive and time consuming activity, but we do believe it is crucial in order to differentiate our products and make them unique. Also, what makes the surface so important isn’t only the aesthetic appeal, but also the technical aspect. The experience gained on the contract market enabled us to exploit our extensive research to develop highly technical surfaces that meet the anti-slip performance requirements demanded by designers around the world, including the Pendulum Test (PTV) according to British Standards, essential for combining design and safety in commercial spaces.
HK: Your products are ideal for all areas of the hotel, but for me it’s really exciting to see them specified in the bathroom, a space where personality has been lacking in the past. How important is colour becoming in the bathroom?
MM: The bathroom is a fundamental part of the customer experience within a hotel, and its design can indeed have a huge impact on the guests and their stay.
Over the last few years we have developed worldwide partnerships with major international chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Radisson and we have seen how a successful refurb project of the bedrooms, and especially of the bathrooms, actually translates into an increase of positive reviews on the most famous sites (Booking.com, Hotels.com), by as much as 30 per cent. The main challenge for designers is to combine colours and trends into durable, if not timeless, concepts. To meet this need, Atlas Concorde has launched two collections, Marvel Edge and Marvel Dream, inspired by the world of natural marble, which combine neutral and elegant colours along white and grey hues, with some more lively shades ranging from red to gold, from green to blue.
The neutral colours, typical of the prestigious natural stones like Calacatta Gold, Calacatta Vagli, Bianco Covelano and Grigio Carnico, are a perfect background to elegant spaces with a classic and timeless look, that acquire character and freshness through the use of colour for niches, feature walls and vanity units.
The most successful accent colours are the variegated Agata Azul and the electric blue Ultramarine, inspired by precious stones such as Agate Stone and Lapis Lazuli.
Recently we are seeing a throwback of warmer shades, which are absolute protagonists in our Boost Pro collection, concrete effect in 6 colours, and Marvel Shine collection, a marble look inspired by prestigious Italian stones like Apuano marble, widely used by Michelangelo, and Calacatta Macchia Vecchia.
HK: Let’s talk about sustainability. What interesting materials go into your surfaces?
MM: Sustainability is a key aspect for the future of our planet and the tile business makes no exception: accurate sourcing of raw materials, responsible energy use and recycling are extremely important aspects to us. Let’s not forget that porcelain tiles are a man-made product manufactured with natural raw materials, like clays and feldspars. Atlas Concorde uses 100 per cent eco-friendly raw materials, carefully selected not only for their quality but also for the environmental impact of their sourcing, with the whole supply chain strictly adhering to our environmental policy and code of conduct.
Our manufacturing plant in Fiorano Modenese is completely energy self-sufficient, thanks to a cogeneration unit that allows us to recover the heat produced during the firing process and reuse it for the dryers; furthermore, we completely reuse the waste water produced during the manufacturing process and our packaging is entirely made of recycled and recyclable material.
Most of our products have up to 40 per cent of pre-consumer recycled materials and contribute to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) environmental certification system for green buildings and all our production facilities are PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) and EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) certified.
The latest project that we started a couple of years ago is the construction of a completely automatic warehouse that will reduce CO2 emissions by 60 per cent and will be fully operational in the summer.
HK: Surfaces are becoming much more creative thanks to advancements in manufacturing technology. What’s the latest tech development that our readers should be aware of?
MM: The hottest trend in the tile industry is definitely large formats, not only for wall and floor application but also for new and alternative destinations of use like kitchen worktops, tables, furniture, vanity units, etc.
Atlas Concorde decided a few years ago to invest in the latest cutting-edge technologies launching a dedicated brand, ‘Atlas Plan’, for large format porcelain slabs with different looks, sizes and thicknesses.
We offer solutions for wall cladding in 6 mm thickness (1200×2780 and 1600×3200 mm) but also not rectified slabs in 1620×3240 mm in 6, 12 and 20 mm thickness that are gaining popularity in the UK.
This new technology allows us to offer a versatile solution in terms of look (concrete, stone, marble, etc) with outstanding performances: Atlas Plan is stain resistant, scratch resistant, easy to clean, unabsorbent, ideal for infinite applications in every hospitality project, from table and counter tops in bars and restaurants to vanity units and striking feature walls in hotel bathrooms and reception areas.
But the real deal are two new patented technologies, that we’ve called ‘Natura Vein Tech’ and ‘Natura Body Tech’.
The Natura-Vein™ Tech technology offers the possibility of industrially recreating the typical veining of a natural material such as marble. Through-body vein technology thus increases the freedom of design for designers because it makes the marble look even more realistic, lending each project continuity of surface, edge and corners.
The Natura-Body™ Tech technology, on the other hand, reproduces the aesthetics of natural stones both on the surface and in the body of the slab. Material continuity between the surface and edges of full-body porcelain slabs is an aesthetic advantage that meets the highest design standards, both indoors and outdoors.
These are ground-breaking technologies that open up a new world of possibilities to architects and designers and we are very proud to announce that these exciting products are readily available on stock in the UK thanks to our distribution partners.
HK: Can you describe the brand’s attitude in three words?
MM: Innovation, quality and passion
HK: What surface trend do you hope will never return?
MM: Terrazzo…it reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen floor. I loved my grandma with all my heart and cherished her delicious pasta but her kitchen was awful!
HK: What’s the biggest pitfall designers fall down when specifying surfaces?
MM: Anti-slip regulations are a tricky topic, in particular in hospitality projects as the requirements change depending on the destination of use. We are the experts, ask us for help and advice!
HK: Can you give us a sentence to tease us on what next to expect from Atlas Concorde?
MM: We have the ambition to be perceived not only as a tile manufacturer but more and more as a design brand and our next project will be a further confirmation of this ambition.
HK: What advice would you give to designers who are working on a tight budget?
Think about the visual impact that surfaces that cover walls and floors have within your projects, compared to other products.. Choosing the right surfaces is crucial for creating and defining the concept, the look and the identity of the space we want to develop.
Quite often the choice of surfaces is left to the final stages of the project specification, when a significant amount of the budget has already been allocated for furniture, sanitaryware and bathroom fittings, with the real risk of compromising the final result. My advice is therefore to think ahead, giving surfaces the role, the importance and the budget they deserve.
Atlas Concorde is working along these lines by developing a ‘total look’ concept, which forsees the use of ceramic surfaces for furniture, tables, counter tops, washbasins, vanity units, promoting a whole and complete design package.
This said, we are also able to offer more cost-effective options with the Atlas Concorde Solution contract range which, thanks to some more streamlined series, offers a wide range of products at more competitive prices, without compromising on quality.
HK: Your latest collection, Marvel Shine, is said to ‘take ceramic marble tiles beyond replication to a whole new level.’ How does it achieve this?
MM: For years now the Marvel collections have set the standard for marble-looking porcelain tiles. To further expand the range, Atlas Concorde sought out the assistance of SAVEMA, Italian leader in the marble industry, which made available all its experience for the selection of the purest and most precious white marbles to be used as a source of inspiration for this collection.
With Marvel Shine Atlas Concorde have achieved an unprecedented level of authenticity, going beyond replication. Marvel Shine is inspired by the white marble of Italian artistic tradition, exploring new surfaces that are unique in their purity, color, and brightness. The range is made of four light tones inspired by the finest varieties of Calacatta and Statuario marbles and distinguished by a bright white background.
The polished finish brings out the luminosity of the tile and reproduces the slight unevenness of the original marble. Ideal for commercial spaces, the matt finish offers an excellent technical performance. The new silk finish, on the other hand, gives ceramic tiles an unprecedented tactile sensation: a silky, soft effect that also reflects the light subtly.
With its exclusive technology, Marvel Shine offers the possibility to replicate the traditional bookmatched pattern of natural marble with 16 slabs in the size 750×1500 mm to create compositions measuring 6×3 meters. Furthermore, the 1200×2780 mm and 1600×3200 mm large formats offer the continuity of the veins from one slab to the next to reproduce the effect of a single block of marble.
Atlas Concorde was a Product Watch Pitch partner at Hotel Designs LIVE, which took place on February 23, 2021. Read more about the virtual event here. The next Hotel Designs LIVE will take place on May 11 2021.
Main image credit: Atlas Concorde