Natural materials or porcelain stoneware? With regard to cladding for design and architecture, the choice divides the professionals as there is no single answer. Opting for one material or another is not just a matter of taste: the complexity of the projects requires a well-considered choice based on aesthetic-functional needs, the context in which one operates and the client.
Natural materials have an "authentic" spirit and encompass a thousand-year history. Through their materiality they communicate specific emotional and sensory sensations which are closely related to our historical memory, to their origin and to their direct link with nature. Wood, for example, expresses an artistic nature with its veins, gives a pleasant tactile sensation, has a soft and unmistakable sound and can be appreciated for its fragrances which stimulate the sense of smell. A space covered with wood gives a feeling of warmth and comfort.
Stone has an ancestral link with man; in fact, caves were his first shelter. Stone is history, at first glance it can give a rustic feeling and transmit a sense of belonging to places, or be natural and elegant. Marble is precious, used since ancient times to enhance buildings of worship or memorials, it recalls the "luxury of the stones" of ancient cultures and its composition communicates richness and solemnity.
Androne Milanese covered in marble
The limits of natural materials
The use of natural materials as cladding in contemporary projects can present limits related to the relative technical performances, and their sensorial qualities are sometimes not enough for them to be preferred over the latest-generation products. Parquet may not be suitable for very humid places like bathrooms or spas; the porous stone in a kitchen or restaurant could stain irreversibly; the marble in a square could easily crack and be difficult to replace. In the case of natural materials, in fact, interventions on the cladding which involve replacing portions of material do not ensure the perfect replacement of the removed part due to the inevitable colour difference between the existing product and the added product.
To satisfy the demand of that subsection of clients who want aesthetics with a natural effect and practical and functional cladding at the same time, the market offers an alternative solution, which reinterprets traditional materials and perfects their technical and functional qualities. Let's talk about porcelain stoneware.
First of all, porcelain stoneware is also a material made with natural raw materials: clay, kaolin, sand and feldspar. Its roots lie in the history of ceramics and, even before that, of terracotta. Its physical characteristics make it extraordinarily resistant to shocks and abrasions, waterproof, durable, easy to maintain and, a not insignificant factor, sustainable from a production point of view: new technologies make it possible to have a greatly reduced impact on the environment and its life cycle - from production to disposal - is more ecological than that of other materials. Its versatility and lightness allow its use in new buildings or interventions on existing buildings, and modern decoration technologies make it a design material, with details and aesthetic refinements which are more and more sought after.
Verde Alpi marble-effect cladding with geometric inserts in Breccia Capraia, decorated with a black frame. Cristina Celestino Policroma Collection for CEDIT - Ceramiche d’Italia
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Breccia Capraia marble-effect cladding with geometric inserts in Cipollino Ondulato, decorated with a black frame. Cristina Celestino Policroma Collection for CEDIT - Ceramiche d’Italia
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Advantages of stoneware in the design and laying phase
If we think of traditional architectural cladding materials, these have highly defined technical and aesthetic qualities which are closely related to their nature and physical composition, which leads designers to search for compromises. Porcelain stoneware, with its aesthetic versatility and its technical characteristics, is the answer to the designers' desire for expressive freedom.
Concrete, wood, corten, stone, marble-effect stoneware: a single material can be varied in a thousand different ways, while keeping resistance, durability and inalterability over time. The presence on the market of slabs with different thicknesses allows designers to use this material not only for the design of walls and floors, but also as a bathroom and kitchen top and a cover for furnishing accessories.
Thanks to its high technical and aesthetic versatility, stoneware can be used as the only material within a project, greatly simplifying the implementation.
In fact, the use of different materials implies the intervention of more specialised technicians (marble workers, wood craftsmen...) and different interventions on the site. Stoneware, on the other hand, allows you to have a single interlocutor during the entire execution of the project without losing out on a multifaceted aesthetic and multiple material inspirations.
Not only that, the use of a single material guarantees significant advantages also from the technical-application point of view. Thermal expansion, for example, varies depending on the material used and makes it difficult to install heterogeneous products, alongside problems which could arise even after laying. Stoneware, thanks to its countless aesthetic effects, allows you to create different and personalised combinations, even with different material interpretations, without having to worry about any technical dilation problems.
Combination of different material inspirations in porcelain stoneware.
Stoneware which interprets natural materials
Stoneware is an ever-growing market which aims to overcome its limitations by always exploring new decorative effects and surface finishes, up to the point of reinterpreting the aesthetics of natural materials. From wood effect to marble effect, from cement effect to stone effect, stoneware is able to interpret the more traditional materials according to different colours, offering a wide range of new solutions. The possibility of digitally curing the design of the tiles guarantees control of the visual characteristics of the materials of inspiration, as well as the definition of their finishes: through the elimination of or emphasis on the knots in the wood, the saturation of the colours of the marble, the redesign of the veins for corner solutions or adjacent slabs, porcelain stoneware does not replace nature, but reinterprets it by perfecting it and returning it to designers and clients without sacrificing high performance standards.
What therefore leads to the preference for stoneware instead of any other material - and vice versa - are the project requirements and the living comfort objectives which we want to achieve. The possibility of using traditional materials combined with stoneware is not excluded, but rather desirable, to create new synergies and environments with a unique design.
An example of this is the Penthouse One-11 in Milan, where oak and marble-like stoneware floors interact side by side to achieve the same result: an intimate yet elegant environment in which natural aesthetics and technicality harmoniously interact.
Penthouse apartment of Zaha Hadid in Milan.
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