I talk a lot about managing the shop in this corner of the magazine, as I should, but recently, the idea of "managing for innovative design" was brought up to me, and what a great idea it was.
For many solid surface shops that rely mostly on residential work, business has been in a slump. Yet there is a whole field of untapped markets just waiting for the solid surface field to grasp. It may take a little effort and review of your business plan to take advantage of this emerging market. Read on and see if you can glean a few points that will help you explore the versatile and innovative possibilities of solid surface.
As designers look for different and unique designs, many surfaces become, well, just flat. That's where solid surface comes in with numerous possibilities. It is one of the few surfaces with the ability to transcend all aspects of design. Of course it will always make great traditional countertops, but a new wave of designs is starting to sweep the industry. Many designers see the surface for all of its value.
Hopefully, your management style will allow for the folks in your shop to take advantage of the things that set solid surface apart from other materials. Don't hole yourself up into just doing countertops and encourage your shop personnel to be creative; try new things and offer their creative thoughts on the process. Here are some great attributes of solid surface that you can experiment with and that designers can also take advantage of.
One value afforded by solid surface that can really grab the eye of designers is its translucency. This quality makes it perfect for ambient lighting designs. It can be used for anything from light being reflected off the surface to set a mood, to making traditional lampshades. The light shining though a solid surface lampshade can be breathtaking and cannot be duplicated by many other surfaces (see Figure 1).
Unlike many other surfacing options, solid surface has the capability to be thermoformed. What is thermoforming? Basically it is the process in which fabricators heat up the solid surface material and then bend it to take on a desired shape. Once the material cools, it holds that shape. If you have examples of it to show what can be done, designers can take advantage of this feature of the product to make a variety of objects, from furniture to dishware and even cabinets (see Figure 2). Do you have this technology in your shop? Do you encourage your staff to learn and understand the principles of thermoforming? Do you let your more creative fabricators experiment with the possibilities?
Harnessing Your Imagination
Really it's up to the imagination what can be done with this unique material. A classic example of imagination and well thought out design using solid surface would be the Z. Island Kitchen Design by Zaha Hadid (see Figure 3). It consists of two islands, wall cabinets and thermoformed wall cladding that emphasize sound and light technology. While much of this came from the mind of the designer, a fabricator had to be able to turn those thoughts into reality.
Now it's true Mrs. Smith on Maple Street USA isn't going to put this kitchen concept into her kitchen this year, but there are many elements here that we can incorporate into the kitchen design now. Why not an LED message board on your full backsplash? Or how about an island countertop that has a thermoformed dropped apron that reaches to the floor? The possibilities are really endless.
Solid Surface And Industrial Design
One type of designer that has really taken hold of solid surface is the industrial designer. They are always looking for materials to use for a variety of projects. A classic example of this was seen at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) held last May in New York City.