Waste and how to avoid it has become one of the design world’s foremost concerns. For British designer and trained joiner Robin Grasby, finding a solution has also led to the creation of a new surface material, Altrock. “I was making bespoke furniture but working with timber always felt a bit limited,” says Grasby, “so last year I began to experiment with concrete and marble, using offcuts.”
What Grasby came up with is a type of terrazzo, the composite cement and marble material first created in 16th-century Italy. Once ubiquitous, terrazzo has been eclipsed in recent decades by solid marble but is currently enjoying a design resurgence. Grasby’s version is made from a combination of marble flour, chips and chunks – all recycled by-products of the marble manufacturing process. These waste materials are mixed and bonded with a small amount of resin, pigmented in a vast array of colours, cast by hand and sealed with a wax oil that dries to a matte finish, while also making the surface durable, waterproof and stain resistant.
Sustainable, decorative and practical, Grasby’s new material has struck a design chord. In the past year, Altrock (the company is named after the material) has produced tables and countertops for the likes of new London hotel The Dixon, created bespoke kitchen worktops and launched a collection of custom coffee and dining tables at the London Design Festival. Everything is made to commission and cast by hand at the company’s east London studio; the slabs can be cut into all sorts of sizes and shapes and can be pigmented in an almost infinite variety of colours. However, Grasby has found clients happy to follow his lead. “People come to us because they want this striking and unique aesthetic,” he says. “So far there has been very little attempt from commissioning clients to fiddle with it, so I guess we’re doing something right.”