Design trends: surfaces

London's artists, architects and designers are revelling in a raft of breathtaking materials and technologies for new homeware products. And old materials are getting hi-tech makeovers
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Shade by Simon Heijden
Simon Heijden's glass wall at the Design Museum is controlled by a wind sensor on the roof which appears to make its grid of triangles flutter in the outside breeze
Amazing the visitors at the Design Museum near Tower Bridge is a sheer sheet of transparent glass with a flickering pattern of silver triangles that appear to be, literally, blowing in the wind.

It's magical and mesmerising. Called Shade (right), it's part of the newly opened annual Designs of the Year show (until 15 July;

Creator of this material - which almost seems to dance - is Bow-based Simon Heijdens (, who has invented a film for glass with a grid of triangles. Controlled by a wind sensor on the roof, they perpetually fade between transparent and opaque, casting ever-changing shadows on wall and floor.

"I want to bring a sense of the outside in," he explains. "The angles of light and patterns of wind are continuously changing throughout the day and year."

Indeed London's artists, architects and designers are revelling in a raft of breathtaking materials and technologies for new products and projects. At the same time, old materials and processes get hi-tech and high-vis makeovers.


Hi-tech glamour

Advanced materials are prettying the face of interiors, often in startling ways. "My work's now more about materials than colour," says RCA graduate Giles Miller (020 7247 8405;

Complex and interactive, murals have geometric shapes of ceramic or metal that individually tilt for a sculptured effect. "We use precision technology," adds Miller, "with ceramic casting, laser cutting and metal etching accurate to a few microns." His Alexander wall surface (left) is made with individually adjusted ceramic hexagons to create a dramatic sculptural effect (priced from about £750 a sq m).

Luscious leather wall coverings by Genevieve Bennett have bonded layers of laser-cut skins, which are embossed, inlaid and engraved. Prices are from £55 a sq ft. "I'm combining new technology with beautiful handcraft in stunning colours," says the designer (

Oozing glamour at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour are Swarovski Elements wallcoverings with real pearls and crystals embedded into flock, mirror-like foil and layered ink (

Flock-covered phone
Johnny Egg's flock-covered phones, £85
And in Essex, flock-it-to-me Johnny Egg ( uses an old technique with new glues and pigment to add a soft coating of neon brights to anything from bottles to furniture and walls.

Meanwhile, back at the Design Museum, old materials are still valued. Designer Michael Marriott's sculptural plinths for exhibits are simple cardboard tubes in six heights and six diameters with plywood tops, but strong enough for a weighty block of printed concrete paving from Blackpool, another exhibit at the show (

Thermovit glass
Plain or patterned Thermovit glass panels, which have electrical elements hidden within, are remarkably efficient radiators (

Smart glass

Glass leads the way. In windows, for example, energy-saving Planitherm externally attracts light and heat but internally reflects heat back into the room - saving, it is claimed, about 28 per cent on heating ( Astonishingly, it costs about the same as ordinary window glass.

Priva-Lite privacy glass clouds over at the flick of a switch, but isn't cheap, while clear E-Glas can emit gentle heat to combat condensation and melt snow (from £650 a square metre). Thermovit glass radiators, meanwhile, are 100 per cent energyefficient.

All these work off small electric currents. Suppliers include DR Services of Harlow (01279 445277;

Eco agents

Eco is the new materials mantra. Porcelain tiles, for example, give off oxygen under both natural and artificial light and absorb nitrogen dioxide to reduce smog and dirt in the air (

"Phase change" materials (PCMs), typically textiles and plaster, can store and then release heat. The Phase Energy consultancy has a wealth of PCM expertise (07785 245880; Says director Ian Biggin: "About 2.2 million 'hard to heat, hard to treat homes' are in London. New PCMs, manufactured as ceiling tiles, building boards and aluminium foil, could make a significant difference."

Expect more eco wonder-workers during EcoBuild at ExCeL, March 20-22 (

Scrapwood wallpaper
Scrapwood wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek, £199 (for a 9m roll)

Annabelle Filer: she's a material girl

Annabelle Filer (who trained as an architect) has set up the new SCIN Gallery in Clerkenwell. A self-confessed "materials obsessive", she has gathered about 600 and filled four floors of an old warehouse with a sourcing centre that includes 60 red décor despatch boxes crammed with samples of delight. The tempting labels read "Smart Glass", "Paints and Film", "Concrete", and "3D Panels".

If you need a new covering for floor, wall, ceiling or outside, SCIN can explain and supply it. "Just turn up for a materials beano," says Annabelle. "No appointment needed."

She loves revamped natural materials (many made from discards), such as PaperStone worktops, tiles made from wine corks, flooring from vintage wine barrels, mosaics from waste coconut shells, and a "parquet" floor of discarded leather belts. And she favours the fast movers — the so-called intelligent materials with inbuilt technology that responds to the environment or user.

Electro-luminescent wallpapers glow in the dark, and bathroom tiles change colour under hot water. "And I love the mimic materials that reference other surfaces," she says — for example, new Scrapwood wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek. Other papers copy concrete, brick and even knitting, while porcelain tiles look like wood.

SCIN is at Morelands, 27 Old Street, EC1 (020 7357 7574;

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