Design School Diaries – Materials, Stone & Suppliers

pondering female secretary picking folder in workplace

Post 2 – Materials

Collecting and Filing Materials Suppliers and Catalogs

After the previous assignment of comparing two interiors, (one which I found pleasing, and another I did not, and explaining my answers), I was a little surprised that my next assignment was not related to designing at all.

Our first materials project was more closely related to the business of interior design.

Building an Interior Design Materials Library

I was a brand new interior design student and it was already time to start building up my own library of suppliers catalogs and material samples.

We had begun our materials studies, and were given an overview of how the materials would be categorized and studied, and in what order.

-This made it easy for me to come up with a basic system for filing my contacts and physical inventory.

I also set about creating a digital resource library, since a lot of the information I was coming across was from the web.

Future interior designer action step 1:

-Create your own organizational system for your interior design supplier contacts

-Create a material samples library

Consider both physical and digital systems and try to integrate them if possible

Here you can see the way I chose to file my samples by material category. It’s good to get to know these basic categories for materials. They are the backbone for what we studied over the course of this unit. And who uses Outlook anymore? This was 2012, so enough said.

Interior Design Industry Trade Shows

paintings in side room
Photo by JULIO NERY on

From the very beginning we were urged to go to as many interior-design related trade shows as possible to meet suppliers and get to know the industry better for ourselves.

This is valuable advice for any interior designer just starting out:

Visit all the trade shows you can, meet people and get a better understanding of how the industry works.

An added benefit to this early exposure to industry professionals is that you will also have access to endless ideas for your own designs, even if they are ‘student’ designs!

(Okay, are you kidding? Student design work is often amazing, especially the work of third year students.)

Future interior design action step 2:

Visit building, construction, furniture and home decor exhibitions and fairs. Collect

a) name cards

b) catalogs

c) samples

There’s no doubt that you can expect to produce better and more well-grounded interior design student work when you stay up to date with technology and trends.

There’s almost no better way to get the full scope of what is currently on offer than to hit a trade show.

Really, just do it, already.

Taking the Plunge

For this part of the assignment I listed all of the upcoming industry shows in my region and their dates and stated my intention to go to several of them to collect leads and materials samples.

Here are examples of upcoming shows I planned on attending and later did visit in my region:

1. Taipei International Plastics and Rubber Show
2. Taipei Smart Green City Expo
3. Taipei International Building, Construction and Decoration Exhibition
4. Building Taiwan Construction Show
Find out what exhibition centers are nearest you and have a look at upcoming trade shows related to the interior design industry. Mark them in your calendar and do your best to attend one that catches your interest soon. Exhibitions are fun and often really invigorating!

Materials Study Focus – Natural Material Stone

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Photo by Pixabay on

Our next assignment over the course of the next two weeks was to investigate stone as a material.

In particular, we were asked to choose two different varieties of stone to study.

One, a stone which would typically be found in a residential setting, and the other, in a commercial setting.

The learning objective behind this question is really all about drawing the beginner interior design student’s attention to the different applications for stone (in this instance) and also to consider the various possible settings.

Why is this important?

First, it is important for design students to understand from the outset that materials selected for residential applications and commercial application are often quite different.

The short explanation for this is that residential materials are not normally going to be as regulated or subject to as much scrutiny as materials selected for public interiors.

The reasons for this include wearability due to higher traffic, as well as safety and building code concerns.

This early assignment gave us the opportunity to consider for ourselves, by our own research, which was appropriate for each setting, and explain our findings.

For my stone study, I chose slate for my residential interior and limestone for my commercial interior.

Here’s what I learned:

Note that for all materials, a basic list of material properties and qualities was required to be researched and compiled.

This covers the general scientific classification of the material, through its appearance, where it is found (source) and how it is produced.

Application, installation, special considerations (including safety and how it is cleaned and maintained) are also required for these studies.

Natural Stone Material 1 – Slate

grey stone lot
Photo by Mike on

Slate Material Properties

Materials 1Classification and Material Properties of Natural Stone Slate
Slate is a metamorphic rock formed from shale under pressure from the collision of tectonic plates.

Stones occur in different grades as a result of varying pressures and heat.

Slate is a result of low-grade metamorphism.
Slate is duller than marble and quartzite; easily recognized by its uniform grey.

The term “slate” is often used as an adjective for the colour grey.

However, slate occurs in more than sixty hues.
Slate is found worldwide; in the U.S. it is abundant in the Appalachian Mountains, aka “the slate belt”.

Slate has a long history of use in the traditional buildings of Britain.
One of slate’s unique features is its ability to be broken into customizable sheets—excellent for roofing shingles and paving.

Slate is a highly durable and economical for long-term use.

Water-absorption ranges from low to medium depending upon the grade of the stone. Some varieties scratch easily.

Quality slate is nonporous and water repellent.

Slate is resistant to mildews and mould; suitable in places where other stones would not be.

Slate also resists mild acids and pollutants.

Its dark colouring allows it to absorb heat, which releases slowly, providing insulation.
Before an area is to be tiled or clad, it must be dry and structurally sound.

Faulty installation problems may occur immediately or may surface over the longer term.

A sub-floor, often plywood, acts as a substrate to the area to be tiled,
providing rigidity and preventing cracking.

Slate is easily fitted.
Floor tiles can be slated with a coarse-tooth masonry saw.

-Acrylic bond is used for wood, asphalt and concrete substrates.

-For walls, porous plaster or plasterboard, however, a PVA bonding agent must be used.
-For bathrooms a tile backing board that is water resistant is necessary to prevent shrinking or cracking.
Care/Special considerations
Installed slate does not require sealing, though some professionals recommend it for longevity.

Designers may specify matte or honed finishes from the dealer.

-A honed surface should NOT be used on floors, as it is slippery.

-Water and mild detergent is suitable for everyday cleaning of slate surfaces; a PH balanced cleanser should be selected for heavy-duty usage.
Slate shows excellent resistance to heat in fire tests.

In a study conducted by National Slate Association of America (1999), slate achieved Class-A fire rating when installed over a non-combustible roof deck.

Slate is often used for fireplace surrounds and mantels.
I understand that for the reader, this information might seem a little dry, however, when you do the research yourself, it takes on a more meaningful and memorable quality. If you plan on studying materials yourself, don’t forget to do your own research to see what you come up with.

Residential Application of Slate Stone

We were asked to provide trade literature from material suppliers in the industry. This is an example of slate stone tiles from the Winchester Tile Company in the UK.

See their full catalogue here.

Beside the trade literature, we also had to provide pictures of the material in situ, or ‘in place’ in an existing interior.

Then we were asked to describe the image and how the material had been used.

Slate Case Study

The picture depicts an example of the versatility of slate.

Bathrooms require special selection of materials because they are subject to moisture.

Slate has been chosen here, where its unique properties are put to good use.

The entire wall behind the ceramic twin sinks is decoratively tiled in both large and small tiles.

Because slate is impervious to mould, this bathroom will stay beautiful and easy to maintain.

Floor tiles in slate provide a hardwearing flooring option with their naturally coarse, textured surface; preventing slipping.

The walls of the shower, also slate, allow for both beauty and practicality since slate deals well with water.

The shower floor is ceramic tile, likely selected for variety and visual interest; slate would do just as well as a flooring option.

A glass partition provides a screen, but the shower stall is not enclosed.

The wall to the rear of the room features a large window and is painted white, over concrete.

This accent wall provides a break from the stone look and enhances the view.

The result is a practical, functional bathroom that successfully merges “feel” with function.

Natural Stone Material 2 – Limestone

dirty architecture ground flour
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Limestone Material Properties

Materials 1Classification and Material Properties of Natural Stone Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock, composed of calcium carbonate.

It is formed over time through stresses and pressures in riverbeds and seas.

Limestone occurs in great abundance, accounting for 10% of sedimentary rock.
Limestone is quarried globally.

Throughout history it has enjoyed great popularity due to availability and ease of use.

Most historically notable, the ancient pyramids of Giza in Egypt are limestone.
There are variations in colour and tone, as well as some veining.

Limestone is a medium-density stone, characterized by its fine, sandy appearance.
Environmental Impact:
Growing concerns about the impact of industries on the environment bring stone quarrying under heavy debate.

Defacing of the countryside and transportation cost are associated with open-pit mining.

However, in its favor, limestone is a readily available and hard-wearing material when used responsibly.
After sourcing, limestone is cut from the rock face by drilling and sawing.

Resulting “dimensional stone” is inspected, graded and processed into slabs for shipping from site.

Care should be taken as slabs may be fissured and crack during handling.

A bond of mortar with latex is used for limestone floor tiles and wall cladding.

Sand, cement and lime is also used by some professionals.

Limestone dust can be mixed with mortar, making seams unobtrusive.

Vertical slabs are attached to plaster or cement backup walls using ties.

For floors 5/8-inch cement board is used, while 1/4-inch board is required for walls.

When limestone tiles are installed they should be allowed to bond for twenty-four hours before
being grouted.
Safety/Special considerations:
Limestone has a Thermal Conductivity Rating three times better than brick, slightly lower than slate.

As a rule, limestone must be sealed against chemical damage from acids/staining.

Commercial Application of Natural Limesone

Manufacturer’s catalogue:

(Source: Earthworks catalogue, also by the Winchester Tile Company)

Following is my write up for limestone in a commerical interior, a hotel lobby.

Limestone Case Study

The “Social Lobby” of the Proximity Hotel in North Carolina uses limestone as a striking finish on the walls and floors.

The floors are tiled and the walls clad with subtly varying hues in a modern style.

The naturally rich beiges and browns extend a warm vibe while the stone’s honed finish dazzles visitors with tasteful luxury.

This room boasts a grand height. Columns in the centre continue the stone’s clean effect seamlessly to the ceiling beams.

Light-value colours enhance the perception of spaciousness.

The steel-framed front windows of the lobby are large, allowing for less artificial lighting to be required by day.

The upper floor is fringed with antiqued steel railings.

Descending to the lobby on either side are spiral staircases, forged of local steel.

(Alternative view, ground level.)

Metal, stone and wood are used in juxtaposition by architects and designers for a mood of natural elegance.

Mirror-finish stone tends to bounce light around the interior, while the metal offers a matte look.

Furniture and soft finishes complement the stones’ neutral tones.

Floor-to ceiling curtains line the walls along the perimeter.

These provide useful sound-dampening as stone surfaces carry echoes in large spaces, amplifying

Maintenance and cleaning of limestone floors and walls is straightforward and after sealing it wears well.

Limestone is a beautiful and functional material, and in the author’s view, a worthy selection for an area which sees as much traffic as a hotel lobby.

The Proximity Hotel was certified Platinum LEED by the US Green Building Council, a rare honour.

Concerning whether limestone may be considered a sustainable choice and regarding the reasons for its selection in the
design, Sam Newburg of the Urban Land Institute wrote:

“One instance where the developer opted not to use what might be commonly considered a green productwas the flooring in the main lobby and lower-level lounge.
In this case, the developer priced a recycled material…but settled on limestone tiles…. (he) reasoned that limestone would last a long time, whereas the extra cost for an unproven material was not deemedworth the risk.
The rationalisation for this decision is what is commonly called a “life-cycle assessment” (SamNewburg).”
I chose this interior because of the ecological aspects of the design. If you are interested in knowing more about the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, please visit their website

If it seems as though some of the writing for these papers is brief and ‘to the point’, keep in mind that we were under strict word limits for our essays.

I usually had a lot more material and notes that I had to whittle down while trying to still retain the most important information and cover all the requirements.

What I learned from this assignment

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Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

My main take-aways:

Collect suppliers catalogues and material samples

-Learn all you can about the materials you are working with

Slate is an excellent natural material due to its fire-resistant and water-resistant properties

-Sourcing material should include finding out how a material is mined and manufactured in order to assess its ecological impact

-Sometimes the ecological impact of a material has to be balanced out against the expected lifetime of the material

-In the case of stone, the expected life of the material can be upward of one hundred years

Natural stone is easily recycled after use

In Conclusion

Thanks for reading this second edition of Design School Diaries here on Design Baddie.

After my rough start on my first assignment, I’m happy to recall that I got an A+ on this assigment, and it was the first of many more to come.

Our next installment in this series will be jumping over to the topic of the History of Interior Design.

Something to think about:

Have you been to any interior design or building industry trade shows recently?

Would you like to go to a design trade show?

Which natural stones would you choose for your interior design materials assignment, and why?

Comment below!

Further Reading

Works Cited

1 Sam Newburg, 2008 Development Case Study: Proximity Hotel by the Urban Land Institute, pg 4, “Green Features”.

Books Read

The Surface Texture Bible, Cat Martin/Abrams, 2005.

Interior Materials and Surfaces—the Complete Guide, Helen Bowers/Firefly.

The Architect’s Handbook of Marble, Granite and Stone, Vol.1 Technical Guide, by Enrico Corbella/Van Nostrand Reinhold, 2004.

Books Referenced

Fundamentals of Building Construction–Materials and Methods, Fourth Edition, Edward Allen and Joseph Iano/Wiley.

Internet Sources

The Mineral Information Institute

Slate Stone

The National Slate Association

Harvey’s Natural Flooring Co.

The Proximity Hotel Sales Kit

Natural Stone Surfacing – Good Practice Guide, by M.E. Blair (Chair, SCOTS Materials Group)

Stoneworld, (Magazine Website).

Limestone represents the rural environment, An Installation Case Study By Michael


Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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