A lot of high-quality marble goes to waste. But not in the hands of an innovative British industrial designer.
There’s an industrial designer in London who knows his marble – the Rose Aurora quarried in Portugal with its ethereal pink, the bold black luster of the Nero Marquina from the Basque region of Spain. What Robin Grasby also can tell you is that a lot of high-quality marble goes to waste, and by waste he doesn’t just mean the impacts of mining it, the energy and transport costs, or the cutting and polishing.
Grasby learned that the same industry that gives us beautifully crafted interior design surfaces, or inspired and luminous art, also creates a lot of dust, castoff fragments and broken pieces from the marble itself.
So the British-born designer decided he wanted to reclaim those materials, and he’s developed a process for a new material called Altrock. “It’s a contemporary take on terrazzo, an ancient and enduring technique for making stunning decorative and hard-wearing surfaces for a whole range of applications,” Grasby explains.
Terrazzo is also a composite material made of stone chips formed into a surface. What Grasby’s done is to shift the technique away from walls and floors, to use it in custom-made furniture as well as countertops. Everything is artisanal, and handmade in the East London studio, using recycled marble flour, recycled marble chips, offcuts and broken pieces of luxury-quality marble slabs.
Eighty-seven percent of a finished product is recycled, while the remaining 13 percent is a resin mix.
“The marble is mixed and bonded with a small amount of resin, pigmented in a huge range of custom colors, and cast by hand in slabs of all shapes and sizes,” he says. It’s also sealed with a wax oil to ensure a lasting surface, with a matte finish that enhances the beauty of the protected marble tops.
The Altrock product can be used in traditional ways – bathrooms and kitchens, of course – but it’s integral to how Grasby makes furniture. For example, shards of the white Italian Calacatta Oro marble, believed to be Michelangelo’s favorite material for his sculptures, show up in a terrazzo tabletop pattern that highlights the marble’s gold veining against a black base. Broken pieces of Verde Guatemala, with the striking veins across its patina-like greens, are used to make tables for Grasby’s restaurant clients.
The business launched in November 2018 and is relatively new, but it’s really on the continuum of the designer’s projects. He was originally trained as a cabinet maker and still has a special eye for how edges and articulations are presented in his work. He’s also built sets and designed exhibition spaces, assisted with fine art fabrication, and done some product design. Yet Grasby loves the beauty of stone.
“I’m obsessed with science, and the idea that chunks of the earth can be just dug up, sliced, and used as incredibly hard-wearing and low-maintenance surfaces is absolutely amazing to me,” Grasby says.
It’s even more amazing when a high-quality finished product is made from what is, and would otherwise be, industry waste. To see the full range of what Grasby’s been doing with repurposed marbles, see the Altrock website or the designer’s own gallery here.