Jim Biddulph & Hannah Williams in Conversation
If you visited 100% Design this year you may have already been one of the many who have stopped in their tracks at the sight of a new product range made from a surface material that resembles colourful marble. MarbleSil is the creation of designer Hannah Williams and it’s quite unlike anything else on the market, not least because it isn’t all that it seems on the surface.
Having studied BA in Fashion Design at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom, and then later Womenswear at the Royal College of Art, Hannah’s journey into the world of interiors isn’t the most conventional. But the development of the material was very much informed by her earlier education, where she began to combine silicone and discarded carpet to make a whole new type of clothing.
After a stint in London, where she continued to develop the material and figure out how to make it at a larger scale, volume and suitable for interior specifications, she has moved back to her native South Wales and set up a larger studio from which to produce MarbleSil and the exciting new product range.
I caught up with her to find out more about her journey from fashion to interiors and how MarbleSil continues to develop.
JB: Firstly, can you introduce MarbleSil; it’s such a striking material but I know that there’s more to it than you see on the surface?
HW: MarbleSil is a handmade marbled silicone surface with which I have created a number of product applications including wall coverings, flooring, upholstery and homeware products. The process of creating MarbleSil essentially involves mixing colour with silicon but it has been developed over 5 years and is a protected process. However, I can say it’s been a very layered process of perfecting pouring techniques.
JB: It looks unlike most things on the market, even marble itself, and silicone is seldom used as a functional or decorative surface. How did you come to use the material in such a unique way?
HW: My love of silicone started at my final year of my BA when I realised that I wanted to mould garments. I spent numerous weeks cold calling costume designers, model makers and the suchlike, trying to get some advice on how to achieve this. I finally met with a great model maker who introduced me to silicone and the love for the material grew from there.
My BA collection was made from pure silicone and gave a trompe l’oeil effect of 1920’s showgirl jewellery, tailored suits, and French lace. From there I went on to develop this material further at RCA. Whilst at RCA I wanted to change the mundane routine of fashion, not by pattern cutting and sewing but by working sculpturally; moulding garments onto live models, using silicone, acrylic and plaster.
Whilst working in this way, I was inspired by the elaborate theatrics and costumes of the Ziegfeld Follies and that really helped to inform how I worked with these materials that are usually used to make sculpture. I looked at the architecture of the theatres where the Ziegfeld Follies were performed and was taken by the marbled surfaces.
I then began to try and marble with lots different industrial materials. And of course, I had to try my favorite material, silicone, and this is where the journey of MarbleSil began.
JB: And whilst you wouldn’t necessarily think it when looking at the material, sustainability is a big part of your company ethos?
HW: For me, as a designer and maker, sustainability plays a huge role. I try to create as little waste as possible and actually re-use set silicone from the mixing pots to by utilising it into new designs such as the terrazzo effect. Whilst there are a number of different formulations of MarbleSil, one key example that I have been developing for some time is backed onto reclaimed carpet.
As with all the products, the surface is really durable, heat proof, water resistant and does not support the growth of bacteria – but what’s great here is that all of these attributes are added to old carpet that would have gone into landfill. What’s more, the carpet backed products can be used for wallcoverings and flooring.
As a brand, I also want MarbleSil products to be lifetime pieces; either because they’re cherished and then passed on to others by the owner, or that instead of being discarded later in it’s life-cycle, they can be sent back and re-worked into something new.
JB: So given its versatility, how and where can the material be used?
HW: MarbleSil is such a diverse product and can be put almost anywhere. It can be used for flooring, wall coverings, tabletops, kitchen tops, splash backs, furniture, bathrooms, swimming pools, yachts, indoors, outdoors… I mean the list goes on and on. Having such amazing qualities, like being waterproof for instance, makes it great for bathrooms, outdoor areas and even swimming pools.
Being heat resistant makes it great for tabletops and general kitchen areas, as you can put hot plates straight onto the material. The same goes for hair salons, as hot instruments like hair straighteners won’t damage the material and neither will chemicals. And whilst you may not expect it to be, it’s also slip proof making it great for a whole host of applications, particularly those where small children might be concerned and even the luxury sectors such as yacht design.
JB: We can’t not talk about colour when it comes to your work, what is your approach when it comes to colour?
HW: I have always been driven to colour, it’s always been the first thing that draws me into something. Each piece of MarbleSil is completely bespoke, largely because of the colour combinations, and for me it’s really important. It’s all about the makeup of the product; the silicone moves in its own way, and with it so does the colour and that gives each piece a bespoke finish.
Every colour starts off as a primary colour and is then mixed by hand to obtain the exact colour required. The whole experience of my brand is about giving each client a bespoke service, starting from a bespoke sampling service to obtain the clients exact colour palette right through to fitting in with their budget. For me that level of bespoke is a genuine luxury and will always remain core within my brand and products.