We speak to joiner and furniture maker, Robin Grasby, about his new surface material Altrock
“I’m fascinated by materials and material science,” says furniture and industrial designer Robin Grasby, founder of Altrock – a recently launched surface design company that uses 87% reclaimed stone byproduct to create an exuberant riff on traditional terrazzo. It took the better part of two years to get Altock’s recipe just right – a mix of marble flour, marble chips and offcuts bonded with a small amount of resin pigmented in a range of custom colours – but Grasby has done it and the design world is duly eating it up.
It comes as the demand for durable, cost-efficient and sustainable materials soars; and though terrazzo is back in fashion in a big way, it isn’t widely produced in the UK.
From an east London workshop, the Altrock team casts custom surfaces by hand for private residential and hospitality projects – the first out of the gate a series of table tops for the Provisioners Restaurant at The Dixon,Tower Bridge, part of the Autograph Collection from Marriot. “It’s quite eclectic, what they’ve got in there. The plans looked a little bonkers to me at first, but it really does work as a space,” says Grasby of the multi-layered aesthetic. He was brought in by interior design practice Twenty2Degrees, who were really interested in Altrock by word of mouth and asked Grasby to be involved. “I took them a whole selection of colorways and they wanted to get as many into the scheme as possible, so it’s been a really nice way to showcase what we can do with mixing,” he adds.
There are other products around that are similar, but they have a controlled style and an arrangement of pieces to make a kind of pattern...I think that can look really tired
To the layperson, the difference between Altrock and traditional terrazzo, or even other composite materials on the market, is not immediately obvious. One of the main differences, says Grasby, is down to subtle aesthetic variation. Altrock has a visual chaos that feels much more contemporary. “We use bigger chips,” he explains. “There are other products around that are similar, but they have a controlled style and an arrangement of pieces to make a kind of pattern. It’s a very slight difference, but what others are doing is still very connected to the traditional pattern of terrazzo and I think that can look really tired,” he says.
What’s more, the base of Altrock uses a much finer chip – which fills the resin (another difference since most terrazzo uses a higher proportion of concrete as a bonding agent) and gives a real opacity on a consistent block color background. “Fundamentally, it’s made of the same stuff as traditional terrazzo. Chemically, it’s stone and resin. While there may be a difference in our recipe, the components are the same,” says Grasby, who seals each piece of Altrock with wax oil to make it waterproof and stain resistant. “It’s not a huge innovation, but it’s just enough that I’m making something that no one else is making. I don’t see anyone doing exactly what I’m doing.”