Travelling in search of inspiration and innovation is so important to the design process for KWD. Visiting trade fairs is a vital part of this search for new ideas, new suppliers, new products and new ways of using the products that are already a part of our portfolio. Earlier this year, Kate Walker attended the Xiamen Stone Fair in China for the first time to see what she could discover. “Because we work with so much natural stone, and because I have a love of natural products, I wanted to get closer to the source so that we can provide our clients with the best possible products at the best possible prices.”
It was Kate’s first trip to China, and she absolutely loved every moment, from the vibrant people to the hustle and bustle (even though Xiamen is relatively quiet by China standards). She stopped off in Hong Kong to do some shopping and research on the way, and then spent six days in Xiamen. The whole excursion was very well organised, and they were looked after by their import partners who entertained the group, even calling Uber drivers when required (yes, Uber has made its way to Xiamen!).
The Xiamen Stone fair is enormous, of equal size to the equivalent event that is held in Modena, Italy each year, and Kate’s pedometer records showed they walked more than 23,000 steps each day in search of something special. With so much on offer, it was of great benefit that Kate knows the industry so well, and she was able to scan through the suppliers to find what she was looking for.“I went to the Xiamen Stone Fair with a solid purpose, and that was to create an exclusive KWD range of natural stone. And we succeeded, 100%. In fact the results far exceeded my expectations. Working collectively with our import partners, we have come up with the most stunning range which will be available in Australia within six to eight weeks. The format sizes we have selected, the finishes, the edge details are superb. The fascinating thing about stone, is that while there can be innovation in tile designs in terms of products and colours, stone is a pure, natural material. There are only certain types of stone that can be quarried, so the innovation comes from how you treat the stone. It may be the dimensions of the cut, the way it is finished, the edge details that are created. There is no new Carrara or Calacutta or Bluestone, there is nothing engineered.”Kate points out that there is a misconception that stone quarried in China is of an inferior quality. “It’s not about which country the stone comes from. Stone comes from mother nature, simple as that. The stone may be from Spain or Italy or China, and it is a natural gift. The Xiamen Stone Fair was a world-wide trade fair, so there were Egyptian stones, French stones, Chinese stones, Italian stones, Vietnamese stones, and these formed the core of my favourite selections.” Kate has now commissioned a stone tile that has never been used anywhere else. The size is 915mm x 610mm x 20mm, and it’s very exciting because the new shape will look stunning when laid in a variety of patterns.
“We also found an incredible supplier who makes mosaic out of 30 year old teak fishing boats. They cut up these boats into slivers and make them into mosaics to use as wall panelling. Just incredible. I will definitely be incorporating these into some designs because it’s so interesting and no two pieces are the same. That’s what I love.”
From China Kate travelled to Bali to seek out new suppliers for interiors, and to continue her search for inspiration in the way tiles, stone, textures, patterns and colours are used in a variety of spaces. “There were some Kim Soo light fittings used in a property we worked on in Norwood Ave, Brighton and we visited the designer’s showroom in Bali so that we can start to import these directly to Australia. I was so impressed by their offering that I commissioned some designs for a project we are working on in Prahran. Balinese homewares are beautiful, interesting and relatively inexpensive,” explains Kate.
Kate was inspired by the Balinese aesthetic. She is quite passionate about the Bahamas look at the moment, and the Balinese look is a step towards this with the thatched roofs, open light filled buildings, lots of greenery and beautiful carved timber doors. “
“I loved the artisans,” says Kate. “They are so skilled in carving stone and wood. They often use natural stone in swimming pools and I am such a fan. Instead of using a traditional pool tile we are looking at incorporating natural stone, and we found some beautiful Vietnamese stone at the Xiamen Stone Fair that is perfect for this purpose as it is stable and won’t corrode.”
Everywhere Kate goes she gets inspiration and she sees things differently from most people. It may be the way the colours of nature play together on a landscape or how textures of stone and lichen create a new colour palette of greens and greys. The multi-coloured shades of greens in leaves inspire new ways of blending stone and tiles to create an unexpected, innovative new way of using hard finishes and textured materials.
“You can’t really get this level inspiration from photos,” say Kate. “For me travel is an incredible source of design ideas. And you get that from being in the real environment so you can interpret what you are feeling, smelling, sensing as well as what you are seeing – and recreating that aesthetic for a client’s design project makes the look all the more unique. That’s what we strive for.”
For Kate, it’s not about reinventing the wheel or being a pioneer. There are so many different countries and cultures that have done design so well, so it’s about finding new ways to use what you already have access to as well as finding innovative products, textures and treatments. “Each country has it’s unique design aesthetic and unique handicrafts and artisan skills.” “My favourite part about Bali was going to Ubud and seeing the artists and textile designers, basket weavers, stone carvers and silversmiths at work. That was so rewarding. My good friend from school owns the beautiful brand ‘Warriors of the Divine’ (www.warriorsdivine.com) and she took her business to Bali so she could work with traditional artisans. The kimonos and silks are produced by hand using ancient batik hand painting methods. I so admire the artisans of Bali. And the Balinese are genuinely happy people who are so gentle and warm – the people of Bali are as inspiring as the beautiful work they create.”