Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
And that’s evident as you approach his upmarket Point Chevalier showroom, ArteDomus, where you’re greeted by row upon row of beautiful Italian marble and granite slabs.
“I don’t like lookalikes. They’re the avocado bathroom suites of the future,” he says with a sniff. “You can’t reproduce the feeling of nature – like the natural vein of a beautiful marble or the grain of wood. There are a few exceptions, but not many. I feel it’s bad Feng Shui.”
Brasell says he’s always been a big believer in natural materials and organic stone. “We’ve just come back from a tile fair in Italy, and there was one stand there that caught my eye – it had a sign that said ‘choose natural, not fake’. I think there’s a big trend over in Europe towards using natural stone, as opposed to patterned tile lookalikes. After all, most of their cities are made from stone.
“Also, if you combine organic products, it’s really hard to cock it up. It’s only when you start to mix man-made and contrived elements, patterns and colours – that’s when designs can start to run into problems.”
Even until relatively recently, New Zealanders had a very limited variety of natural stones and marbles to choose from but, according to Brasell, that has changed quite dramatically in the past five years.
Brave New World
“There’s a greater awareness amongst stone merchants of the different qualities of stone available – like with Carrara marble, there are four or five different grades, each with different densities and porosities,” he says. “There’s also more understanding and knowledge from members of the public about stone products. People are not just accepting when they are told they shouldn’t use marble and stone for their kitchen surfaces. Sure it ages, but it ages with beauty. It’s not like a man-made, throwaway product.
“I think we have also become braver in New Zealand,” says Brasell. “It used to be that everyone wanted limestone without a vein, but now people are asking for more adventurous and exotic materials, not necessarily copying what they’ve seen at the latest open home or in a magazine – being more prepared to experiment by taking something they’ve seen as a starting point, then putting their stamp on it.”
Expanding on that thought, Brasell says homeowners are getting their inspiration from outside the usual sources, such as from the strong use of colour, natural patterns and textures in many hospitality fit-outs these days – like the countertops he put into Amano restaurant that are jet black with a rusty orange vein. As soon as that came out, it pushed the envelope residentially, he says.
“We have also seen a real growth in people’s style and design understanding and individuality – from the ultra-contemporary, minimalist aesthetic, right through to the influences of the Los Angeles look, with big crown mouldings, lots of detailing and panelled walls.”
Traditional or contemporary, industrial or country, there’s a pretty even split in the styles homeowners are asking for, which has fueled the market to expand what’s now available in New Zealand. “Twenty years ago – even five years ago – there wasn’t a choice; now there is,” says Brasell.
Honed Not Polished
Almost without fail, Brasell recommends his clients steer clear of highly polished stone, especially marble. “I think that’s where most people got the idea that marble was not suitable for kitchens,” he says. “Importers were bringing in the cheapest Carrara and it was polished, so as soon as lemon juice hit it, the acid would eat straight into the surface. Better-quality marbles are now coming in, with honed or leathered finishes, and these are so much more durable and forgiving for everyday living and those little spillages.”
Brasell’s right. We live at our kitchen islands these days, sitting around drinking and nibbling, while talking and watching as our hosts or other members of the family prepare the evening meal, so we need surfaces that are more user friendly and don’t need to be fussed over.
“And for those little accidents that we all have from time to time, there are companies, like Slique and Lustre, who specialise in cleaning and restoring all types of stone – so if you want to get your benchtop back to looking like the day it was put in, you can.”
Making A Statement
As well as being the social focal point of our living spaces, the kitchen has also become the centrepiece of the design in our homes. And more often than not, it’s the kitchen island where all the drama happens, says Brasell.
“We just installed an island into a kitchen in Ponsonby, for example, where the whole thing was designed to look like a block of solid stone – and that’s really dramatic,” he says. “We’re also being asked to supply more and more stone splashbacks, even whole walls of stone, where the slabs have been book-matched so that the grain all lines up – and that can look spectacular.”
As far as introducing new stones into the marketplace, Brasell says he has been searching for varieties that are more durable when it comes to their reaction with acids – typically citrus, but also wines.
“A big one for us is black slate, which has the hard-wearing properties of granite, finished with a soft, natural leather finish – it’s a dramatic stone to use in any environment,” he says. “We also have a couple of beautiful white-and-grey marbles, called Alarti and Bello, which provide a soft contrast and work really well with those driftwood-coloured floors that are so hot at the moment.”
Keep it Light
Flooring is the other area of the home that Brasell is passionate about. “Every beautiful building in history has a beautiful floor,” he says. “If you can, you should always start with the floor.”
Talking specifically about the native timber floors found in most of the homes in and around Auckland, Brasell says that with special treatment, using oils, he is able to mitigate the very orange hues of matai and rimu, replacing them with more soothing mid-tones in taupe and brown-grey.
“We are still staining floors in the classic colours, like ebony, which are always going to be popular, but some of the new finishes we are seeing are nutty chestnut browns, with a hint of something in the soft grain coming through. People have moved away from very dark floors because they are so hard to maintain and keep clean.
Oil or Varnish?
Oil finishes will give your floor a natural look and enhance the grain and beauty of the timber. They also make it easy to carry out spot repairs, and the regular application of maintenance oil will clean, refresh and rejuvenate your floor in one simple operation. On the negative side, oiled floors remain semi-porous, so issues like water spillages and wet feet can have a detrimental effect on the finish and, over time, on the wooden floor itself.
A varnished or lacquered wooden floor permanently seals the surface and is the strongest and most protective treatment you can apply. Spillages can be cleaned up, and small surface scratches can be easily dealt with by applying an acrylic polish. The only downside to a varnished or lacquered floor is that it cannot be spot repaired. If repairs are needed, the entire floor area will have to be sanded and re-surfaced.
Oils work well in low-traffic areas, such as the living room and bedrooms. High-traffic areas, such as the kitchen and hallway, fare better with a varnished finish.
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