At Kitchen & Bathroom Expo 2005, RAK introduced Venus; the second new line of tiles and sanitaryware designed exclusively for RAK by celebrity designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. I interviewed interviewed Llewelyn-Bowen to find out more about this project and his take on ceramic tiles in general.
Joe: To what extent is Venus your creation?
LL-B: As a rule, I won’t put my name to anything unless it can be properly authored by myself. Unusually for mass produced items, we established a very collaborative relationship, but the look and styling is entirely mine.
Joe: How would you summarise the Venus look?
LL-B: The Venus collection is ultimately about femininity. The bathroom has been a chilly, masculine space for too long. With the Venus range a new feminine, indulgent and luxurious look balances modern, clean lines with opulent, classical curves.
Joe: What do you think a designer like yourself can bring to the process of designing a new tile range?
LL-B: I think I bring a different perspective. This process is not about designing a product, it is about creating a room. I do not so much think out of the box as look down on the box.
Joe: The tiles themselves use a pale white and off white palette and seem more about texture than colour.
LL-B: I think this just reflects the public taste. The majority of home owners are very wary of having too much colour on fixed elements. My vision revolves around very strong colours on paint work – black or rich red – while the tiles provide a strong contract of tone and texture, and complement the elegant white sanitaryware.
I don’t think you can design things in a vacuum. While decorative tiles can be used as a motif, or as a feature wall, I think most home owners see tiles as a long-term investment. Most decorated tiles, it seems to me, have an element of planned obsolescence, that is just not appealing.
I didn’t want to create designs that were too chilly. Instead I was after organic and abstract forms. The curved shapes and textured tiles can also help bathroom acoustics, while the rich paint finishes make the overall space seem warm and welcoming.
Joe: It is notable that you have used quite small formats for your wall tiles. This seems at odds with the European trend towards larger formats?
LL-B: The Europeans are wrong. The last thing you want to do with a modest sized bathroom is to draw attention to how small it is by using large tiles.
Joe: Can you talk me through the actual design process?
LL-B: For this range it was very specific. In the past I have sculpted the designs from clay. This time I used foams to achieve the surface finish I required. I have done 3D art and sculpture in the past and I brought these disciplines to the RAK project.
Joe: What attracted you to RAK?
LL-B: The company’s story is quite romantic and that appealed to me. It was founded by a man who went to the UAE as a geologist to search for oil and precious minerals, but found clay. But that clay, as it transpired, could be made into something very precious using the latest ceramic manufacturing techniques. The other great appeal for me was the Middle Eastern location. I love the Middle East, and, of course, there is a rich Islamic tradition in decorated ceramics, so this collaboration seems doubly appropriate.
Joe: Given the emphasis at the launch, one could be forgiven for thinking that the tiles were intended to complement the sanitaryware rather than being a design project in their own right.
LL-B: I refute that. For the purposes of the show they were shown together, but when you see them in a retail environment, I am sure that they will stand up in their own right. I’d like to do more with tiles. I think overall tile design is very stagnant; the technology has moved on faster than the design. I also think that the UK is a very individual market. What works in Europe won’t necessarily work here. The British are now very design literate; very receptive to new ideas. Most of the tiles designs I’ve seen are very disappointing. If they were wallpaper, for instance, I wouldn’t give them house room.
This interview first appeared in Tile & Stone Journal, July 2005