In a small town on the beautiful island of Sicily the fiery outpourings of Mount Etna are being transformed into new surfaces for kitchens, patios and floors. For thousands of years, lava pouring from the volcano’s vents and craters has cooled to form lava stone. This resilient stone has been a valuable natural resource for the island’s inhabitants.
In 2008 lavastone became a life-line for local ceramics manufacturer Biagio Amarú. As one of the largest employers in Cosimo, a town on the island’s south-western corner, Amarú was badly hit by the banking collapse of 2008, laying off most of his 200 staff and closing furnaces. It was time for reinvention.
Amarú decided to streamline the company’s operation and adopt a more environmentally friendly approach. Rather than importing raw materials from mainland Europe, he looked for raw materials from the island. This led him to lavastone mined from Mount Etna just a few miles away.
“He put the stone into the furnace to see what would happen. The first few melted!” explained Simon Goude, director of The Ethical Stone Company. “But as he played with the timing and temperature, he started getting better results. Eventually he achieved a completely natural jet black finish. Refired Lavastone was born!”
The new material was launched in the UK at 100% Design by Goude and his team. The Ethical Stone Company, as the name suggests, focuses on sourcing stone in the most environmentally friendly and transparent way.
“Refired Lavastone fits our model perfectly,” continued Simon. “It’s naturally renewable – Mount Etna is a very active volcano. We can take clients to see the quarry where the stone is mined and to Cosimo to see the factory. So there is complete transparency in terms of provenance.”
There is also a recycled element. A plant in Comiso turns old computer and television screens into glass powder. Using his ceramic glazing expertise and knowledge, Amarú began experimenting with the powder. He screen printed it onto the lavastone and fired it. The glass bonded with the stone, embedding the delicate pattern. He added colour pigments to the powder producing striking results.
“The glass fusion means the lava stone can be turned into a bespoke surface material,” said Simon. “We have standard options available, but for for mid to high end customers, we can create something unique. They can have their own design printed onto the slabs, with a choice of colours.”
Since the launch last September there has been considerable interest in Refired Lavastone. Top-end kitchen company Boffi worked with acclaimed designer Patricia Urquiola to create a range of bespoke Refired Lavastone kitchen worktops.
The company is currently working with a leading coffee chain to create bespoke tiles for a new branch opening in Fulham. More projects are in the pipeline. For the homeowner, Refired Lavastone is a hard-wearing, highly decorative option for flooring, worktops, tiling and garden patios. It is an exciting new product.
All images are copyright of The Ethical Stone Company. Feature image is a patio paved with green leaf tiles.