Earlier this month I was thrilled to be invited by Cosentino to visit their HQ in Spain. ‘Designing a Meaningful Future’ was the theme of their first European event for interior designers and architects from across Europe – with an agenda that spanned sustainability, production, future trends, and interior design inspiration.
As a manufacturer of solid-surface products – traditionally kitchen worktops although now used for many other applications – they operate in an area which could struggle with sustainable credentials. Being based on extraction from the land for the raw materials and then extensive processing to create their products, I was aware of their origins. Recent products such as Dekton have been introduced as carbon neutral though, and I was aware of advances in sustainable production. This was a chance to learn more.
Keynote talks and speakers
From our base in Almeria we travelled to the Cosentino HQ in the desert. We started with talks from keynote speakers from the design industry – from product designers, architects and interior designers.
Tom Dixon had interesting perspectives on his career in design, and drew a great parallel with classical musicians. Nobody questions the necessity of them practising their playing, and as designers we should be aware of how important it is that we keep practicing too, to improve and develop our work.
He spoke of how kitchens no longer hug the walls by default, and they’ve become more social spaces at the centre of our homes and our lives. He sees a similar trend coming with bathrooms and these traditionally private spaces. Harking back to the social hub that was the Roman bath, these are becoming more social spaces too, although perhaps with a more select group of participants! Come to think of it, haven’t I designed a few broken-plan bathroom and bedroom spaces lately?
With the talks taking place in the Sensa facility, it was also a chance to see more of these beautiful natural stones. These are natural stone products that Cosentino source and then protect with a process which allows them to guarantee them for 15 years. They’re extraordinary stones that wouldn’t otherwise be suitable for these applications.
We’ve used products from the Sensa range before in our interior design projects, although there were some here that I’d never seen before. This one could be a new favourite… a slab made from semi-precious stone which looked incredible when backlit.
More sustainable production
Our next visit was to the overall production facility, which covers a huge area out in the desert. Here the minerals are excavated and turned into the finished products.
A recently-opened solar farm is the largest self-consumption solar power facility in Spain, and one of the largest in Europe. You can see the scale of it on the top-right of the site model here. It currently supplies 20% of their overall power use, and they hope to increase to 35% soon. For the first time last month they managed to run the whole site for a day from just this solar power facility.
Water consumption and water reuse is hugely impressive too. 99% of waste water is recycled and reused in the plant, with 1% lost only from evaporation. The water is all press-filtered for reuse, but the waste material filtered out is reused too. It’s moved outside to dry out, before being reintroduced as part of the mineral make-up of the ongoing production of the materials.
Storing waste material for future use
There’s still waste material at the end of production though. This could be returned to landfill, although having seen and taken part in the advancement of technology over recent years, they expect to be able to use and process these materials into the products in the future. So they’ve created ‘land stores’ for them and are starting to put them back in a controlled way so that they can be requarried in the future. I don’t know how far away this is, but the foresight – and the desire to avoid any waste – is good to see.
Although one of the product lines is currently certified as carbon neutral, some of this is based on offsetting, so this isn’t a ‘net zero’ product. But it was incredible to see how the production of this sort of product can be made more sustainable with investment in energy and resource reuse. These are high-performance interior products and demand for them will continue, so the developments are encouraging, and it’s been great to see how the environmental impact of their production can be reduced.
Factory and research and development laboratory
I love to see how things are made – at any and every stage of the process from raw materials through to the finished interiors of my clients’ homes. Here in the factory I saw the extraordinary scale of the production line, and marvelled at the level of automation that supports continuous production. All I can show you here is the designer decked out in full PPE in the desert heat – no photography in here of course.
In their product development labs we witnessed the development and testing of their products, as well as new designs in development, but sorry I’m not allowed to show you anything for here either!
Inspirational Interiors in the lab
Ending the tour in their Inspiration Lab, we saw installations showing the range of applications – gorgeous kitchen schemes, sleek contemporary bathroom designs, and other examples of how the products can be used in interiors.
Design talks and lectures
The agenda for day two was a series of design talks and lectures from Cosentino’s collaborators.
A great panel discussion with Architectural Digest explored expectations of design and interior spaces, and the direction of the overall deign industry. Panellists spoke of the need for adaptable spaces that represent peoples values, and that this is how users make connections and can be exhilarated by their experiences in the interior spaces we design.
Design trend forecasters WGSN invited us to meet the Interior Design consumer of 2025. These future consumers, their sentiments and their profiles, could help us understand how changes in our lives will impact the way consumers expect to engage with our designs, our architecture, and our interior spaces.
We also learned about Dornbracht’s recently-introduced sustainability programme to refurbish and refinish their old products for continued use. With classic and timeless designs – and we’ve used several of them before – the ability to prolong their lifespan reduces not just waste, but also resource and energy use that would otherwise be used in the production of replacement products.
And away from the factory and the education…
The trip was a great chance to meet other interior designers and architects too. Over three days we enjoyed plenty of time to make new connections and learn about the works and lives of others in our industry. Although we share many similarities, it’s always great to find out just how different our work can be in other sectors or different roles, and to have a chance to understand these other perspectives.
The hospitality was magnificent too, from the welcome reception at the hotel to a party in the desert, with a dinner in the courtyard of Almeria’s magnificent cathedral in between, we were made to feel so very welcome.
A huge thank you to Cosentino for this trip, the visits and education, the fabulous hospitality and the great company we all enjoyed.