Articles in: Meet the Material

Meet The Material: Artificial Grass

Posted by: on May 10th, 2013 | One Comment


Image of a room with artificial grass as a wall covering on one wall

Image via Especiarias


Today’s artificial grass has grown leaps and bounds in terms of appearance, feel and composition. Whereas the earliest iterations of synthetic turf looked both cheap and plastic, the quality and variety of synthetic grasses available now has improved dramatically. You can get artificial grass that looks late-summer long or manicured, or get short turf grass in dark or light shades of green. And better still, it’ll never need mowing, aerating, watering or fertilizing.

Now, in truth, there has been more than a little disagreement over the growing use of artificial grass in residential landscaping. Many concerned about the environment argue that plastic grass is just another petroleum product that contributes to our growing global CO2 problem and will end up as more trash clogging landfills. Other environmentally conscious observers counter that the pollution caused by fertilizers, gas-powered mowers, trimmers, blowers and the like are far worse – not to mention the huge amounts of water needed to preserve these pristine natural lawns.

We’ll let you settle that debate among yourselves. Our only intent here is to perhaps alter your view about the possibilities for artificial grass, just like this incredible image from Especiarias did ours.

What is artificial grass? A man-made surface composed of polyethylene-blend fibers tufted onto a polypropylene backing, artificial grass is often called artificial turf, AstroTurf and synthetic or fake grass.

What are some of the cool properties of artificial grass? It looks like real grass, and with some of the most recent advances in the technology and manufacturing process of artificial grass, some of it even feels like natural grass. It’s also low maintenance, requires no watering, mowing or fertilizing, and is nearly impervious to the elements.

How is artificial grass used? Artificial grass has been used most often in arenas to cover athletic fields and for a variety of commercial applications such as flooring for event spaces.

What can you use artificial grass for? Anywhere or any way you might use natural grass, you can use artificial grass — as well as many other ways you may not have thought possible.

Not convinced? Check out the rest of this post.

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Meet the Material: Ceramic Tile

Posted by: on March 29th, 2013 | One Comment


Ceramic materials are some of the oldest manufacturing and art materials known to man. Some of the oldest human artifacts are pottery — a type of ceramic — produced some 27,000 years ago. That’s certainly a testament to the durability of the material.

Ceramic materials are used in all sorts of industrial and artistic settings, but the first ceramic material that might come to mind is the ceramic tile in your bathroom or kitchen.

And, as we can see in the image above of a wall covered in a beautiful ceramic tile by Merola, ceramic materials can be quite eye-catching as well as practical.

What are ceramics? Ceramics are non-metallic substances created through exposure to high heat and then cooling. When heated, these substances form crystalline structures at the molecular level, which make them rigid and strong.

What are some of the cool properties of ceramic? Ceramics can be molded into just about any shape you’d want, and after heating will remain rigid and durable. Ceramics can be good thermal and electrical insulators, and they don’t oxidize (rust). Add a glaze to ceramic tile, and it’s practically impervious to water. The glaze will also smooth out the surface to the point that teeny-tiny particles and microscopic critters such as bacteria don’t have much to hold on to. That’s why ceramics are used in places that need to be especially clean.

How is ceramic used? Let’s see … it’s rigid and durable. An electrical insulator. Doesn’t rust. Impervious to water. That sounds like a great material for the floors and walls of bathrooms and kitchens! That’s why ceramic tile is one of the most common uses of the material. Those same properties make ceramics good for dinner plates and other tableware. We are all familiar with ceramics as an artistic medium (by Dashawn at dresshead com). And that’s not to mention the many high-tech uses, including semi-conductors, bio-medical implants, spark plugs, and even heat tiles on the Space Shuttles.

Take a look at how ceramic tile can be both beautiful and useful.

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Meet The Material: Formica

Posted by: on February 13th, 2013 | 7 Comments
Image of gleaming Formica countertops from Scott Lander Design's award-winning Thomson residence renovation

Image via Scott Lander Design


Much like Wonder Bread, an iconic brand that came to symbolize the exuberance and optimism of post-war America, high-pressure laminate countertops like Formica were a common sight in diners, soda shops and nearly one-third of all homes by the early 1950s. Gleaming countertops like the one seen above in an award-winning home restoration in Pasadena, Calif., were seen as a triumph of American modernity and manufacturing ingenuity.

After falling from favor for several decades, Formica is now experiencing a resurgence in popularity as it turns 100 years old. There are now literally thousands of colors, patterns and textures of Formica. And with the adoption of new manufacturing processes that use nontoxic resins and recycled paper, Formica has become the darling of many budget remodelers and green builders.

What is Formica? Layers of paper soaked in resin and compressed together at extremely high pressure to form a surfacing material. It’s named Formica because it was originally produced as a substitute for mica, a naturally occurring substance that was used to insulate electrical material.

What are some of the cool properties of Formica? It’s super thin and very strong. Since it’s just paper, you can print virtually any pattern or design on it.

How is Formica used? Today it’s primarily used as a decorative application for countertops and tabletops, walls and other surfaces. It was initially developed by a research engineer at Westinghouse to be a strong, lightweight material for electrical insulation. By the 1930s, major automobile manufactures like Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Studebaker were using Formica to make timing gears.

What can you use Formica for? We’ve seen people doing lots of creative things with Formica lately, from making jewelry and sculpture to creating accent walls and colorful DIY headboards.

See even more reasons why Formica is making a comeback in kitchens, baths and many places inside and out of the home.

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Meet The Material: Brass

Posted by: on January 30th, 2013 | Make A Comment

Image via WikiMedia Commons


Brass has been around for a long time, and has many industrial and building applications. And, as we’ll see, brass is a very popular material these days for decorating.

As early as 3000 BC, ancient metalworkers in Syria and eastern Turkey knew how to make bronze by melting copper with tin. What they did not know at the time is occasionally they were making brass, too. Zinc, one of the principle alloying elements in brass, is often found in deposits together with tin, and the two share similar colors and properties. So, it’s easy to understand their confusion.

It wasn’t until 1746 that German scientist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf finally identified zinc as part of the alloy. The process for combining zinc and copper to make brass was later patented in England in 1781.

What is brass? Brass is an alloy (or mixture) of copper and zinc. Varying the amounts of copper and zinc used produces brasses in a range of different colors with different properties.

What are some of the cool properties of brass? The machinability of brass sets the standard by which other materials are judged. Its unique combination of strength, corrosion resistance, pliancy and ductility (ability to be stretched without breaking) also makes it the material of choice for applications that require low production cost and long service life.

What is brass used for? Brass can be cast, forged, spun, wrought or die-cut to make plumbing and gas fittings, automotive sensors, rivets, gears, zippers and a host of other machined products. Many music instruments are made from brass metals. The arts and crafts industry also uses brass sheets to make candle holders, decorative bowls, vessels and many other items.

What can you use brass for? Around the home, brass in all its various colors and finishes has many practical and decorative uses. From brassy lighting fixtures, kitchen and bath hardware and backsplash to door knobs and curtain rods, it’s an attractive option that brings warmth to any interior, be it modern or traditional.

Take a moment to browse this rest of the post, where we really get down to brass tacks.

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Meet The Material: Grasscloth

Posted by: on January 16th, 2013 | Make A Comment


Grasscloth is experiencing something of a revival as ideas such as the slow home movement have begun to reshape the way we look at the use and design of our homes. Last popular back in the 1970s, with the expanded choices of colors, patterns and weave available now, grasscloth is a natural decorative material. It can add great warmth and style to homes of varying décor. And now creative DIYers have gotten into the act. They’re pasting grasscloth onto bookcases, nightstands, mirrors and all sorts of other places in the home.


Grasscloth wallpaper from National Geographic

Grasscloth Wallpaper from National Geographic

What is grasscloth? Grasscloth is an interwoven fabric of natural grasses and fibers, such as bamboo, sea grass, arrowroot, rush cloth or jute that are glued to paper or fabric. Though grasscloth comes in many varieties, the most are single strands of sea grass held together by a thin cotton thread.

What are some of the cool properties of grasscloth? It’s eco-friendly, renewable, and since most are constructed from natural fibers, grasscloths are usually 100 percent recyclable. As a decorative medium, grasscloth is also quite functional. When applied to walls or ceilings, it absorbs noise and helps to hide any surface imperfections.

How is grasscloth used? It’s typically used as a wall covering. You may also encounter it being used to make tablecloths, place mats or even rugs.

What can you use grasscloth for? In addition to wallpapering a wall or ceiling, consider experimenting with grasscloth in other areas of your home. You can use scrap pieces of grasscloth to give added texture to a tabletop or serving tray, to jazz up a switch plate cover or to make an alcove in your home a little more inviting.

Read on and you may find yourself inspired to use grasscloth in ways you would never have imagined.

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Meet The Material: Burlap

Posted by: on December 19th, 2012 | Make A Comment
A collage of DIY burlap projects

Images via (clockwise): Home Depot (burlap wreath);  Southern Living (gift wrap); Apartment Therapy (planters); Valarie Fox Photgraphy via Todayi (flowers); I Heart Nap Time (silverware); Design, Dining + Diapers (pillows)


Burlap has gone by many names since it was first imported from India by the British in the early 1800s. Also known as hessian, jute and gunny-sack to name a few, it’s one of the least expensive textiles in the world and one of the most durable. It’s a material that’s been used for everything from panning for gold to building military fortifications over its long history. And, as you can see from the collage of images we found around the web, this eco-friendly product now serves far more creative purposes.

What is burlap? Burlap is a coarse woven fabric made of yarn spun primarily from the skin of jute or hemp plants.

What are some of the cool properties of burlap? It’s actually part cloth and part wood. Burlap has a high content of cellulose, a major component of plant stalks, as well as lignin, a polymeric substance found in wood.

How is burlap used? As sacks filled with coffee, potatoes or children having races is what we mostly imagine burlap used for. It’s also used extensively in the manufacturing of carpet, rugs and furniture. And when severe storms threaten, temporary barriers constructed with burlap sandbags help to protect families and property from the damage of flood waters.

What can you use burlap for? Stretch it into a canvas and paint a masterpiece. Make a nice dress or a jute suit. Burlap is a very handy material in the garden, too. You can use it to protect tender plants from frost and wind, to control runoff when planting on steep slopes or to control weeds. The uses for burlap are many, varied and often quite creative.

Here are some other things you can do with burlap that you may not have imagined possible.

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Meet The Material: Cinder Block

Posted by: on December 5th, 2012 | 9 Comments
Image of succulent planted in cinder block

Image via Urban Gardens


In 1900, Harmon S. Palmer patented a machine that made concrete blocks. It was not the first, but its design and durability kick-started the modern cinder block industry. By 1915, H.A. Donald was erecting the first rock-faced concrete block building and we continue to construct buildings in this way today.

Over the years we also discovered many more creative and clever uses for this gray, seemingly mundane building block. And we’re not just talking the inexpensive but plain and functional cinder block bookshelves you may have had in college.

What is cinder block? Cinder block, also referred to as concrete (and concrete masonry units), is a precast concrete product with one or more hollow cavities. The standard size cinder block measures 8 by 8 by 16 inches.

What are some of the cool properties of cinder block? It’s inexpensive, lightweight, durable, fireproof and it makes for a pretty decent sound barrier.

How is cinder block used? Contemporary building material history begins with the development of the cinder block. Buildings, load-bearings walls and many homes are still built with cinder block.

What can you use cinder block for? We’ve seen folks make bird feeders, platforms for beds and jewelry. Above, we see how photographer Zack Benson came up with a way to turn cinder blocks into a planter for succulents. The Urban Gardens website has more photos, and a description of how Zack did it.

And we’ve found several other unexpected ways clever people have used cinder blocks.

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Meet The Material: Moulding

Posted by: on November 28th, 2012 | 2 Comments

Image of a room painted robin's egg blue with white moulding detail


Egyptians were the first to use moulding, however, the Greeks are believed to have been the first to use it for the sole purpose of beautification and to visually divide rooms into smaller units. Prior to 1850, all moulding was hand-carved on-site by carpenters using hand planes, chisels and gouges. But with the development of large planing machines moulding became much cheaper and widely available to the mass market.

Today there are more than 140 different styles of moulding to choose from in materials ranging from wood to polyurethane. It can be applied to create simple architectural lines or patterns of light and shadow, to add dimension and define spaces, or to add visual interest and value to your home.

What is moulding? Moulding is a strip of material available in a variety of profiles typically made from wood, plastic or wood composites. At their simplest, mouldings are a means of applying light and dark shaded stripes to a structural object without changing the material or applying color. The most common profiles are: Crown, Casing, Chair Rail and Baseboard or Base.

What are some of the cool properties of moulding? Moulding can create optical illusions. When deftly applied, it can make small rooms feel larger and ceilings appear higher.

What is moulding used for? It’s used as a decorative trim for walls, floors, ceilings, doors and a variety of surfaces. You can of course use moulding indoors and out, on furniture and other surfaces, to create architectural lines with rich decorative effect.

Here are some other ideas for using moulding you may not have thought of that we spotted around the web.

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Meet The Material: Chalkboard

Posted by: on November 21st, 2012 | 2 Comments
Image of a bedroom designed with chalkboard walls

Image from Anthropologie via Wild And Precious


You might have unpleasant memories of being summoned to the blackboard, in front of the entire class, to solve some math problem you were hopelessly unprepared to answer. Relax … there’s no test to pass at the end of this post. And besides, as you can see here, writing on the chalkboard is a lot of fun these days.

Since James Pillans, headmaster of the Royal High School in Edinburgh, put up the first blackboard to teach geography sometime in the early 1800s, chalkboards have moved from the classroom to living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, playrooms — and we’ve even seen them in a few mudrooms. And the folks at Anthropologie took the idea to its ultimate conclusion a couple of years ago, displaying bedding in imagined all-chalkboard bedrooms, as seen above.

So, to get you started outlining your own projects, here are a few lessons we’ve learned about the many surprising uses for chalkboards.

What is chalkboard? The chalkboard, or blackboard as it was called originally in the U.K., is a smooth, thin sheet of black or dark green slate framed with wood used to write on. By the early 19th century, chalkboards had become an indispensable tool in classrooms. The blackboard enabled teachers to give written instructions to an entire class once, and perhaps opened the classroom to greater collaboration than ever before.

What are some of the cool properties of chalkboard? The highest grade chalkboards are made of a rougher version of porcelain enameled steel and can withstand 10 to 20 years in intensive use.

What are chalkboards used for? Chalkboards are present in many classrooms today where kids are still being challenged to prove they’ve been paying attention to what is being taught. Many restaurants and bars have been schooled in their use, too, posting their menus and beverage list on them for customers to peruse.

How can you use chalkboards? Ever considered making a DIY chalkboard wreath, or leaving a chalkboard greeting for your holiday guests? Crafty gift tags are also super easy to make with a little cardboard and chalkboard spray paint.

And for extra credit, you can explore other ideas for chalkboards that studious DIYers have come up with.

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Meet The Material: Shims

Posted by: on November 7th, 2012 | Make A Comment
Image of shims and wood glue

Image via The Orchard Oriole


Shim is a Kentish word of unknown origin first used to describe the piece of iron attached to a plow for parting soil. Shims as we know them, in one form or another, have probably been around as long as man has been making and building things that needed to be shimmed up.

Somewhere along the way we moved from shimming cracks and gaps and Macgyvering shaky situations with these small slips of wood to a whole new level of DIY intrigue. We’ve found some fascinating ways people have used shims to create fun crafts.

What is a shim?  Shims are thin, tapered pieces of wood created from leftover cuts of timber. Shims can also be made from stone, metal or even paper — depending on the application. They are used primarily to fill small gaps or spaces between objects or to align or level things in general.

What are some of the cool properties of shims?  Since the shim is essentially a wedge, it’s also a type of simple machine, like the screw, lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane and screw.

How are shims used? If you’ve ever installed doors and windows you know that it is nearly impossible to get them plumb and level without the use of shims. They’re also great for fixing creaky floors and stairs or stabilizing wobbly appliances, tables and bookcases, too.

What can you use shims for?  DIY wall décor, crafty planters, wreaths and difficult balancing acts are but a small sliver of the ideas you could possibly use shims for. Follow along and you might see some things you’d like to try.

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