Materiality at the KOHLER Design Forum Sao Paulo

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All over the world, design communities are talking about experiential luxury. Just a few weeks ago, Andre Kikoski shared his insights on the topic with architects, designers and developers in the fantastic Rosewood Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. It resonated loud and clear and we want to hear more.


On Thursday, August 1, 2019, at the first KOHLER Design Forum (KDF) in Latin America at the Palacio Tangara in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a stellar line-up of guest speakers including Lilian Wu of Lilian Wu Studio, Fernanda Bertolini and Marisol Franco Creed of Marriott International brought the audience along on their journeys of experiential luxury.


The global trend of “experiencing, rather than owning” rings as much true with South American architects and designers as with their Asian counterparts. The fascinating presentations in the stunning location of the Palacio Tangara had the guests on the edges of their seats.

Tim Andreas, Director of Architecture and Interior Design at Kohler Company and another KDF speaker, honed in on another aspect of experiential luxury in design. He shared his knowledge on the materiality in design that culminates in experiences with greater depth and assigned meaning.


Materiality is the relationship of color, materials, finishes, patterns and the physical consolidation of matter that informs about the surrounding and creates unique experiences. The material and immaterial components have technical, practical and aesthetic functions in the interior design process. They help make a room or space feel comfortable–an adjective that is often equated with luxury.

According to Lilian Wu, luxury is “quality of life” expressed in thoughtfully curated environments through excellent craftsmanship, design and materials. The elevated quality of life or luxury creates a personal relationship between the users and the space.

“Luxury is a combination of functional scale and materiality. It’s a certain luxury to have a big functional bathroom to spend your time relaxing in, and it’s also luxury to have [a] bathroom clad in Italian marble,” Thomas Juul-Hansen, the architect of ONE57, New York City’s most expensive residence, recently said in an interview with BK Magazine in Thailand.


The evolution and democratization of luxury as it was beautifully shared and illustrated by Erin Lilly, Decorative Design Studio Manager of Kohler Company, at the KDF Sao Paulo is translated into everyday life. The Parsons School of Design describes the work of spatial designers as mostly “conceptual and mental” and attempting to solve a problem. Architects, designers and lighting designers are highly conscious of the materiality in the design process to reflect the current Zeitgeist.

The choice of materials engages the mind and body. It is subjective and can transform a room’s atmosphere completely. The modern spatial design is human-centered and incorporates materiality in a way that it is enhancing well-being, performance and facilitating connection.


Additionally, the development of new manufacturing technologies has added flexibility to the spectrum of material choices. In the past, materials evoked clear cultural associations and universal feelings, for example, the ideas that glass is sleek, metal is cold or wood is warm may acquire new characteristics and a wider spectrum through different finishes or textures.

The deep knowledge of material and specific compounds combined with the design objects’ architecture, purpose or surrounding may inform the choice of materials, e.g., concrete, plaster, metals, synthetics or various finishes for floors, windows, walls, varnishes or paints to use. Benjamin Hubert, a British industrial designer, believes that there are tactile responses from raw materials that have to be heard.


Materiality within a space creates a genuine and personal feeling. Looking at examples of LODGE KOHLER in Green Bay, Wisconsin or Riverbend in Kohler, Wisconsin, U.S.A., the expressions of “quality and luxury” manifest themselves in the symbolic and affective properties. These designs call for parquet or marble floors rather than laminate. The latter would diminish the feeling of luxury in these properties but might be completely appropriate in a commercial space with lots of foot traffic.  

The sense of materiality as an integral part of the design process and an atmospheric element goes beyond decoration, color, texture and patterns. In her book Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture, Sally Augustin describes the fundamental laws to develop spaces that enrich human experiences and underlines the importance of materiality. So, the chosen, intentional aesthetics in a property influence the users’ perception of luxury and comfort. 

Experiential luxury is personal and subjective as all the KDF speakers touched upon. It is a sentiment that is embedded within travel, goods, the contemplation of art, a delicious, thoughtfully prepared dinner or the tactile feeling of a material. Experiencing and living these characteristics of materiality is a piece in the puzzle of today’s experiential luxury.

Check out these latest trends from Revestir 2019 and our product launch.

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