Manipulating Materials to Achieve Balance

One of the exciting aspects of Design is the ability to try new materials and ideas in order to change the way we perceive space. Either by fusing materials together or enhancing its natural state, we find that the true beauty of a space can come directly from the materials we select. For a moment, forget the use of unnatural elements such as carpets, wall coverings and colours, and think about appreciating a space solely based on its Natural Architectural form.



In its natural state, concrete creates an assortment of textures that can heighten the experience of the space. By imprinting the texture of the formwork onto a wall surface, we can create a rough-textured surface that not only highlights the effect of natural light embracing its surface, but we can give contrast to two intersecting walls. Working with materials this way, we are able to use it to demarcate different zones within the home and also break up the monotony of a space.

Concrete can also be used for the floor. By changing the colour and effect of floor concrete, for example, through the use of a light epoxy finish, we can set the tone of the overall room, creating a natural urban look rather than overloading the space with overly-interior-designed space-enhancement materials.


An important thing to remember when planning a space is to always balance out the effect of the different materials. Take for example this narrow staircase corridor. The main issue is the tunnel effect, where the width of the space is mitigated by the height. By introducing four key material elements into the space, we break up the monotony by distracting the eye from the disproportionate effect of the space.

manipulating-materials-02By using a light-coloured marble on the floor, we set a light base, giving a sense of space accentuated by the cantilevered steps to achieve the sensation of “floating”. The use of a sliver of natural light further enhances the longitudinal effect of the space. This also whitewashes the adjacent wall flooding the space with ample natural daylight.

The next important effect is the use of the raw concrete wall. It is simple in its form, but complements the entire space in many ways. First, it enlarges the space visually, because having two walls made from the same material would produce the unwanted narrow tunnel feel. By mixing materials, we break the space in two, thereby giving the perception of two spaces within a single area.

By using a “heavier” colour, we anchor the cantilevered steps into the wall, giving the space a solid base, which is again accentuated through the tonal variations from a light coloured wall (left) to a darker coloured floor to a darker wall base (right).


Whenever we blend materials we need to create a visual connectivity between the elements. Here, rather than using a white plaster ceiling, the lighter-coloured matte concrete ceiling helps create a “sandwich” effect with its direct relevance but at the same time contrast to the darker, more polished, concrete floor. By creating stark contrasts in texture and colour of the same material, we give emphasis to the central timber kitchen counter, turning it into a functional feature piece.

manipulating-materials-03Similar to the concept of yin and yang, the introduction of an element that is different from the surroundings would tend to highlight that element itself. So whether we choose to mix materials, or use the same material in different forms depends on what we are looking to achieve.

When we look at a space, we don’t always have to get everything to blend in. Using effects and tones that are too similar may be too simplistic, but when we start to create contrasting effects, we can create a fusion of the materials in an abstract manner that becomes very pleasing to the eye.



We can also make a space work by using many different materials. But there are some simple ground rules. For example, in this scenario where the four surface planes are in four different materials, the combination needs to be treated carefully; otherwise you could be stuck with a visually-distracting environment.

Here the Jacuzzi is sunken into the floor to create an expanse of space. The natural timber used for the flooring adds a lot to the ambience, establishing a spa feel. The large picture window meanwhile brings in the natural light, further enhancing the impression of space, by bringing the outdoors indoors and visually expanding the room. The other two planes play an important role in balancing the glass and timber. By having a white-coloured wall, it helps improve the visual connectivity with the glass wall. This is another example of successful yin and yang at play.


Textured concrete is used on the ceiling to create a neutral tone to balance out the white wall and timber floor. This key element is essential in pulling these two contrasting colours together. If the ceiling were in timber or white plaster, these elements would then dominate the space, making it feel unbalanced. The natural concrete helps to balance out the space, and blends the surrounding materials together.

So unlike the earlier example where the concrete texture is used to sandwich the room to create feature pieces, this scenario uses the concrete plane to pull the surrounding textures together.

When dealing with materials, always remember that they can adapt to different colour tones and textures, and by adjusting these elements in different scenarios, we can see how simple manipulation in of a single material can help achieve the balance you are looking for.