Floors to Take Your Breath Away

FloorDécor - Interior Design Magazine

Volume 1, Issue 1 - 2005

By Sonna Calandrino, industry consultant for 25 years and founder of Fabulous Floors magazine

Room Photography by Chawla Architectural Photography

Marble Hallway Medallion

Who would have thought that technology could trigger a new art form just as tile and stone flooring were undergoing a Renaissance? Who could have dreamed that flooring could be so spectacular? Most of all, who would ever have thought that these floors could actually be so affordable?

The 8-foot diameter inlay (above) features ''breakouts" of the points into the field for an especially dramatic touch...before it was installed in the Las Vegas Hilton high roller suite.

stone border

The images you see here are the result of a sense of art and canny sense for business. About 20 years ago, Harvard-trained businessman and expert in machine technology Jim Belilove, teamed with artist and sculptor artist Harri Aalto, recognized the possibilities for creating a new art form in interior design by leveraging a new technology.

Sure, the process was proven to be so precise that NASA was using it to precision-cut the tiles on the space shuttle, but the then-new technology of waterjet cutting and computerization was essentially lost on folks working with architectural materials.

In those days, two decades ago, the waterjet had three applications: first, aerospace to cut expensive metals (like titanium) without heat or distortion, second, oddly enough, disposable diapers because of its ability to cut through dissimilar materials, and third, food, like slicing   pepperoni, olives   and   green   beans because of the precision cuts—that and there was no need to continually sharpen equipment. (Cutting with purified water at high pressure meant virtually no food contamination.)

It was the artist Aalto who recognized that waterjet machines could be the single most important thing to happen to stone in a millennium. "We get the credit for recognizing the potential which waterjet technology presented for architectural materials," Belilove says. "Even now, after 20 years, people working with stone and tile still don't realize what this process can do, which is to create shapes that were thought to be impossible."

Those impossible shapes include intricate corners, holes, delicate and ornate designs, thanks to the computer and the waterjet. The computer's job is to interpret any design into countless pieces and parts. The job of the waterjet is to fire a super-high-powered microstream of water that reach speeds of 3,000 miles an hour through the tiniest of holes (as small as four-thousands of an inch through man-made gems sapphires, rubies or diamonds). The result is a microfine cutting jet that will slice through stone 3 to 4 inches thick and metal 4 to 5 inches thick. "It can cut just about anything," Belilove says, "although it does not perform well on soft wood and carpet which are easily saturated."