Changing the look of living spaces is high on everyone’s list as people begin to emerge from extended lockdowns the world over; a fresh atmosphere, a bright dash of color, a hint of greenery – anything to brighten up their spirits. The year may be almost half done, but the interior circuit is always buzzing with new trends on the horizon. Be it minimal or maximal, sober or bold, there is something to appeal to everyone’s palate on the interior menu. Put together based on the latest fads and technological innovations in the market, here is a list of 10 building materials in 2021 that can reform the feel of your space. 

1. Terrazzo

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©MOPS Architecture

Terrazzo is a versatile material that can give an elegant, beautiful look to any space. Despite being around for centuries, it is becoming more popular of late due to technological advances in its preparation. Its advantages include durability, long-life, easy maintenance, versatility & adaptability to wet or dry spaces. It has been found to perform well as heavy-duty kitchen & washroom counters as well.
Used for: Cladding or flooring in interior or exterior spaces; furniture or décor components.
Made by: Pouring a pre-proportioned cement mix, which acts as a binder, over either randomly sprinkled or carefully laid out chips. The chips can be of any stone (marble, granite, quartz, etc.), glass, or other suitable materials; their sizes can vary or be uniform as per the preference. Terrazzo is available as factory-made tiles or it can be cast on-site with jointing done using glass or metal dividers to give a seamless surface.

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Terrazzo has unlimited patterns & colours to choose from_©Varsha Arun, 2021
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Brass strip provided at joint enhances beauty of terrazzo material_©Varsha Arun, 2021

2‌. Printed Handmade Cement Tiles

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Printed cement tiles add vibrancy & can enliven any space. Any shade in the color spectrum can be selected to create tiles that match interior themes, act as focal features & display cultural grandeur. There is a large selection of patterns and designs to choose from; rotating & laying them could by itself create an attractive layout. Additionally, they are easy to clean & require less maintenance.
Used for: Flooring or wall cladding.
Made by: Hydraulic pressing of pigments into a cement base; the pattern is created using a metal mold. Hydraulic pressing ensures the 3-4mm thick pigment layer being embedded into the cement layer. The total tile thickness can vary from 18-25mm, with an average size of 8”x8”. Slight imperfections in the patterns add to the charm of the tiles, which are made entirely by hand.

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Simple geometrical patterns & vibrant colours available in printed tiles_©Varsha Arun, 2021
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Printed tiles complimented with use of bright colours_©Yamini Krishna for Alkove Design

3. Mosaic Tiles

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©Doherty Design Studio

Mosaic tiles are having their moment in the spotlight due to their durability, less maintenance & quirkiness. Due to the striking effect they have, they are best used with a matching bold color palette or with the rest of the space adopting sombre, neutral shades making the tiled surface stand out. Due to their small sizes, mosaics are a great solution for tiling curved walls as well! White Kit Kat Tiles also gives an edgy look that you can either combine with other base tiles or as a standalone.
Used for: Wall cladding in bathrooms, kitchen backsplash, pools, etc.
Made by: They come in small sizes, usually stuck on a sheet of 1’x1’ size for easy application. Made out of glass, ceramic, porcelain, natural stone, etc, they allow freedom to mix and match, customization & finished surface is eye-catching.

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Combination of various sized glass mosaics creates harmony_ ©
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A curved wall & some kit-kat tiles_©Derek Swalwell for Preston Lane Architects

4. Cane/ Rattan

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Making a strong comeback from the 70s, Rattan is a natural material taken from Rattan vines that has an earthy, warm & minimal look; its neutral shades can be offset by a splash of accents or blend into a monochrome setup. Its high tensile strength allows it to be bent into intricate shapes for any design style, be it modern, vintage or transitional. Rattan results in lightweight furniture/furnishings, is affordable, and requires only occasional polishing in terms of maintenance. Not to mention its high durability & sustainability index means it would last for decades!
Used for: Accent furniture, furnishings, lampshades & décor items
Made by: Rattan wood can be split into the core & the skin. While the core or ‘rattan’ constitutes the larger supporting components, the skin or ‘cane’ is usually in the form of mesh or woven form. Together, this assembly is called ‘wicker’.

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Beauty of Rattan can be complimented by a range of materials & textures_©
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Rattan can make any space cozier_©Nathan Oakley on Unsplash

5. Terracotta

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Terracotta_©Niveditaa Gupta for Studio Renesa

Been in use since the early civilizations, terracotta rings are familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in a vernacular home. From bricks to clay pots, terracotta has dominated many design disciplines owing to its naturalness, sustainability, eco-friendliness, recyclability & fire resistance. Its noise & thermal insulation properties make it an excellent choice for extreme weather conditions. On the other hand, terracotta is relatively porous, high-maintenance, and can incur scratches during wear and tear. The key to using terracotta is to do it with accents and not overuse earthen tones. If done right, it can add a rustic flavor with its warmth and ambient hues.
Used for: Floor, wall or roof tiles, jaali screens, planter pots, earthenware, decor pieces, and light fixtures.
Made by: Baking or firing earth whose strength compounds when its composition of clay and water is heated to requisite temperatures.

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The burnt tinge of roof tiles & exposed brick adds a splash of vibrancy, giving an earthy vibe to this Kerala-style holiday home_©Humming Tree
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Clay can be molded into interesting shapes to create such blocks_©Varsha Arun, 2021

6. Malai

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Still, in its nascent stages of development, Malai is a bio-composite material that is revolutionizing the fashion and interior industries as a sustainable alternative to leather. Its durability, flexibility & raw finish appeals to conservatives & modernists alike. The uses of Malai in a wide range of fields are being experimented with; its applications could spread as far as cosmetic, food packaging & stationery industries. Available as 1mx1m sheets, with thickness between 0.04”-0.08”, the material can be sewn, laser-cut, 3d molded, embossed, or printed into. The colours come from natural dyes like indigo, turmeric, etc. and its strength & water resistance come from natural reinforcement.
Used for: Furnishings & upholstery
Made by: Feeding bacterial culture on sterilized waste coconut water sourced from local factories of Kerala, which results in cellulose jelly sheets which are eventually harvested, refined & reinforced with natural fibres, resins & gum.

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Malai is extremely flexible_©
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Emulating the look of leather, Malai is entirely vegan_©

7. Reclaimed/ Upcycled Materials

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Upcycled Materials_©Photographix for S+PS Architects

Global waste crisis is growing real day by day; the need of the hour is to reclaim, recycle & reuse materials where possible. As awareness spreads, many designers & clients are finding new ways to make responsive designs. Discarded components of demolished buildings are thrown away despite being in usable condition. Through the process of ‘upcycling’, which is about increasing the value of a discarded object by reusing it or its components in a different form from the original, we can give new life to our interiors. Reuse of windows as wardrobe shutters, metal components of electrical devices as jaali screens, plastic bottles as planters, etc are just a few of the endless possibilities that can be put to action.
Used for: Anything; the sky is the limit.
Made by: Scouring landfills, warehouses, resale merchants & buildings being renovated or demolished.

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Washing machine base plates reused as jaali screens_©Anand Jaju for Wallmakers
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Sourcing old windows & doors to create façade of a house in Mumbai_©Photographix for S+PS Architects

8. Lime Plaster 

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Lime Plaster_©Made in Earth

Modern paints, due to their toxicity & high VOC content, are being passed over for the breathability & higher durability offered by lime plasters. Before paints came into the market, these were used widely, giving a chalky, unfinished effect to walls. Plaster is an all-natural & environment-friendly option with infinite possibilities in terms of colour pigments & finishes. A variety of application tools like a sponge, trowel, brush, and even hands can be used to create textures that can set a mood & give character to the wall unlike the flat surface that painting gives. Lime plaster absorbs heat & noise, is locally sourced & sustainable, and connects the interior to nature. For a soft, subtle, natural look for interiors, this is the material for you.
Used for: Wall finishing.
Made by: Mixing lime (calcium carbonate), earth, water & natural pigments to achieve required colors. Adding crushed stones can give the plaster a sheen that can be played with different types of lighting.

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Natural ingredients for a natural finish_©Made In Earth
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The subtlety of plastered walls allows printed tile flooring to pop out_©Antony Garets for Sivak & Partners

9. Duco/ Enamel Paint Finish

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Enamel Paint Finish_©Mon Plan d’Appart

An alternative to just finishing plywood shutters with laminates or veneer was long overdue. With the arrival of Duco paint, options to enhance uninteresting elements opened up. It is easy to apply, fast-drying retains colour well, resists wear & tear, and allows experimentation with designs in multiple colours for one surface. Alternatively, oil-based enamel paint works well for wooden furniture in protecting it & giving it a glossy look. These paints are tough & waterproof, making them a good choice not just for wood, but an array of materials. Painting with these is all about quality.
Used for: Wardrobe, cabinet, door, window frames & wooden furniture finishing
Made by: Duco was essentially an automotive finish before it found its way into the interior field as a high-quality finish for wood surfaces. Available as an opaque or transparent lacquer in a range of colours, it can give a high-gloss shine or lustrous matte effect to surfaces. Enamel paint is a loose term for any solvent-based paint that dries into a hard, glossy finish.

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Matt finish duco gives a whimsical look to this kitchen_ ©Hipcouch
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Glossy duco finish_ ©

10. Copper & Brass Finish

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Copper & Brass Finish_©

Metal finishes are back, and how! Every current trending design features metal accents to some degree. Copper & brass are the flavours of the season, giving a touch of elegance & chic to even the most modest of spaces. They seem to fit in with opulent styles like art deco & neo-modern just as well as in minimal & industrial themes. Customers are spoiled for choice with an assortment of brass finishes available for wardrobe accessories, faucets, sofa legs, lighting, etc. While working with metal finishes, less is more; just one or two pieces in the room having a metal detail would glamorize the ambience.
Used for: Furniture accents, lighting, etc
Made by: Choosing from the right stores & vendors would result in quality, affordable products that fit in with the interior scheme.

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Brass highlights against a muted palette_©Saransh Architects
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Copper accents used as accents in an industrial theme_©


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As an architect, designing gives Varsha an insight into what she truly enjoys - observing people & the complex, interwoven layers of society. She may be a sceptic, but has the soul of a wanderer. She reads (mostly Harry Potter) to escape the mundane & is now exploring her writing.