It’s a universally recognised fact that Wagon Wheels are nowhere near as big as they were when we were younger. Fact. Incontestable. Bleeding obvious. Those that study this sort of thing insist that it’s either ‘false memory syndrome’ or possibly ‘shrinkflation’, the cunning plan by manufacturers to reduce the portion size of our favourite goodies yet still demand the same price as previously.
Something similar has happened with the Bradstone 2019 brochure. It’s still packed with all the toothsome yummy stuff we expect, but it’s a sneaky bit smaller, and they’re still charging the same price – absolutely nowt!
As the responsible Bradstonites explain to me, it’s all part of a clever plan to render this year’s edition that bit more user-friendly, more hand-compatible, more pocket- or, quite importantly, handbag-sized. Obviously. Bradstone can’t use such potentially sexist terms, but I will take it on the chin from those actively seeking to be offended by even the slightest gender reference. We all know that, in most cases, it’s the lady of the house that makes the truly important decisions, particularly when it comes to the looks and styling of the patio, garden and driveway, so making a brochure that is less clunky, better adapted for the smaller hand, and easier to pack away inside a convenient and on-trend snazzy transit mechanism with handles and room for a purse, makes obvious sense.
To be fair, even in my gnarled and clumsy flagger’s hands, it feels better balanced, less cumbersome, and a tad less hefty. The continued reliance on the traditional portrait orientation rather than the fashionable landscape layout also helps. It looks, feels and even smells like a customer friendly brochure.
The cover features Bradstone’s true heritage – top-quality cast concrete paving, and it’s impeccably laid (no crossed joints, are you paying attention other manufacturers/suppliers?), and a really well-balanced image with the paving being the dominant feature while the drop-dead-gorgeous models and des-res property play a background role. The persistence with the BradstONE message persists, but I still think it doesn’t really come across and not every reader will spot the clever play on words.
Anyway, so glad to see concrete paving on the front cover of one of the most important brochures. There’s been a mad obsession with porcelain for the last few years, and, before that, imported stone, but concrete has been chugging along in the background all along, biding its time, and waiting patiently for the fickle wheel of fashion to rotate once again and bring the world’s most popular construction material back into focus. Not everyone wants glorified bathroom tiles in their garden, or the vagaries of natural stone all over their patio. Some folk like the reliability and security and value-for-money that concrete brings, and there’s almost no-one does concrete paving better than Bradstone.
Normally, I have little, if any, time for the trumpet-blowing bumf that is invariably provided but rarely read at the front of a brochure. It’s introductory clutter, most of the time, but it would be a mistake to flick by with this brochure, because there is a genuine gem of a service tucked in there from Bradstone. They are now providing a free sample service! Choose up to three of your favourite paving products and they will send you via courier a smart little box containing sizable (100x100mm) swatches of the actual product that you can put against the house, review in the natural lighting at your home, compare and contrast with the local environment and other hardscapes in the garden, and be reassured regarding your choice.
This is a fantastic service, and it deserves more promotion that it receives in the brochure, but, hopefully, contractors and designers hoping to win over potential customers will be able to push it that bit more.
This cannot be a cheap service for Bradstone to provide, but given the ongoing resistance of customers to visit the dreaded domain of the Builders’ Merchant, and the appalling attitude of said BM’s to in-yard displays at their premises (always look great for a fortnight and then get buried beneath a stack of pallets), the provision of direct-to-door samples is as good a way as I’ve come across for engaging the customer and grabbing their business. I do hope it pays dividends for Bradstone and doesn’t eat up too much of their budget.
Anyway, on with the show: what do they have for us in 2019?
Well, as we could have probably guessed, it’s porcelain/ceramics that lead the field, with a sprinkling of new products to keep the range fresh and interesting.
Romeli (they’ve been using the Scrabble bag-o-tiles to name products once again!) is a stone-effect tile/flag in two colour options: buff and grey. All the technical info has been hived off to the back of the brochure, which often seems like a great idea, but I do think that available sizes, if nothing else, should be noted somewhere on the page.
So, turning to page 160 and using a magnifying glass hand lens from my geology days I can just about descry that it’s a one-size product of 800x400mm. Now: how much space would that have taken up back on page 19? It also has a lovely deckled edge (not straight or fettled, but sort of roughly wavy and random) which will endear it to those keen to avoid the geometric predictability of porcelains.
The photie strongly suggests the Grey option, at least, has a look of a very attractive and appealing quartzite, and the 100x100mm sample given to me bears this out but also reveals a subtle sparkle, as is found with yer ackshewal quartzite. Ver’ nice!
Halus (only 5 tiles out of the Scrabble bag, this time) is another newbie, and one that mimics the smooth/honed/polished sandstone that has caused so much disappointment in gardens up and down the country, mostly due to its incredible porosity and attractiveness to algae. Halus address both of those issues: as a true porcelain, its water absorption is barely discernible, and, accordingly, algae shun it and move on to find something more suitable to ruin.
Two colour options, buff and grey, which covers the two most popular trends, and a generous four modular sizes in the 16-ish square metre patio pack. It’s a little too bland for my taste, but it’s bound to appeal to many of 2019’s patio purchasers.
Two new colour options for Vetusto (7 tiles and a respectable 10 points if no double/triple word score) in Blue-Black, which is a dead ringer for the Brazilian slate that has been popular for a few years, and Rustic Gold which emulates, you guessed it, the Indian slate that has been slowly delaminating and falling apart on many a patio for a decade or so. The true Brazilian slate is practically problem free but can be a little variable in texture and tone, so maybe this ersatz version will reach out to those who dislike unpredictability. The Rustic Slate, in its natural form, is a product that has caused disappointment to many, so perhaps the pain-free porcelain version will take that niche.
Mode was Bradstone’s first foray into porcelain and it has served them well. For 2019, they’ve decided to introduce a ‘profiled’ version for use as step treads, as edging and/or as wall copings. True enough, standard porcelain has never looked right with its bare edges exposed, so some form of profiling is always to be preferred, but I have a problem with this attempt. To my eye, it sits uncomfortably between being a true bull-nose ((quarter- or half-round) and a chamfer (30°-45° ) It’s neither one thing nor t’other, but a curious half-breed.
On the plus side, the profiling exposes the internal structure of the Mode paving and there’s none of that ‘Liquorice Allsort’ nonsense that we see with cheaper, lower quality products, where the top and bottom of the tile/flag sandwich a cheaper core of inferior material, but I’m still not convinced by the profile of Profiled Mode.
Arenaria , Brooklyn and Tephra are new….what shall we call it?....mid-price ranges of wannabe porcelain, aimed at those that like the look but are less keen on its impact on their pocket/purse. They are, to be technically pedantic, vitrified or ceramic, rather than true porcelain, but don’t obsess on that fact. They are more than adequate for British patios and gardens.
Arenaria offers they three mandatory shades du nos jours: darkish grey; grey; and cream, all in a subtle, nowt-fancy texture, and sold a three modular size 18-and-a-bit-m² patio pack, while Brooklyn is a single size (600x600mm) in the same colour options but with what seems to be a bit more variation in the colouring. Tephra is the smooth-sawn version, and, like Brooklyn, it’s just the one size.
While all three boast the same colour choices, it’s noticeable that the colours do no match. The Grey of Arenaria is not the same as the grey of Brooklyn, and that grey is very distinct from the grey of Tephra. But then, why should they be the same? They are different product ranges, although they bear all the markings of hailing from the same East European manufacturer. Fir those seeking a very porcelanic look at a non-porcelanic cost, one or these three products could well be what you need.
On we trot to Concrete Pavings , and the only product worthy of mention, in terms of newness to the market, is Moordale , which the more experienced paving contractor will be familiar with from Bradstone’s sister company, Charcon. Yes: that one! The shot-textured, high quality pressed concrete flag that has been used on a thousand and one commercial contracts.
Bradstone have tweaked it slightly by slimming it down to a patio-friendly 35mm thickness, and three sizes (600x600/600x300/300x300mm) in the two more popular colours: Natural (barely buff) and Buff (creamy buff).
We’ve seen textured concrete flags from Bradstone previously, and it’s not clear why Moordale has been crowbarred in as a replacement for certain other products of the ilk, but it *is* a strong name and a proven performer, so let’s just be grateful we now have it available in a more suitable format for residential works.
Elsewhere, the budget range of wet-cast riven-effect paving, Edale , has been treated to a new and very sombre Dark Grey (and they really do mean dark!) as has the even more budget Peak pressed concrete range which is what we euphemistically refer to as a ‘Utility Paving’, which means it’s best underneath bins, dog kennel and down side ginnels where it will rarely be seen.
I shouldn’t mock. there is a real and relatively valuable market for utility paving. Who, in their right mind, wants to pay top dollar for lovely porcelain or exquisitely crafted concrete paving for those areas that are more a necessity than a feature of modern outdoor life? These utility paving allow homeowners to choose a paving that complements their main areas, in colour, texture. styling or more, without breaking the bank. They do, as the saying goes, what it says on the can. They pave over otherwise unpaved areas. And they do so with a reasonable amount of style at minimal cost. What’s not to like, as another annoying contemporary saying goes?
On we go, and oh! How the mighty have fallen! Twenty or twenty-five years ago, concrete block paving was all the rage. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was all natural stone – we couldn’t get enough of it. And now, in 2019, neither range sees any significant additions. They are in stasis – too valuable to dispense with completely, but not of enough interest to warrant any real investment. They still sell – and why wouldn’t they? They are damned fine paving choices, but they just don’t have the cachet that once propelled them to the front covers of brochures such as this.
If ever proof was required regarding how patios and driveways have become victims of fashion! Truth be told, if I was ready to re-pave my driveway tomorrow, I’d be having concrete block paving again. It has served me well for quarter of a century and there’s still no better value-for-money paving for driveways. And when it comes to the garden, my preferred style of gardening (I call it ‘Cottage’, while my beloved calls it ‘Untidy’) best suits natural stone paving. The under-planned and free-form planting that I prefer works best with the natural variation and random character of natural stone.
And for precisely those reasons, CBPs and Natural Stone paving will be with us for decades more to come!
So, what can be said in summary of the brochure?
Firstly, I do like the slightly reduced size. I had expected to feel short-changed or unsated, but that’s not the case. It plays well in the hand, and the page layout does not suffer in the least. It handles and feels comfortable. That’s the word I keep coming back to: comfortable.
There’s a generous amount of new photography, and, as we have a right to expect from a company the size of Bradstone, it really is top drawer stuff. There’s a lot of clever staging, admittedly, but the majority of the garden shots are, I am assured, actual customers’ gardens rather than studio set-ups. And I think that shows because there are clever touches that over-fussy stylists and punctilious designers would have whipped out (or never included!) given half a chance.
The fact that, where possible, such images are credited with the name of the designer/installer is to be applauded, and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that featured contractors will gleefully point out their work to potential clients, but I would have liked to see slightly bolder credit. The lads and lasses that lay the paving, that create the vision are the real unsung heroes of brochures and I’d love to see them given due acknowledgement.
And, try as I might, I’m struggling to find many glaring instances of incorrect installation. A distinct (and pleasing) lack of crossed joints on flagstone paving, and precious little bitty cutting-in with block paving, make for a happy Tony. I know some people with Philistine attitudes pull me up about my decrying of faulty installation in brochures, but then I’ve had to face down clueless installers showing me photies of sliver cuts and crossed joints in this or that brochure as alleged evidence that such practice is acceptable. I’m a firm believer in top class brochures being a showcase not only for top class products, but for top class installation, too.
The order and arrangement of the contents is logical, with products easy to find, supplemented by section indices, an inside back cover listing, and back-links from the technical section. The page layout is fine, with plenty of generous page-and-half shots, reasonable swatches and basic text. As I mentioned previously, shifting tech info to the back of the brochure, and hiving off the serious tech info completely into a standalone (and highly recommended) Contractors’ Trade Directory, is all well and good when it comes to looks, but I do feel basic size information should be given on each appropriate page. Looking at a lovely paving, such as the Romeli, and wondering whether they are 600x300 or 800x400 or even 1000x500 is bloody annoying.
There’s no excess bumf, none of the silly mid-mag featurettes about a poncey designer or the use of drainage that some publishers seem to feel we need, and that means more-or-less every one of the 184 pages carries valuable content, with the small print limited to the final four pages. The technical advice has been tweaked, ever so slightly, but importantly, to recommend the use of a slurry primer or bond bridge with practically every non-concrete product, whether it’s porcelain, ceramic, sandstone, limestone, granite or whatever.
This is important. If you are an installer and you decide to skip on the slurry primer, or you decide to con your client by using the totally unsuitable PVA instead, you now have no hiding place. The installation advice from the product manufacturer, which is what the court looks for when such matters come before a magistrate, now state that you should use a slurry primer. So, do it! No excuses. You know it makes sense.
The Bradstone 2019 Brochure will be an essential tool for contractors and designers, but more than ever, this is a brochure for the homeowner, the people looking to upgrade or renew their own patio and/or driveway, and to that end, it’s ideally suited. I can’t recommend too highly the Contractor Trade Directory which will be far more useful for the trade (obv!) but neither can I praise too highly what Bradstone have produced for 2019, It might be smaller, but it packs one hell of a punch!
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