I was delighted to be guided through the new offering, via Zoom or Teams or some other online video call, which is a huge privilege and always gives an intriguing insight into the thinking and planning and development that goes into not just the brochure but the products therein. Why another beige porcelain? Where does that limestone come from? What happened to that block paver? How did that ever get accepted as a potential big seller? Not every producer/distributor goes to quite so much trouble, nor are they all quite so forthcoming and amenable to questioning, so I am genuinely thrilled when the Bradstone team take the time to talk with me, whether it’s online or in the local coffee bar.
The brochure really does look and feel as though Covid never happened. The format is the same the 2020 edition, a comfy, magazine-style 275x250mm (ish) portrait layout, with the same “You’ve got it in BRADST one” motto, and another porcelain on the front cover. Ever so slightly chunkier at 184 pages, up from 176 a couple of years’ back, but not in the heavyweight league that some other recent brochures have been, and yet this really doesn’t feel like anything has been missed out or sacrificed to fit the brochure. It’s pretty much exactly what we should expect of a major distributor just now.
Bang! Straight in with the Contents Table on the inside cover, page 2, no messing about, and after all the tortuous classifications of paving which took place amongst almost all suppliers during the 2010s – is it contemporary? Traditional? Chic? Natural? – it’s refreshing to see plain, honest categorisation: Porcelain; Concrete; Stone; Block Paving ….how hard was that?
So, in the time-honoured tradition, it all starts with the waffle. Did you know Bradstone are 65 years old as of 2022? Nor did I, and it’s a huge coincidence because that’s the same year my father started the paving and groundworks business that I’ve managed to fritter away down to this website and a bit of consultancy work. Do we get a pension now?
Still: 65 years is good going in what has, at times, been a ridiculously volatile industry where so many have fallen away, been subsumed, or simply faded into irrelevance.
The point of the waffle section in any paving brochure is to instil confidence in the brand and to de-mystify the process whereby a new patio or driveway is acquired. Some brands expend far too much paper space on blowing their own trumpet while others unnecessarily complicate the process by over-explaining what’s needed and how it all should be done. I think Bradstone have got it about right: we’ve been around for a long time; we’re a well-respected brand; here are five basic steps to consider. That’s ample, I reckon.
A sprinkling of what they like to call “inspiration”, which means lovely photies of highly desirable projects, a plug for the Bradstone Assured installer scheme and then we’re into the real meat, starting, almost inevitably with the in-material of the last decade: Porcelain.
Bradstone were straight in with porcelain when it first started appearing on these shores. Some suppliers held back, thinking it might be a short-term fad; some jumped in with both feet and went way over the top with dozens of minutely differing products; Bradstone found a quality roster of products, tailored them to the idiosyncratic British taste, and have tweaked and trimmed as necessary to ensure they have a comprehensive offer with all bases covered, a few head-turners, a new “budget” range, but nothing too startling or eccentric. Just because you can replicate almost any colour and texture with porcelain, doesn’t mean you should.
A couple of eye-catching newcomers worthy of checking out. Stylus is a subtly streaky textured silvery porcelain from Poland. It has almost diagonal texturing that seems to glint and twinkle with the silvery highlights playing across a soft grey-ish base – choose light or dark. It’s one of those products that no photie can do justice: it needs to be seen in the flesh, and I’m heading out to find some bigger pieces to view next week. Just two sizes for now: 1200/600 x 600mm, but it’s begging to be teamed up with a contrast product.
Then there’s Fiero, which is a range of very on trend metallic porcelains. A dulled silver with almost rusty streaks (Silver); a darker, heavier-looking flat grey (Lead); and strong weathered-looking orange-brown-tan (Bronze). All come in one beefy impressive size of 900x900mm, which really ups the wow-factor far more than you’d expect. We’ve had 800x800s before, and 1200x600s are reasonably commonplace, but, for some reason, 900x900 looks far, far bigger than either of them. Real statement pieces, but a word of caution to installers – for your own sake (and pockets!) use a two-person vacuum lift for these beasts. They are heavy; they are cumbersome; they are not cheap. Handle with care.
What else? Oh yes! The core range from Bradstone, Mode, now has an indoor version so those who like the notion can match internal tiling to outdoor paving. The indoor tile is very much a tile, thinned down to a more realistic 10mm, but beware! That slimmed down body means it’s not been possible to match the plan sizes for the indoor and outdoor versions. I won’t bore you with the reasons, but it’s all to do with kiln performance and rectification. It’s not possible to fully align internal course with those on the other side of those trendy bi-fold doors – bear this in mind if planning to use these products.
And in a development predicted roughly 30 seconds after the first porcelain paving was seen in this country, there’s a circle kit now available. Only in the popular Tephra range for now, it comes complete with squaring-off kit, whether you want it or not, and covers roughly 2.4 x 2.4m. It was inevitable; it’s not earth-shattering, but it does offer a much-needed design alternative to the rigidly rectilinear world of porcelain.
There are other newbies but nothing that will radically change anyone’s life. However, I’ll squeeze in a brief mention for the “budget” range mentioned earlier. Tatra is a pretty basic 600x600mm tile, in three basic colours (Beige, Light Grey, Dark Grey), basic flattish texture, but reduced to a slim 18mm thickness rather than the usual 20mm. This will appeal to those wanting porcelain but not wanting to take out a mortgage to get it. Perhaps we could think of it as “Utility Porcelain”.
Concrete paving was the raison d'être for Bradstone when it all kicked off in 1957, but it’s pretty much an also ran just now, thanks to the massive impact of porcelain. Thankfully, Bradstone persist with their popular ranges (Old Town, Stonemaster, Panache, etc.) but have also invested significantly in developing more eco-friendly versions, using recycled aggregates. There is more to come, but they’re keeping it all under cover for now, expecting to make new products available later in the year.
Concrete should never be overlooked. I’ve said it before, but there are things that can only be done with concrete. As inventive as is porcelain, as potentially gorgeous as is natural stone, concrete is the most versatile of all construction materials. It’s damned good value for money, and with scary energy prices combining with even scarier shipping costs, home-produced concrete paving will keep its place in our palette of paving products. It’s too good to disregard.
Natural stone was never Bradstone’s natural forte. They have a reasonable offer, but it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as those offers from stone specialists. They do the basics, and they do them well, with quality, ethically sourced stone, but there is a sense that they include it because it’s expected of them, rather than any deep and abiding love for the material. All of which means there’s nothing new worth discussing. Avoid the Rainbow Smooth Sandstone – looks pretty at first but will look pretty awful in weeks, once the algae moves in on this pathetically soft and porous stone. Instead, look at the genuinely delicious River-Washed Limestone, which is probably the best stone product Bradstone have available.
Block paving: again, nothing new. Stonemaster is still fantastic; Woburn Rumbled is still bloody good value; Monksbridge and Lumley are still very distinctive. Concrete Block Paving (CBP) has had a tough decade. Interest has waned, there is little out there (other than permeables) that would get anyone excited, but, despite all this, CBP remains the best value-for-money of all. It might not have the cachet of natural stone, or the on-trend vibes of porcelain, but when it comes to performance, longevity, range of colours and textures, along with relatively low costs, nothing can beat it.
Finally, a very brief word about a new walling product. Yet another entirely predictable development – porcelain slips. The “Prestige” slips only merit a mention because of the contrasting colours and textures that lift it above the more familiar porcelain slips which are, let’s be brutally honest, little more than wall tiles. For those clients with a burning love of all things porcelain, this will probably be high on their wishlist, and if the client simply must have ceramic-clad walls, then it might as well be something vaguely interesting.
I’d normally waste a bit more of your valuable time talking about the brochure itself, the layout, the photography, the text, the usefulness, but it is identical in almost every detail to the 2020 edition. There are no new developments of note, no significant changes, no outbreak of innovation. If you want to know my opinion, read the 2020 edition review – it really hasn’t changed.
Now, that may be because they’ve hit on a winning formula, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, or it could be because they just couldn’t be arsed. I tend towards the former. It’s a good brochure. It has everything you would expect of Bradstone. It’s crisp and professional and convenient and charming in its own way. More importantly for anyone in our trade, it’s essential. If any installer isn’t considering Bradstone, they’re doing a massive disservice to their customers. If a homeowner is not looking through this brochure, they’re missing some wonderful products and design ideas.
Bradstone Consumer Helpline: 01335 372 222