In this series of enlightening interviews with the Founder of Melbourne Brick – Matt Curtain – we discuss the wide range of products available for the creation or renovation of your home or outdoor room at Melbourne Brick.
In this interview, we talk about pavers…
Matt, let’s talk a little bit about pavers, I guess it was the Romans that first started paving things and they had roads all over Europe with pavers and they still unearth them and they seem to be in pretty good condition?
Yes, these days natural stone is imported from places like Turkey and part of Europe and Asia. The Romans were in Turkey and they built a lot of that as well of course and lot of travertine comes from that region these days which is very much what they use a lot of the old footpaths and roadways all over in Europe.
A lot of our products both natural & man made certainly mimic that again. We supply a lot of natural stone whether it be bluestone, travertine, sandstone & granite they are probably the main natural stones and then you have man made stones that try to mimic these. The man made can’t mimic the variation and the unusualness of every stone, however as man made are controlled in a factory you don’t have the same cleaning and maintenance that you would have & in some cases sealing that you have with natural stone. Pavers are very broad now, originally paving in Australia really was a brick laid upside down on its back and that was a paver so it was 76mm thick and someone decided, why don’t we just make it 50mm and call it a paver.
Really, from what I remember, paving really started taking off in the late 80s, early 90s back in the day and Nubrik was the famous Melbourne name and major sponsor of the Essendon Bombers Football Club so paving was huge then. It was used by local councils in roads and footpaths all over Melbourne & most driveways were clay paved.
That certainly dropped off a lot over the past few decades because councils don’t use clay pavers as much in roadways etc. They really should because it looks great and it is easier to maintain on a flexible base to access services so there is a lot of councils in Sydney and Adelaide for example that certainly use a lot of paving still today for this reason and the fact they are very durable and can be cleaned easily & don’t require sealing.
Clay paving was the number one product for so long, it dominated in what we displayed and sold, three quarters of it would have been clay paving, now you would be lucky if a quarter would be clay paving. The rest our other products whether it be natural stone large format masonry pavers that are made in block plants or large format wet cast pavers that are made in block plants or smaller plants as well so large format certainly has come along way.
We are seeing in the last 12 months a resurgence back to clay because once again with brick, you don’t need to seal it, you can’t hurt it, it is there for life whereas a lot of the other products particularly your concrete masonry products they do need to be re sealed and they do probably wear a bit quicker than a clay product. In saying that they are getting a lot better and not far off the durability of clay.
Range is quite large now in paving, choice is good and that is why we have so many pavers on display in all our outlets.
There is always this balance between the functional aspect of having something on the ground that you can walk on and the fashion element of the thing and we talked a little about this in bricks, is it happening in pavers too, are people going for fashion pavers?
Yes, definitely from a colour point of view absolutely and people like to extend often their product or their colour from inside to outside to those alfresco areas and entertaining areas so definitely we are seeing that a lot more.
We are getting a lot of changes in colours and size a lot quicker than we used to which is great, it is exciting and it gives the consumer a lot of choice.
So, we are really liking that and gives us something always new to market and to show them when they come into the display centres and we still have the traditional ones as well. The range is certainly a lot bigger than it used to be.
Matt, tell us a bit about Melbourne Stone, that is the manmade paver that you manufacture? How did that come about and what is it as a product?
Melbourne Stone, we started ourselves back in 2000. We had a need and a short fall for large format wet cast paving and there weren’t a lot of manufacturers around in that time.
We were finding we were always waiting for supply so it was something that we knew a little bit about from previous experiences in manufacturing so we decided to do some reconnaissance and source out and build a plant. We have changed our manufacturing plant quite a lot since the early days, it has become a lot more automated now. We still have some of the original moulds because they are all made from polyurethane they last quite a long time. We have innovated a lot with new products since 2000 with new moulds and new products and colour which is exciting.
We still have our traditional 500 x 500 x 40mm pavers which are still a real core of what we do and people love them, that is the coastal range and they have been fantastic and the colour range is really stylish yet not ageing and comes with matching bullnose for around swimming pools and steps.
In the last few years, we have introduced the timber stone product that looks like a railway sleeper in concrete that has been used in various areas from step stones out to the backyard and clothes line or garage, around pools to form like a jetty, various applications, even a full driveway. It is a niche product, we can get new moulds to meet new trends at the time and we can change it more often and certainly change colours more often because we are making a new paver every day.
I personally love the timber stone I can’t believe how much it looks like a wooden sleeper, it is just incredible, you have to actually go up and touch it to realise it is not wood?
It has been a real winner, it certainly has grabbed people’s attention and it inspired us to look for other products now and we have got a couple of travertine lookalike product that we can make in Melbourne Stone, we haven’t done that one yet, that is probably one we are looking at but we can basically make anything. We can take a master off a bit of real stone and make a mould from this and the cast a paver from the mould. The range we have at the moment is timeless and works in any application, people like it and it fits most homes new or old as it is a soft looking product and doesn’t date.
Melbourne Brick has been known for being a quality brand for many years and that is one of the reasons why you are leading the market in Melbourne, Melbourne Stone is probably a classic example of that so when you make Melbourne Stone, you colour it all the way through?
Which is different to some of the cheaper products out there because they just put a little bit of colour on the first inch or so or whatever?
They fill the bottom of the mould with a little bit of colour of the product and then the rest is just topped up with a plain grey product. Ours is all natural sand and cement and oxide when required. Sometimes no oxide is required just the sand which we get the natural colour from so it means if you do get a bit of a chip or a scratch it is coloured through and you are not going to see a white paver with a black gravel background.
There is a little bit of art to it as well isn’t there, bit of science, not just sand, cement, and a bit of oxide?
We have what we call the MBC secret herbs and spices and we put quite a few additives that we have designed over the years with our R&D gurus that we use and basically when we produce the paver, it has a level of waterproofness to it already so it does have a water repellent in it so it does make it easier to lay, to grout and to handle, we still recommend to seal it because being a masonry concrete paver, the sealer just protects it from staining but it is a fairly dense paver for a masonry concrete paver so it does wear very well and does hold its colour very well but a lot of those little extras in it help it to perform.
Imagine I am someone who wants to go and choose a paver, apart from the functional aspects of it being able to walk on it and use it, what are some of the tips you would recommend for somebody to choose the type of paver that might suit them?
Colour is the first thing, so we talk about colour and something that will blend in with what people have got in their homes already and so colour is the first thing we look at and we break the range down to, what sort of colour you are after. Size is important so from a traditional brick shape, 230 x 115 to a large format 500 x 500 and even in some products we go up to a metre x 500, 1200 x 600 so we get some quite large products.
Really, colour, size, texture and then price range. We still have pavers that are under $20 a square metre and we go into products that we have that are over $100 a square metre but there is a lot in the $40 to $80 range. Quite a lot of them can be laid on crushed rock and sand so they are lain on a flexible base and this is something they can try laying themselves or they can get someone to do it for them but it is not as an expensive install. On the other hand a lot of products are thinner these days 20mm thick so you do need to lay them on a concrete base and a proprietary adhesive mortar bed range now and that is more inclined to need a tradesman to install.
When you need a concrete base, you are using mortars over that to adhere the paver to the concrete, levels are far more important and if you make a mistake it is locked in there whereas on a flexible base you can pull it up again and start again.
All the things you mentioned there for a novice like me, I would need some help and you can get that at the Melbourne Brick website, melbournebrick.com.au because there is a whole lot of DIY videos and also brochures on there as well?
Absolutely, there is that full library of all that information there and the guys and girls in the store certainly know all the tips and tricks to install. If you have a little bit of an inkling to do some DIY type work, it certainly is not that hard, you just need to follow the basic steps of getting the preparation and the base right.
That is always the most important thing is the base and the preparation and get that right and laying the pavers is quite easy, we still have the occasional demonstration day where we’ve had well known tradies like Jason Hodges from Better Homes and Gardens do some displays and do some actual how to’s and that proved that again that it isn’t that hard to do and you can do it yourself and get a lot of pride and enjoyment out of doing it.
Let’s Chat about environmentally friendly, 10 years ago green was the thing that was in for pretty much everything and we have seen a little bit of innovation in green products in this area but what is the future in terms of the environmentally friendly side of things, what kind of things have you seen out there that are coming?
We have the new ISLAND BLOCK range from Tasmania and they have their eco range in their paving as well plus the permeable pavers. The water actually goes through the voids left between each corner which might have some gravel or some fine rocks in the corners so permeable paving is certainly something that is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
A lot of councils these day’s maintain that you have to have a minimum of 20% permeable area on a new construction so it is definitely going to get bigger.
I saw a newspaper article the other day of somewhere in France where they have designed pavers that are actual solar panels as well which is kind of intriguing, pavers are a heat sync so they do collect heat and there is probably a lot more to happen in this area in the future?
And we certainly would be able to make our own pavers a lot more environmentally friendly in our Melbourne Stone range by using recycled materials etc. but the problem still today is that those recycled prices are expensive now and whether the market will be able to afford to pay for those recycled products and how many of those get to market just purely based on the cost.
So, most home owners are going to stick with the green side of things being double glazed windows, solar panels and maybe water tanks and that is where they invest their money to get the green benefit in the house?
Yes – some of the green manufactured products are expensive so what we are able to do with a lot of our ranges so we are actually able to, just based on the pattern, leave some voids for water to run through so that creates that permeable barrier for the water to escape and go into the ground water.
Like bricks, pavers have been around for a while and looks like they are going to be here for a long time to come?