“It all started with a bit of a dream and a wish, which was how do you create large-scale uninterrupted designs and textures over a massive surface.”  

Today’s guest is Mario Romano, Founder and CEO of MR Walls. Mario is a designer specializing in digital fabrication, architecture and construction He is a material application visionary whose team brings unique wall cladding solutions combining Corian® Solid Surface, technology and fabrication techniques to life. 

In this episode, Dallas, John and Mario discuss how MR Walls got started, why Mario chooses to work with Corian® Solid Surface, and his use of 3D textures and backlighting. They dive into the digital fabrication process, and the steps he takes when working with designers and architects to execute incredible creations.  

For more information on MR Walls, visit www.mrwalls.marioromano.com 


Full Transcript

Dallas:

Welcome to, More than Materials, I’m Dallas Gabriel president at Willis.

John:

I’m John Topic, Director of Marketing.

Dallas:

Each episode we’ll be joined by special guests and dive into material design trends and solutions.

John:

We’ll discuss exciting design ideas, inspirational concepts, technical aspects, and so much more so let’s explore.

Dallas:

Hey everyone, for today’s Meet the Maker session, we are excited to bring to you Mario Romano, the founder and CEO of MR Walls. Mario Romano is a designer specializing in digital fabrication, architecture, and construction. And is a material application visionary whose team brings unique wall cladding solutions, combining Corian solid surface technology and fabrication techniques to life.

John:

Willis has a long history with Mario. It was back in 2016 when we got together and we partnered at the Dwell on Design show in LA to really introduce Mario’s unique Corian solid surface, wall cladding solutions particularly to designers and consumers in Southern California. And boy, did we ever get a great reaction and some great feedback at that show and people were really blown away since then. I can’t even count how many unique residential commercial projects across North America we’ve worked on. The team really creates solutions for feature walls, shower, walls, exterior cladding that really bring a plain wall to light. And I’d like to say that it unites art and nature and really a wall that tells a story. So I’d like to officially welcome Mario.

Mario:

Glad to be here. Hello there, John, and Dallas, how are you guys?

Dallas:

Very good. Very good. Thanks. Thanks Mario. Hey, so I have the first question for you. Maybe you can tell us how and why MR Walls got started.

Mario:

Oh, that’s a great question. And it all started with a bit of a dream and a wish, which was how do you create large-scale uninterrupted designs and textures over a massive surface? So I wanted to do something over 10 by 10, 20 by 20 even, you know, 60 feet wide by 60 feet high. Like how could you do that? And I said, do you know what could use, we would need Corian because Corian could bond all these puzzle pieces together. So it started off with the design wish.

John:

Oh, that’s pretty interesting. So, your wish came true. That’s awesome. So tell a little bit about what inspires you to do the work that you do.

Mario:

Well, I’ll tell you, you know, I love incredible architecture and I love big objects. So architectural surfaces, whether they’re indoors or outdoors and it’s about experience or design experience. And there’s something when you see something large and built and connected to the built environment, that gives you a whole charge similar to when you are in nature, whether you’re in a forest and you’re approaching a waterfall, or if you’re in the Grand Canyon, or if you’re looking out into the night constellation, it’s that these massive natural experiences are what created an incredible sense of wonder, and the architecture and is the closest thing that we have to that. It’s as big as we’re ever going to get, but it pales compared to what nature does on its own. So we’re trying to be a little bit like nature because that’s where the wonder and the beauty is.

John:

Yeah. I see a lot of your different patterns and the designs you create yourselves really does mimic nature. You know, some of them kind of look like waves and sand. They really do match nature. And then when you start playing with colors that Corian solid surface offers in their palette, you can really get that texture and feel. And you know what, when you put light to it, you get that reflection and it really does mimic nature.

Mario:

It does, nature has the DNA in it, so whether you’re growing let’s say a massive tree, like a Redwood tree, it’s that little seed that has all the information for this massive tree inside of it. So, that’s one way to work and then you can work that way as well through algorithmic designing and you get this mass variation or mass customization. No two trees are the same, no two zebra patterns, no two tortoise patterns, no two snowflakes. It’s like mass variation and iteration. And that’s another part of the design component. That’s also what we do here and that we really want to be able to offer that high-level touch, design experience to, you know, to people, right. To people, whether it’s commercial, residential homes, like how do we take this design language and give it to the people?

Dallas:

Mario, I was wondering if you could just maybe elaborate a little bit more on, you know, why did you choose to work with Corian solid surface as a design building material while creating these just incredible walls?

Mario:

Well, I’ll go into, because then you get into material science and I’ve worked with a lot of materials. I’ve worked with aluminums, woods, concrete, and then you have like the solid surface and the tiles and the stones, right. And they all kind of have a similar characteristic with the exception of Corian, right? Is that once you break them apart, you can’t bring them together. So if you break a brick, you know, you kind of throw it in the garbage. If you break some wood, you can’t bring it back together. This is why wood planks of wood flooring, they all have gaps or seam lines or joints. And then we ended up designing with the joints. The solid surface material can be welded or bonded or fused into a massive slab monolithic. And it’s that no visible connection and no separation where you can take a lot of separate pieces and bring them together. That’s what the Corian does. I have always known that and everyone knows it, but it’s about really, how do you make it like a system and how do you make it like a language, right. And that’s why I just love it, it’s an incredible base material, you know, it just gives you what you need.

John:

Yeah. I think being in the industry for a while and knowing solid surface, it is one of the main value propositions that it does bring to a designer, the unlimit-less design possibilities you can do with the material. Certainly your creations and the technology that you bring really test the limits of the material. And we can see all the applications that you’ve done and they turned out beautiful.

Mario:

Oh, thank you very much. It means a lot.

Dallas:

Yeah. And I’ve seen many of your applications as well, and they almost have that 3d quality. Can you talk a little bit about how you achieve that?

Mario:

Well, the 3d quality, you know, it’s interesting because we work almost all the time in half-inch material or, you know, 12 millimeter and what we create very often, people think, well, that looks so much thicker than a half-inch. How do you do that? Right. And how was that possible? It really is lighting, do you know that it’s lighting is very important and then we can do the lighting in the front or lighting in the back, but lighting is key in terms of creating the full three-dimensionality of our surfaces. And we’ve also put the light in the back and that’s, what’s great about the Corian is that especially the white colors, they are translucent and the way the light pours through them, you start to feel like you’re sculpting the light and that’s a really unique experience. People love these backlight objects and structures.

John:

Okay. Interesting. Tell us a little bit about, you know, you talked about fabrication and technology. How do you marry those two together in the world of an MR Walls?

Mario:

Well, how do you marry the technology and how do you marry technology and what else was it? We want to marry.

John:

The fabrication part of it. So we’ve got the technology on how to create these designs. Tell us a little bit about the fabrication process as well.

Mario:

Well, this is important because you get into this emergent field of digital fabrication. Digital fabrication is the marriage of the computer and the robot simply stated, so we have software that we’ve developed, we’ve patented it. And it’s very specific. And what it does is ultimately it creates these beautiful designs, 3d models, but also simultaneously it creates the CNC machine instructions. And then we take those instructions and simply set them into a CNC machine. We set the Corian solid surface on it, and then we press go and it actually makes the piece, it’s very much like a robot or very much like printing a document. It really comes down to the programming and there are some considerations, you know, it’s not as easy as printing the document, but it can be as simple as that conceptually.

John:

Yeah. Interesting. Well, let’s, let’s get to the next point here on, you know, we’ve got some designers listening and some architects how do you work with a designer or an architect to create an application? Kind of tell us, walk us through all those steps from, you know, someone reaching out to you to installing the final design.

Mario:

Well, that’s a great question because there was a couple of different ways and we’ve seen it. It can be as simple as an architect or designer will reach out and they will maybe ask a few questions and then they’ll go and peruse our website and grab something from like our standard line, whether it’s Mountain or it’s Billow. And they will apply that in their own way, whether it’s a water feature or a feature wall in a lobby. And that can be as simple as that, right. Then they may want to say, you know what we actually want to go really large and we needed like a shop drawing, and then we can go ahead and we can create like a shop drawing for them. And then we’ll even do like sometimes a rendering of it for, especially for like very large objects, because it’s hard for people to imagine how large these are. And so we’ll put a person in there, we’ll render the scene, but it’s really a production-ready 3d model. And that really builds a lot of confidence. It gives the next best experience for the design team who ultimately they’re trying to communicate to their customers and their clients and ownership. So we need to communicate this. And so there’s a communication phase I would say. And then there’s the shop joins and then there’s the production and that’s our favorite part.

Dallas:

Hey, Mario, maybe you could talk a little bit too, just about the functionality that MR Wall can bring to a space.

Mario:

I love the functionality because we’ve been all trapped at home for a long time and it’s, we’re staring at our walls and we stare at them all the time. We bump into them, okay. I have kids, they bump into our walls. Do you know what the painted walls they get scuffed up and we’ve had to repaint them over and over again, it sounds like a cliche, but it’s, but it’s just true. And there’s something about painted walls. They’re not very robust. The solid surface MR Walls when texture them, they’re so beautiful and they can endure, they don’t need maintenance, right? People bump into them. You know, people rub their hands on them because we encourage people to touch them. And the texture is interesting because the texture evokes something instinctive in us and it makes us want to touch the surface. It really does. It’s something that’s just, it’s really, it’s natural, it’s instinctive. And we encourage that so we can have the surface up close. It can be textured. We touch it with our hands and do you know what? It’s there. And it doesn’t need maintenance. So, that’s really ideal, unlike art that is precious, this is like, Hey, do you know what? Let’s put it outside. Let’s put some water on it. Okay. Let’s put it in the shower. So there’s that utility and that high level of function that everybody knows deep down inside. They need that and want that, whether it’s for their home, because architecture is about endurance. And now it’s about longevity.

Dallas:

Yes. Yeah. Endurance is so important to when you’re working with you know, are specifying a product. The other thing too that people, I don’t know if they really realize, but Corian is, is quite warm to the touch.

Mario:

Yes, it is. It’s actually called nonconductive. So I’m, I’m a little bit, you know, I’m unique, right? I have solid surface floors all upstairs. We’ve been walking on them for years. It feels so good on your feet. I wish more people could have that experience, but because it’s, nonconductive, it’s not that it’s actually warmer it’s that it doesn’t pull the heat off of your hand or foot on stone or tile, which pulls the heat off of your body, which makes it feel colder.

John:

That’s a very good point. I got one more question for you and it’s around, you know, walk us through a recent project or tell us one of your favorite projects that either you loved the outcome, or it was a challenge. Let us know that one. And what we can do is we can probably connect it to this podcast as we share it out and share some of those images.

Mario:

Oh, that’s a tough one because I love them all in so many unique ways. Do you know what we don’t do is we don’t do a lot of the same thing over and over again. And that’s what I love about our work here at our studio is that almost every time it’s something different, right? So it’s a different design and we have such a wide variety. I’m always going to favor the big ones. Okay. Which can be, you know, I think about some of the big backlit walls or the big install walls, there was recently a water feature that I really love in Bel-Air it’s like a personal favorite of mine. And it’s a gorgeous house, but the way it’s framed in the backyard, like you just look out into the backyard and there’s nothing but this massive wall that we created, it’s probably about 60 feet wide, six feet high, and then it’s over the pool and the water washes over it. And it’s really something extraordinary. And the owner kind of just let me have a little free rein with the design. And so I appreciated that. So it’s kind of special to me.

Dallas:

Yeah. That’s, that’s amazing, Mario. Yeah. We’ll definitely have to put up some pictures along with this podcast. Well, you know, it’s, it’s always fascinating to talk to you and I absolutely love hearing you speak with such passion about the work that you do. You know, I just wanted to thank you for joining us today and thank you to our listeners and, we hope that you enjoyed today’s podcast. Mario, how can listeners reach you or find more information?

Mario:

Oh, you guys can find me on Instagram, @MarioRomanoCA that’s Mario Romano in California. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarioRomanoCA and we’re there, we’re posting daily telling stories of making, design and fabrication. So I encourage you all to watch and chime in with any questions.

John:

That’s that’s awesome. Obviously, the Willis website also has a ton of information on the MR Walls applications. It has a full list of projects and inspirational imagery. So if for some reason you can’t find MR Walls on Instagram or Facebook you can jump on our site. For those listeners who are unfamiliar with Willis we’re curators of premium design materials. Our portfolio includes Corian solid surface, Corian Quartz, Corian Endura, Lapitec Sintered Stone, Arpa High-Pressure Laminate, Fenix and Kohler branded sinks and faucets. Again, to find out more about who we are and how we can assist you in your next project, visit www.4willis.com. For full notes of this podcast will be also on our website. So if you found this conversation inspiring and interesting, please feel free to share this link.

Dallas:

Yeah, thanks, John. And just one shout out our next guests will be Mark Allen and James Leigh founders of Futrus. Futrus is America’s leading innovator of solid surface casework in furniture that offers really unmatched level of hygiene, durability, long-term value and style for both healthcare and commercial environments. So we definitely look forward to speaking with them mid April. And once again, Mario, thank you so much for taking the time today. And again, just love hearing you speak about the work that you do. I can’t wait to see more MR Walls applications in the future.

Mario:

Oh, my pleasure to speak with you both.

John:

Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation for our listeners who are unfamiliar with Willis, we are curators of premium design materials. Our portfolio includes Corian Solid Surface, Corian Quartz, Corian Endura, Lapitec Sintered Stone, Arpa High-Pressure Laminate, Fenix and Kohler branded sinks and faucets.

Dallas:

To find out more about who we are and how we can assist you in your next project. Visit us at 4willis.com