Catalyst

Who says cement is grey and stodgy?

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on February 21, 2020 Published on February 21, 2020

Dalmia Bharat’s Craft Béton opens up luxurious possibilities in concrete

Tour through the Craft Béton website or its newly opened experience centre in Delhi and you will never look at cement with the same eyes again. That dull, grey, dusty item that comes in boring gunny bags and melds with sand and stone to construct buildings has been re-imagined into high-end lifestyle items by the Dalmia Bharat group. In the process, it may have created a luxury brand (Béton means concrete in French) that may eventually become a profit centre on its own.

From funky furniture, designer floor and wall tiles that can lift up homes, bathroom accessories, wash basins to artefacts that are functional yet make an arty statement, Craft Béton by Dalmia Bharat showcases a versatile range of possibilities in cement.

 

Sundeep Kumar, CEO, Craft Béton, says it all started three years ago when the cement-to-power group invited internationally acclaimed designers to create products out of cement. The idea behind the initiative was to change the image of cement from boring to beautiful. The challenge thrown to the designers — two were from India, the others from Poland, Mexico and Israel — was to create functional items overlaying art on it.

Story behind each piece

Each piece that Craft Béton has a story on how it evolved. For instance, an exquisite magazine rack priced at ₹17,000 created by Mexican designer Cynthia Mijares Rodrigues is in the shape of a monarch butterfly — an iconic species in North America — and symbolises the metamorphosis that happens when a person steps into the world of reading.

It is also fascinating to see the extent of R&D on the material. Cement is a binder. In the Craft Béton collection it has been used with wood or silicon to create lightweight artefacts, and with tougher substances to create concrete items like washbasins.

There is play on both form and function as well as heritage and culture. For instance, a clock designed by Somesh Singh not only tells you time in the contemporary way but also in the abstract sense of rhythm or universal order, based on the Hindu concept of eight prahars in a day.

Be it the table or the speaker stand or the wall tile based on Jamini Roy’s art, there is a streak of artistic thought behind each item.

But the challenge with that is also the scalability of these products, says Sundeep Kumar, pointing to a lovely, hand-sculpted lamp-shade, which does not look replicable. How do you produce a few hundreds of those?

 

After over 40 products were created, now a scalable range has emerged — especially the tiles. “Our focus in the first two years was to build the design capability,” he says. Now the group is ready to move to the next level and commercialise it. “We see business possibilities in three areas,” says Sundeep Kumar. The first is lifestyle products, priced between ₹5,000 and ₹20,000, which will be a small part and act as the image driver. It will make people believe in the material — that it can be moulded into appealing things. However, the larger chunk will be from functional items such as wash basins, wall and floor tiles or furniture that can be priced over ₹50,000. The third area is projects with hotels, airports and commercial buildings working in tandem with architects and interior designers to custom-design stuff.

For the prototyping of the products, Craft Béton has struck a partnership with designer Iti Tyagi of Craft Village. For production, various vendors are being sewn up, for instance, the cement tiles will be manufactured by Bharat Tiles.

“Our main business is design, not production. So we will outsource production,” says Sundeep Kumar. So far, all the investments have been in design. “I have been asked why we have so many foreign designers — the reason is that we don’t have too many local designers with product experience. In fact, even internationally no product designer has worked with cement — they had to come here and learn the material,” he says.

 

Now that product development and production partnerships are sewn up, the group is getting a bit more aggressive on marketing. It has been doing brand building through participating in design fairs, and now focusing on the distribution side.

Retail plans

The first experience centre — it’s actually called the Craft Béton gallery — spread over 2,000 sq feet at the Hansalaya building in Delhi, where Dalmia Bharat also has its offices, will set the stage for a retail take-off. The ground floor gallery where anyone can walk in, browse, and place orders romances cement. A few more experience centres will be set up in metro cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai.

In Hyderabad, a store-in-store is in place at an outlet called Maraki that deals with imported veneers, at Banjara Hills.

In Mohali, it has an arrangement with a sanitary tile showroom.

It’s early days yet but let’s see if Craft Béton can create a new value-added narrative for cement!

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Published on February 21, 2020
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