Martin C. Pedersen
Leather from Asian water buffalo is tanned using natural materials, so it contains no chrome or other toxins.
The tiles come in two thicknesses suitable for interior applications. They are pliable, sound absorbent, and can be fully recycled.
Alphenberg’s leather tiles can be used on both floors and walls, and they can stand up to high-traffic hospitality spaces.
The Dutch floor-covering manufacturer Alphenberg has spent the better part of a decade perfecting a unique and seemingly incongruous product: leather tiles. At first blush, the novelty of the item raises a host of questions: Do these things actually work? Are they really leather? How on earth are they made? And what are the environmental ramifications of using hides from Asian water buffalo?
As it turns out, the soft, pliable tiles are remarkably durable, and are often used in high-traffic spaces in Europe. But it’s their almost otherworldly texture and thoroughly authentic look that really stands out. “The first time I saw them, they were amazing—they felt like an exquisitely made briefcase,” says Dyan Grey, who runs the New York division of Alphenberg.
By-products of the meat industry in India (they’re essentially waste material), the water buffalo hides are first frozen and then shipped to Amsterdam, where they are transformed into tiles using environmentally friendly tanning methods. The resulting tiles are 100 percent recyclable, 98 percent biodegradable, and free of chrome and other toxins. “They’re natural, colorful, and they have so much latitude in their applications,” Grey says. “They can be used for floors, walls, even ceilings.”