The Innovator – Adam Miles

Adam Miles, Managing Director of Athena Surfaces, reveals the latest innovations in worktop surfaces driving sustainability and functionality 

Could you give us a summary of your career to date? What attracted you to the industry?

I actually came into the industry purely by accident. I’d just sold a previous business and was planning to take some time off, but my cousin asked if I wanted to help him with some worktop installations he was doing, and I soon realised there was room for a business that put the customer first.

Prior to that, I’d always been in sales, including in the aviation industry and have always enjoyed finding solutions for customers where there weren’t any previously. I decided there was a niche to be carved out in the housebuilder sector, as back then worktop upgrades were mainly included in the kitchen package. I saw that if we could split this out and focus on supplying worktop upgrades with excellent customer service, we could save house builders up to 40% and it grew from there.

The house build market is very different to the retail market with a lot of balls to juggle. You need to satisfy the demands of Sales, Operations and Finance all at the same time meaning you need to offer beautiful solutions that encourage people to buy homes, whilst making them more affordable than they would be in retail, all the while understanding that you need to deliver these with exceptional service levels all around the Country. This is often with a lot less notice than you get in the retail market…but I absolutely love it and there are some real characters in house building!

What role does innovation play in the design and creation of trendy yet highly functional worktops?

Innovation is crucial to the long-term success of any organisation and is especially important if you want to grow in a safe and sustainable manner as we have at Athena. The advent of social media has allowed trends to spread rapidly and often people will see something very bespoke on social media and they want it without understanding the design constraints. They also want it at affordable prices so to do this you need to innovate at every level, from materials, through manufacturing and logistics right down to how you fix a worktop in place, it’s all innovation and those who innovate dominate as they can disrupt the market.

What would your suggestion for a housebuilder in search of a worktop that offers a fair balance between aesthetics, sustainability and practicality?

Right now, solid worktops are all the rage with a number of good options available. Quartz has become the dominant product for worktop upgrades over the last 10 years due to its versatility and practicality but, with the recent negative press around silica dust and the risk of silicosis in quartz manufacturing, housebuilders are racing to find a viable alternative. Porcelain has become extremely popular with the public due to the fact it looks so natural but has hugely beneficial properties, such as being heat and scratch resistant, but the issue has been cost and a reluctance on the behalf of most fabricators to produce it at affordable prices.

This doesn’t need to be the case. At Athena we decided to commit to working out how we could manufacture porcelain as efficiently as possible so that we could offer it to our clients at the same cost as our quartz offerings. Although we can work with all materials, we decided to partner with Mirage Ceramiche of Italy who have been manufacturing porcelain in the hills of Bologna for over 50 years and have an enviable reputation as being one of the most sustainable producers in the World with breathtaking, quality materials.

They had not produced porcelain in 20mm thickness until this point, so it took some convincing but, early last year they agreed to begin production and things have taken off since then and the future is looking very bright.

The beauty of working directly with Mirage is that they already have the floor tiles and 6mm and 12mm large format slabs so by bringing 20mm into the range for worktops we are able to offer the full surfaces solution meaning walls, worktops and floors, and because of our fabrication and logistics experience we can take that straight to market with our customers at a price that works for them.

How does Athena Surfaces integrate sustainability into its product development and manufacturing processes?

It starts with our supply chain. We work with manufacturers who have the best credentials in this area. Mirage are fully LEED compliant and so we know that their products stand up in this field. With quartz there are so many quartz manufacturers that it’s a minefield with many reselling and re-branding again and again. We will see the same thing happening in porcelain and we already have Chinese and Indian suppliers promoting cheap material into the market, but we made a conscious decision to only supply the best possible materials sourced from the most respected Italian suppliers.

Mirage have already done all of the work, so this is a simple choice for me and an EPD doesn’t lie. The products GWP (Global Warming Potential) is 17 vs 40 compared to other porcelain from Europe. You simply can’t get better than that so we can confidently say we have the most sustainable 20mm porcelain available on the market for worktops right now.

Sustainable manufacturing is actually the simpler part once you’ve selected the right products, you need to take that forward into fabrication of finished goods and at Athena all of our water is fully recycled, our packaging repurposing scheme and other innovative programmes mean that we are ahead of the game as manufacturers as well. These two elements of manufacturer and fabricator working together to give the most sustainable solution means our customers have the peace of mind that they need backed up with the figures to prove it.

How does Athena Surfaces ensure its products meet the highest environmental standards?

Again, this is fairly easy to do with all of the visibility and openness as long as you pick the right suppliers. Mirage have done the hard work for us here and we can put this in front of our customers whenever they need it. It is also great to visit the factory in Italy as it really shows customers the technology involved and the passion of the people at Mirage.

To further promote a culture of sustainability, in 2023 we became gold members of the Sustainability School which is at the forefront of promoting sustainable practice in UK housebuilding. We’ve embraced this culture and, today half of our work force are regularly engaging with the process whether that be through attending courses or regularly participating in our Sustainability Committee meetings.

Our customers will always do their due diligence and investigate products and the supply chain as they well should. If our products weren’t the leaders in their field, then we simply wouldn’t be able to supply them to our customers.

What role does research and development play in Athena Surfaces’ approach to innovation and sustainability?

We have an R&D department that is continuously looking at innovating and improving the services we offer whilst doing it in the most sustainable way possible. Over the last 12 months we have introduced new templating techniques that have had an 80% reduction in driving times for teams as well as many smaller innovations that have all contributed to a reduction in our carbon footprint.

Any ideas that we have are submitted to the technical team and then through collaboration with R&D and the Quality Department new ideas and techniques are trialed and brought to life. We are very fortunate that many of our House build customers are open to us trialing new products and techniques on site once we have proven the sustainable worth. I can honestly say that the house build community are some of the most forward thinking and open-minded professionals that I’ve had the pleasure to work with in all of my career.

In what ways does Athena Surfaces collaborate with architects, designers, and builders to incorporate innovative solutions into their projects?

One of the things that sets us apart in the A&D market is our design service which we encourage architects and designers to take advantage of as soon as possible in a project. By doing this and working with customers at the design stage we offer so much more than just the finished products. This can range from ensuring a more sustainable product is used where possible, right through to making small tweaks to plans which result in the use of less materials thus saving both cost and material.

We can also offer innovative solutions to reduce waste, such as using offcuts in other areas like the bathroom or perhaps on the window sills. This means customers get better value for money whilst ensuring they work as sustainably as possible.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the most significant trends or demands shaping the future of kitchen worktops and how is Athena Surfaces preparing to address them?

Sustainability will be critical in any future offering, but I don’t believe it drives trends as much as it should. Consumers will continue to be dictated to by social media and that is currently beginning to really promote full surface offerings. By this, I mean materials that cover more than one surface such as kitchens, floor and walls plus furniture and outdoor. This seamless look is very ‘in vogue’ and this is set to continue. We are already looking at how we can bring this solution to the housebuilder community as soon as we can. Another aspirational look, which will be made affordable by Athena Surfaces.

Read more news and exclusive features in our latest issue here.

Never miss a story… Follow us on:


Media Contact
Joseph Clarke
Editor, Showhome
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don't miss new updates on your email
Scroll to Top