Metals are a wonderfully versatile material to work with. They can be cast, wrought, sculpted, welded, turned into elegant hardware, inset as marquetry, used as trim/beading, or as cladding for walls, joinery or furniture.
Here at Rupert Bevan we love incorporating patinated metalwork into our designs. By changing the surface appearance of the metal one can dramatically alter the effect and atmosphere it evokes, and the extent to which it can be coordinated with the colour scheme of the piece or the interior setting.
Techniques of patination can also be used to create innovative new finishes with decorative qualities. This is something we have been exploring at Rupert Bevan Ltd for several years now, and we have produced many exceptional and original interior finishes.
These are our favourites…
Steel is an excellent structural material, and has been used in construction for centuries to provide the most solid and durable support in architecture and infrastructure. In furniture it works very well for the frames of tables, desks, bedsides and more. Giving steel a blackened finish endows it with an antique chic and a similar look to wrought iron, softening the finish so it also works well for contemporary pieces as an alternative to the more utilitarian/industrial feel of raw, polished or brushed steel. It can even be a decorative finish for panelling in its own right.
Brass is a metal alloy made from copper and zinc in varying proportions. It is durable and relatively malleable, so is a great material for hardware and for decorative metalwork with its gold-like appearance. The copper content gives it antimicrobial properties, so it is hygienic for kitchen surfaces and fittings like taps as the material itself destroys germs. Over time the surface of brass develops a darker surface patina. This natural antiquing can be imitated using techniques of patination to achieve a vast range of different surface effects. We think it is the perfect material to complement our antiqued mirror glass, and frequently recommend it for framing our mirrors. Often brass is confused with bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin, and is similar in appearance to brass which has a darker surface patina. Often when people refer to bronze they actually mean dark patinated brass, which is usually a more suitable material to work with.
Copper is an element in the periodic table which shares similar attributes with silver and gold. It was the first metal put to use by humans at around 8,000 BC. Its durability and resistance to atmospheric corrosion, which it protects itself from by forming a verdigris layer of surface patina, has made it an excellent architectural material for hundreds and thousands of years, giving it a rich heritage and history of use. Its antimicrobial properties make it a hygienic surface, and it was commonly used for water pipes for this reason. Due to its efficiency as an electrical conductor it is invaluable in electrical devices and wiring, and can offer protection to electronic equipment and digital records. With a naturally beautiful surface finish it can also be patinated in different tones to great effect for use as a decorative interior finish.
Zinc is another element with historical use, though this does not date back quite as far as that of copper. It was used in the Middle East from the 10th century BC, but was unknown to Europe until the end of the 16th century. Like brass and copper the surface tarnishes naturally under normal atmospheric conditions, which creates a protective layer over the metal beneath. Similar in appearance to pewter, it is a better material to work with due to greater strength and durability. We created this unusual Zinc panelled wall finish, offset with studded trim in patinated brass, and inspired by the ‘Nautilus’ submarine in Jules Verne’s famous novel, which we are delighted has been nominated for the wall coverings category in the 2016 International Product Design Awards.
Care and Maintenance of Patinated Metal Surfaces
There are two different options for the final finish on our patinated metal surfaces. One is to leave them ‘live’ which involves lightly waxing the surface to give it a soft sheen and a degree of protection, but otherwise allowing it to continue to interact with the atmospheric conditions it is exposed to. This means it will very gradually continue to antique naturally over time, and also allows the patination to be altered/adjusted and restored more effectively. However it also means that the metal surface will react with other substances it is exposed to, including water or oils (even those naturally occurring in the skin) and cleaning products, which are often corrosive and can remove the patination from the surface. Often the best solution is wiping gently with a dry non-abrasive cloth – because brass is naturally antimicrobial there is no need to use harsh antibacterial products.
The other option is to completely seal the finish, in a lacquer or a nano-coating. At Rupert Bevan we prefer to avoid lacquer coatings as these detract from the beauty of the surface finish and can give a plastic-like sheen instead of the lovely iridescent hues of the metal. The nano-coatings are a new technology, designed to protect the appearance of metals from atmospheric or substance corrosion. These preserve the surface finish as it is, but also prevent it from continuing to naturally antique over time. Once it has been applied the surface patination can no longer be altered.
The Rupert Bevan team are always willing to work with our clients to help find the most suitable materials and finishes for their projects, and we are very happy to advise on the most appropriate finishes to meet requirements. We also provide advice and support for maintaining and caring for the bespoke furniture and finishes we create. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your ideas please do get in touch.
Different materials have been regarded as more or less valuable throughout history – often relating to how rare or readily available they are, and how costly or labour intensive they are to process or transport.
But changing fashions also play a key role; what is fashionable can be completely removed from the practical side of supply and production, yet nonetheless inform people’s choices and perceptions just as much in determining what is worth more.
When buying or commissioning a piece of furniture, the question as to whether it is made with solid or veneered timber is often one of the first things people ask. Both types of materials and techniques for making have been in use for centuries, but with the modern assumption that solid timber furniture is superior many people might be surprised to discover that veneered furniture was generally valued more highly historically, and seen as more of a luxury.
So which is ‘better’?
Contrary to popular belief in the present day that solid timber furniture is higher quality, and the historical view of veneered furniture as more desirable, neither material can be seen as preferable for construction in itself. Often a combination of the two materials will be most suitable.
Both choices of materials have advantages and disadvantages – in terms of practicality, functionality and longevity as well as appearance. Several different factors need to be considered to decide what will work best in the interior environment the piece of furniture will be placed in, and what is required from the piece in the longer term.
What needs to be considered?
Furniture made with solid timber has a reputation as being sturdier, stronger and lasting longer. Traditionally it was used for more simple rustic pieces, fitted joinery, or statement pieces with elaborate carving. It is associated with traditional construction methods such as dovetail joints, and there are many finishes such as liming, staining, waxing, ebonising and polishing which can be applied. Up until the 20th century most houses did not have central heating, but in the modern day when almost everyone lives in centrally heated houses using only solid timber is not always a better choice. This is because wood expands or contracts with changes to heat and humidity, so if the piece is not made properly there is a chance of it ‘moving’. Regulations on forestry mean that trees are often harvested younger, so the grain is less tight and can be more susceptible to atmospheric change. Different types of woods, and different ways of cutting it also affect how it will respond to relative humidity – for example quarter sawn wood moves less than flat sawn, and cedar will move less than oak. So it is very important that you maker knows exactly what they are doing when it comes to selecting the timber to be used, the design of the piece and the best techniques for construction, which will ensure that the piece remains stable and can last for decades or even centuries.
So for a finely crafted piece of furniture for a modern house it is not necessary to use only solid timber to ensure it will be stronger or last longer. To restore surface damage it can be seen as preferable as unlike with veneer the surface can be sanded down more effectively. The suitability of using solid timber largely depends on the design of the piece itself. This is something to consider from the beginning of the commissioning process, and the Rupert Bevan team are happy to advise on the best way meet your requirements and the most appropriate materials to use.
Use of veneers is not a modern phenomenon. Their use actually dates all the way back to ancient Egypt, then they were later used in Roman times! Many highly valued antiquities are made with veneers of precious and rare timbers; beautiful burr woods and marquetry inlays. The finest specimens of timber from all around the world are sourced by veneer companies, as there is greater potential for appreciation of exceptional grain and character in the wood when it is turned into veneer – each log can be used on many more pieces of furniture, dividing up the value of the precious timber to make it more accessible to makers. Techniques such as ‘book-matching’ to create a symmetrical mirrored effect with the grain are associated with veneers, and there are even more options for the colour, tone and texture of the surface finish due to the greater variety of veneers readily available than solid wood, which can be harder to source to exact specification.
Because of the artistic potential, veneered furniture was historically viewed as a luxury, not a cheaper alternative. It is only since the later part of the 20th C that it became regarded as inferior to solid wood. This was due to the mass production of cheap veneered furniture which used poor quality substrates and careless machine manufacturing, and gave it a bad name – often the veneer would separate or deteriorate, revealing an ugly substrate underneath. However when a skilled cabinet maker or joiner uses veneers along with other materials of consistently high quality, providing it is looked after by the owners the piece of furniture will have as much chance of lasting as long as a solid timber piece and could well become an antique of the future. While it will not withstand as much heavy surface wear and damage as solid timber, for a finer more decorative piece it can be a more suitable choice.
Using a Combination of Solid and Veneered Timbers
This is often the best choice for construction, as it allows both materials to be used to their potential most effectively for both appearance and functionality. Many modern cabinet makers take a pragmatic approach and use a combination of solid and veneered timber. They select the most appropriate technique to use depending on what is most suitable for the design and use of the piece.
The designers and makers at Rupert Bevan Ltd are experts in understanding both materials and methods of construction. They will guide you through the process from the very outset, advising and informing at every stage and providing samples of all the materials and finishes, to create a unique bespoke piece of furniture which is sure to stand the test of time.