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Understanding Materials Part II: Metalwork and Patination

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…

Blackened Steel

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.

Patinated Brass

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.

Patinated Copper

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.

Patinated Zinc

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.

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