By Marcy Marro
This guest post was originally published in the June, 2013 Metal Home Digest – Metal Architecture
In today’s homes, metal isn’t just reserved for stainless steel appliances and lighting fixtures. Now, metal can be found anywhere from the kitchen backsplash to the fireplace, metal ceilings, staircase railings and kitchen countertops. With the popularity of home improvement shows on HGTV and the DIY Network pushing the boundaries of interior design, it’s no wonder that metal has become more popular in recent years.
Larry Robertson, creative director at Dallas-based King Architectural Metals, a B2B seller of ornamental and architectural metals, suggests that one of the reasons metal is making itself more visible inside of residences is a matter of the of homeowner’s taste. “It reflects the diversity of homeownership and of our customers, and I think it’s also reflective of things like the effect of HGTV and DIY [Network].”
People are becoming more interested in, and more comfortable with, having more of a say with designers, notes Robertson. “As time goes by, and more and more people are migrating themselves into decision-making roles, their individual tastes and personalities are starting to manifest themselves with their interior décor.”
Carl E. Erickson, AIA, principal at Zabala Erickson LLC in Naples, Fla., notes that they’ve used metal in a number of homes, mostly for character reinforcement and in decorative ways. For example, they’ve used metal in elevator shafts to evoke mine shafts, metal highlights on doors and paneling to evoke a crossover between ruggedness and elegance, metal strapping on casings to add a level of interest that evokes industrial age equipment, and metal mesh cabinet panels to sparkle and bring a modern flair to rustic environments. “Metal uses that used to seem highly exciting and out of the ordinary, if not unique, now seem to fall in the category of fun and dynamic, but wholly reasonable,” Erickson says. “It is a good thing that metal has become less fringe design element and is now understood to be a true element that can be readily used as part of a design palette.”
As an architect, Erickson notes that he’s used metal more frequently and in more out-of-the-ordinary ways than most. Those include metal bath tubs, woven wire panel inserts, mesh walls, banding of all types and finishes, welded steel railings, detailed steel furniture, metal tiles and rivets—all of which Erickson’s firm has used and were well received by clients.
Robertson notes that there are three main project categories—the new residential home build, remodels and restorations—that they see their products used for. One of the biggest trends he notes seeing is the commitment to restoration and historic preservation. “We are starting to see folks getting back to restoring their homes, and using monies not for just making the mortgage, but for home improvement and the overall long-maintenance of the property,” Robertson says.
When architect Isabelle Duvivier, principal of Duvivier Architects, Venice, Calif., was updating her 100-year-old home, she says it was an “ah ha” moment that led her to leave exposed metal beams in the residence. As she explains, prior to seeing the structural steel beams go up, it had never occurred to them to keep them exposed. When they realized that they would be covering up the beams, they decided to leave some of them exposed. In the interest of preserving as much of the original house as possible, Duvivier was able to keep all of the existing 2×4’s in their original locations. However, when it came to deciding to leave some of the structural beams exposed, Duvivier explains, “that it was a beautiful juxtaposition of the old versus the new, and it was the delineation of where the new, modern part of the house would begin, and where the old, traditional house would end.”
“I think more and more people are coming to the same conclusions we came to, which is why hide this material under drywall when you can leave it exposed and it’s quite beautiful,” notes Duvivier. Along with two exposed, unpainted steel I-beams, the residence features exposed steel straps that hold up the
landing, exposed structural hardware, steel risers, metal flat bar posts, metal stair stringers, stainless steel cable railings and stainless boat hardware connectors. The project, which consisted of gutting the existing first floor to open the house up and adding a second story, received LEED Platinum certification and was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s 2012 Outstanding Home Award.
Mark Horton, FAIA, principal at San Francisco-based Mark Horton Architecture, who recently completed a residential project using bronze as an accent material, notes that metals are really aesthetically interesting, visually interesting and nice to touch. For example, bronze, which Horton used on the front door, cabinetry and nightstand as an ornamental offset, is really nice to touch. Depending on how it has been finished, Horton notes that bronze can have a patina to it that makes you want to touch it. “But metals come in a wide variety of finishes, and they can add a nice sort of aesthetic to an overall composition,” he adds.
Matthew Thackray, AIA, project manager at Jackson, Wyo.-based Carney Logan Burke Architects P.C., explains that a recent client was interested in a low-maintenance home with modern lines. To achieve the desired look, the architects used a blackened 1/4-inch hot-rolled plate steel to create a continuous solid stair balustrade with an integral bench, and the handrail is a full-length hem of the 1/4-inch plate.
Additionally, blacked plate steel was used as a custom decorative surround for the range exhaust hood and pot rack, as well as the fireplace surround and mantel. “An honest expression of materials and construction can be found in our work and patinated hot-rolled steel provides a rich finish with color depth and interest,” he says. “In our western landscape, the bonderized steel provides a compelling link to the galvanized agricultural forms found throughout the area.”Horton likens the use of metal in residences to a woman wearing a piece of jewelry. While you don’t want to cover your body in jewelry, earrings, rings or a necklace are all little things that allow one piece to act as a highlight.
In the same way, Horton says that metal is generally used as an aesthetic highlight on a project, to get specific elements to pop in a composition. In either contemporary or modern design, he notes that the idea of using metal plays a pretty significant role because it evokes the idea of something current. Additionally, metal automatically connotes some aspect of custom design, which is appealing to many homeowners.
Erickson says character is key when it comes to using metal. “Whether shiny, super refined, and highly detailed or gun blue, rough welded and startlingly simple, metal is used to animate the space and play a pivotal role in telling the story of the environment in which it is being used,” he says. “The use of metal is often integral to creating a sense of animation. The manner in which it sparks imaginative associations thrills our clients.”
Robertson says that metal, in its many shapes and forms, is becoming more prominent in the home. The reason, he says, is that it’s a reflection of how people interact now with their living environments. “People are no longer willing to take what comes out of the builders plans, they want something that represents their individual tastes and something that’s unique, that someone else doesn’t have. People are much more interested in expressing themselves, and their homes, that’s one of the most personal and intimate spaces that they can do that.”
Recently, Thackray says they have found that clients are more informed and open to the range of possibilities available in residential design. “Often we bring our methods and details from our commercial and institutional projects to bear on our residential work as we find that durability and low-maintenance are essential criteria for clients looking to make the most of their free time. Metals with a patina or other natural finishes elegantly meet the need for durability within a demanding aesthetic.”
While some homeowners may be willing to use metal as a highlight in their residences, it is mainly when architects bring samples and show homeowners examples as an interesting offset in the home’s overall composition. Erickson says that clients are responding with enthusiasm when he shows them the magic that can result from metals uses. “The fact that the use of metal is more and more common is due to the brave souls that first explored its introduction into our design tool boxes, the excitement of the wider body of architects that get the opportunity to explore and expand its usage, and the pleasure our clients get from the results,” he says. “The incredible variety of metal materials, forms, finishes and applications begs for inventfulness. This fact will ensure its wider and wider use as those are exactly the attributes
that architects and designers look for and are excited by.”