To meld a hefty hunk of steel, brass or iron into anything at all requires heat, brawny machines and dangerous tools. To turn it into a beautiful piece of furniture requires a real craftsman.
One of metal's advantages is its longevity, so sourcing recycled materials is something many of these designers do. The appeal of their modern pieces is the link they forge between a sweaty, gritty, centuries-old craft skill and sophisticated contemporary design.
Furniture designer Florian Roeper is one of a group of design crafters who work out of the decommissioned Alameda, Calif., Naval Station where World War II airmen once tested and repaired jet engines.
“The Naval Station's been a wonderful place for artisans like me. It gives me a lot of actual and mental space,” Roeper says. “It's peaceful and inspiring to look out over San Francisco Bay, and we don't have any of the city hustle and bustle. I've always had a physical and cultural interest in landscapes, especially because of my background.”
Roeper's parents are German and Italian, and he spent his childhood crisscrossing the continents. “Many of my pieces hint at the cultural divide in my life,” he says.
Roeper has a studio full of cast-iron machines from decades past, and some of the latest high-tech equipment. With a graphic design background and an apprenticeship with a door maker, he learned to etch patterns on and give patina to metalwork, which led him to furniture making. His tables of brass and bamboo, etched zinc and charred wood, have a heft and character that drew visitors at the latest Architectural Digest Home Design show in New York.
Rafael Avramovich of Brooklyn, N.Y., uses geometric motifs to craft mirrors and cagelike lights.
“What fascinates me about metals is the endless possibility in terms of creating a shape, getting the texture I want, the finish color,” he says. His “Living in Harmony” collection uses blackened iron, bronze, and rusted steel to create sculptural, armillary-style lighting fixtures and edgy furniture. He plays with dimension in a Mondrian-esque mirror and a side table perched on staggered metal shapes.
London-based furniture designer Jonathan Krawczuk experiments with the molecular composition of steel through a bowl that represents carbon and iron atoms in a 3-D visual that's especially striking in bright primary colors. His Tarantula collection of powder-coated-steel, spidey-legged tea lights is startling, and his Op-Art-inspired Cubic Bowl is functional sculpture.
Copper will be taking the stage through summer and into fall. Designers like the crossover aspect of the material; it's at home in a traditional living space as well as a modern one.
Designer David Derksen of Rotterdam uses copper foil to craft a delicate, quilted-face cabinet on high legs, and faceted pendant lights.
David Shefa goes in a different direction: He uses galvanized iron and zinc-coated steel plumbing pipes to craft industrial-vibe table, desk and floor lamps.
“By using an unexpected material, we achieve a new 'out of the box' design and get a chance to tell a different story,” he says of his lamps, which are whimsical, functional art.