By Ian Desmond
Looking at yet another bronze revival.
Bronze finishes are once again the rage with those at the forefront of design. The trend is noticeable internationally in both the States and in Europe, notably the UK. Taps (faucets) shower heads and bathroom plumbing are all appearing in Interior Design magazines and blogs. These home fixtures are, of course, also widely featuring on Pinterest alongside, interestingly, the same finish being used on jewellery and accessories.
Whilst real bronze is still in evidence with antique pieces of architectural ironmongery most bronze finishes being produced now are in fact a PVD coated substrate, usually stainless steel, or inox.
Bronze mostly consists of copper, being an alloy but is much harder than copper. The discovery of bronze using tin in the third millennium BC allowed tools,figurines and weapons to be fabricated. Interestingly, bronze is in fact harder than iron. On the Vickers scale it rates as 60-258 whilst wrought iron is 30-80. Bronze is not only tough, it is resistant to salt-water corrosion and because of this was suited for use as ship fittings prior to the popularity of stainless steel. It is still used today for some ships components and is a very desirable finish on vintage vessels.
As copper and tin ore are commonly not in close proximity in Europe the use of bronze has always necessitated trading.Bronze continued to be used into the Iron Age until the relative cheapness of iron made it the more commonly used material.
Modern bronze is still made from copper and tin, 88% copper and 12% tin however is today a highly priced material.
As bronze is costly the use of PVD allows ranges of architectural ironmongery to be developed with the appearance of real bronze that are both affordable and durable. Whilst of course salvage items are available in limited styles imagine the cost of manufacturing modern taps, faucets and plumbing in pure bronze. It is an expensive, often prohibitively so, material even for sculptors so it is no wonder that the incredibly realistic, relatively inexpensive bronze PVD finishes are preferable.
The standard bronze PVD finish is as bronze itself, a very dark brown that is semi-matt but still with a gleam. Added to this are other finishes such as hairline bronze which is a brushed effect. This has been used highly innovatively by Arclinea for their new range of kitchen units.
A finish that is particularly prevalent in the States is one called Oil-rubbed bronze. This is a simulation of aged bronze with a very dark finish that varies noticeably across different manufacturers. In the UK this description is not so well used, instead the trend being for Antique Bronze which is in fact very similar.
A very striking finish is Mirror Bronze which is literally a highly polished, highly reflective surface that can actually be used as a mirror if required. Used to great effect in hotels and night clubs the major advantage is durability with zero risk of broken glass.
A less attractive finish is blackened bronze which can appear a little crude, however this is the desired effect with a very satin to matt appearance.
Interior designers in the UK and Europe are now specifying bronze PVD in some very desirable residences and hotels. André Fu, the interior designer of the Shangri La hotel within The Shard, London has specified bronze PVD for all the skirting and headboard electrical sockets within the hotel as well as other key fixtures. At over £500 per night for a stay at The Shangri La, bronze PVD has certainly taken its position as a luxurious material albeit one that is now widely available.