Artistic Copper Applications: How Diversity Builds Beauty

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When Lee Anderson, owner of Duino! (Duende) restaurant and Radio Bean coffee house, and I sat down to discuss adding copper as an element to the unique décor in Duino! (Duende), the bathroom was the obvious choice. The space felt small and needed sprucing up. We went over some ideas and began to sketch drawings. Lee expressed the desire to bring out some vibrant colors achieved by heating the material.

Why Add Copper to Your Building Design?

Lee wasn’t my first customer to be attracted to the artistic possibilities of copper. In many aspects of the metal working trades, copper is the favorite. There are several reasons why copper and coated variants are the ideal sheet metals in most construction applications.

  • Copper is readily formed into complex shapes.
  • It welds and solders easily, making locked seams, overlap joints and ornamental structures weather tight.
  • When exposed to the elements, copper has an extremely long life, eventually forming first its brown-black and later its blue-green patina layer, which is highly resistant to corrosion and protects the metal for many years to come.
  • It is a key material in plumbing, electrical work and lighting protection due to its thermal and electrical conductivity.
  • Copper’s properties make it, as the Copper Development Association states, “the world’s most reusable resources…having an infinite recyclable life.” Most copper we use today is recovered from recycled scrap.

But the reason we like working with copper the most…Copper is beautiful! As the oldest known metal to man, copper’s aesthetic qualities have been showcased for thousands of years in jewelry, sculpture, and architectural décor. As a team, we have developed a love for working with the material that inspires us to explore our artistic abilities and improve our skills.

Transforming a Space with Copper

Lee Anderson from Duino! (Duende) appreciated copper’s beautiful qualities as much as we did. Using our knowledge of how the material reacts to our acetylene torch flame or soldering iron, we began experimenting. Using heat, water and different acidic solutions, we soon produced a broad palate of vibrant colors to work with.

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The next step was changing the space; we wanted to make it feel larger despite the fact that the walls could not be moved. The one thing we could do was go up! Adding ceiling height would give it a more spacious feel. Drawing on an interest in Gothic and Byzantine architecture, I wanted to build a vaulted ceiling. So we went to work framing the ceiling in our shop.

After achieving the desired arc from the four corners of the ceiling walls, we began experimenting with the many ways in which to clad the vaulted surface. Eventually we settled on three sizes of the same shape, and began the laborious process of cutting the shapes out by hand to complete the ceiling.

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After torching the color palette into these shapes, we weaved them randomly over each other following our strung guidelines out from the center of the ceiling. When complete, the arching surface gave the effect of looking into a fire, a captivating visual experience as reflected light bounced off the different tones of the copper shapes.

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With the ceiling complete, we fabricated uniform and locking copper diamonds for the walls. After torching various designs into these, we cut out wood panels for the walls and began locking the diamonds into each other. Several panels had to be used for ease of installation, and care was taken to maintain a consistent pattern between them.

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A protective glaze was applied to protect the finish and the old bathroom was demolished. After the challenging process of getting the vaulted ceiling in place, the walls were installed and trimmed with reclaimed lumber. Voila! The bathroom was transformed using copper scrap and recycled materials.

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The result was a beautiful and unique space, one that goes beyond function and digs into our creative side. Of course, each project is a learning experience, this one being no exception. We took away as much as we left behind.

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