Which materials will best match the look of your space?
How do those materials translate to cost, longevity, and functionality?
To answer these questions, it’s important to keep in mind the builder’s triangle
Metals can be weak or strong, rigid or soft, cheap or expensive – it’s a versatile category of material and makes up a large part of the periodic table. This allows it to be used in a number of different applications for a number of different aesthetics and functions.
Steel can be lasercut to achieve very unique shapes, yet still remain strong and rigid – however it has a high potential to rust, especially when used outdoors. This can drive down two different paths when using steel – one would be to use a sealant such as Permalac to seal the steel from its environment while keeping the raw steel look, another option is to use stainless steel, which would hold up to the environment well, but increases the cost in raw material. For Delaware State Parks, we used a high carbon steel and coated it with Permalac maintaining the raw steel look for the canopy of one of their state parks.
Pewter has a low melting point, and thereby can be cast with high temperature silicone molds – though it is still a very complex process. Stephen Starr Restaurants was looking for some custom finished sconces and candle sticks for their Le Cou Cou restaurant in New York City – we needed a metal that we could cast, as we had to replicate each from originals. Pewter fit the bill – it was workable, could be molded, and could take a finish well so the antique look could be matched.
To give the look of metal at a lower cost, a thin shim stock metal sheet adhered to MDF or plywood with exposed studs provides a nice clean look with reducing cost over a larger surface area by reducing the thickness.
Wood can be used for a number of different architectural elements, but we’ve seen it most typically used for tables and benches. The multiplier with wood is (similar to metal) is the type of wood and the finishing involved. Rarer types of wood as well as the type of finish desired – raw, smooth, stained, sheen, epoxy – can drive cost up or down depending upon complexity and the amount of time it takes to get it right.
Plywood and MDF or medium density fiberboard is an engineered wood, are versatile and relatively inexpensive options. They are easily machined on a CNC with nice clean cuts and good weight. This makes them great not only for prototyping but for some lower cost options of installations.
Glass is a challenging material that can take a variety of shapes and provide a unique aesthetic. Varying the opacity of the glass can give a different look depending upon the application desired. Unique shapes for glass can drive up the cost, as well as adding unique features for mounting or aesthetics. Thickness of the glass can also influence cost and ease of fabrication.