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Mountain Metal

Lauren Glendenning
Mountain House and Home

A traditional staircase with wooden rails isn’t a staple in today’s mountain home.

Wood might add that rustic appeal, but it’s metal that really kicks things up a notch.

From custom bronze chandeliers and range hoods to stainless steel stair railings and copper chimney caps, metals are winning popularity contests in residential interiors.

“Every one of my projects has at least a few things in hand-forged iron; it’s just a fantastic look,” says Karen White, an interior designer with FW Design Group in Aspen.

“It’s unique; it’s handmade. Nothing is ever identical.”

High Country architects, interior designers and custom metal designers agree that metals are just about everywhere these days. In many cases, interior metal serves more than just an aesthetic purpose, but for some, it simply makes everything look nicer.

When Sue Sweeney, an interior designer from Denver, chose the interiors for her Vail-area home, she wanted eye-catching metal touches. Her kitchen is in the center of an open floor plan, and a custom copper range hood was her answer for ventilation, both for functional and visual appeal.

Sweeney and her husband, Daniel, didn’t want the metal to overshadow the rest of the home, though. That’s why they chose hammered copper trim for the range hood and bronze for the chandelier. The home has a soft rustic design, so the metals fit in with that overall character.

“It’s kind of a rust-textured finish,” she says. “Anything else would be a little too slick for the style of our home.”

Mixing it up

Homeowners going for a more contemporary look tend to go with steel and titanium.

The look is smooth, shiny and sleek, says Stuart Edgerly, of Myers and Company Architectural Metals in Basalt. The strength of steel also allows for a more minimal look, especially for stairs.

“It’s excellent to make a railing out of, because it’s so durable,” White says. “It’s not going to budge, it’s not going to bend, it’s not going to deteriorate.”

And steel railings look cleaner because they lack the density of wooden rails, says Andy Miller, of Miller Interpretive Design in Denver. Wood often ends up covered with paint or carpet; Metals don’t need as much visual sprucing.

And with metals, the possibilities are endless. Designers can incorporate just about any type of metal into any type of design or function, White says. It’s versatile enough to serve as a showpiece or as an inconspicuous interior element. Metals may add glitz and glamour to one home, while adding rustic appeal to another.

“In design, to me, everything’s got to have some sort of function,” White says. “It’s just a matter to what level.”

Metals have different ratings that gauge their strength and durability. Hand-forged iron is “super solid,” White says, while weaker metals like copper and silver are better suited for ornamentation.

Approaching metal design

Anyone looking to incorporate metals into their homes should do a little homework first, Miller says. Miller’s company specializes in custom metal architectural elements and does a ton of work in Colorado’s mountain towns. He works with most of his clients through their designers or architects. Jack Snow, a principal architect with RKD Architects in Vail, says he uses Miller Interpretive Design in at least half of his projects. Metals are “honest and cool,” and they’re now a part of RKD’s palette.

That’s not to say people can’t skip the middleman and hire metal builders directly, but they should really be able to verbalize what it is they’re looking for, Miller says.

“It really helps to bring some magazines and photographs of things they like the look of,” he says. “It’s a good jumping-off point to go with, so I have an idea of the style or the look.”

Since designers and architects in the High Country are dealing with these materials so often, they can work with clients to gain a better understanding of their goals. Edgerly says architects and designers make the process easier.

“Part of a design professional’s job is to talk with people and understand what’s pleasing to them,” he says. “It can be a lot of work. It’s great for me to work with someone who’s already done all that brain damage with the customer.”

Ideas are plentiful when it comes to metal, but the practicality of doing something can stand in the way. Metal builders and designers agree that the possibilities are endless, but money isn’t.

“Budget usually drives a lot of this stuff,” Miller says.

The most expensive metals to work with are zinc and stainless steel, he says, and copper now costs twice as much as it did less than two years ago. “Copper used to be a fairly doable material,” Miller says.

“The cool thing about building these days, people are so much more imaginative than they used to be with materials and applications,” Miller says. “It’s limitless, really.”


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