The Arts & Crafts furniture movement is associated with elegant wood furniture and beautiful oak office furniture. However, wood isn’t the only material associated with the era, during the American Arts and Crafts movement, craftsman found copper finer and more attractive than iron, and less expensive and easier to work than silver. Thus copper became the premier metal for decorative ornamentation during this time. Not only are copper decorative wares such as hand-hammered lamps, chargers and candlesticks iconic collectibles now, but copper is an exemplary material for architectural use. Copper sheeting makes the best downspouts, half-round gutters, and flashing. Copper is a metal that adeptly straddles the line between function and art. For instance, the stunning, motto-embossed fireplace hoods at Craftsman Farms are among the era’s most memorable works.
Considered the oldest metal in use, copper is enjoying renewed popularity. These days copper can be found almost everywhere in and around the house, from reproduction copper and mica lamps to copper basins that can be used in either the pantry or the garden. Copper is still fondly associated with the objets d’art of the original movement and is used in many of the beautiful reproduction available today. But the use of copper for functional items like range hoods, sinks, lighting, and architectural trim continues to be far more persuasive today than it was a hundred years ago.
The most popular place for copper is in the kitchen, especially in the form of hammered copper sinks. These sinks are crafted out of heavy-gauge copper and then chemically patinated to stabilize the finish. Another great place for copper is range and fireplace hoods, which adds tremendous drama to any room.
Faucets and decorative hardware also benefit from a copper finish. In most cases, brass and bronze fittings are finished with a chemically applied coppery hue. A fairly soft metal, copper develops an attractive patina or coloration when left on its own, but fingerprints and other human contact will make it blotchy and unattractive. Fortunately, patination provides a stable coating the creates the look of age.
Decorative lamps and fixtures can be beautifully crafted from copper, especially when paired with mica or art glass and treated to hand hammering and patination by a real artist. Hammered finishes are often found in reproduction vases, chargers, and other tabletop accessories, but be aware that some work is better than others. You can find wonderful, affordable hand-worked copper in the Michoacán region of Mexico. If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, many local artisans craft reproductions of chargers, candlesticks, and other vessels that closely copy period originals but at the same time are imbued with their own personal sense of the Arts and Crafts spirit. If you want a more unique piece, other artisans branch out in different directions. For instance, Repoussé has become popular, a hand-worked and hand-tooled technique in which one creates more figural, three-dimensional results, requiring a superior level of craftsmanship.
Copper is also wonderful in the garden, as copper basins make excellent birdbaths and fountains. Copper is also great in the water-channeling devices known as rain chains, which have channeled and stored rain water for hundreds of years. Frank Lloyd Wright found a stunning way to incorporate a sculptured rain chain in one of his Usonian houses. The rain chain’s long linear skeins of rings, inverted bells, or fluted cups make a useful and beautiful addition to any garden.