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Making bold with brass

Brass

A metal with a chameleon quality is enjoying a slow-burn revival among designers. Kassia St Clair gives it a glowing review

A metal with a chameleon quality is enjoying a slow-burn revival among designers. Kassia St Clair gives it a glowing review

Kassia St Clair | August/September 2017

Since the 16th century, the word “brass” has been associated with unwarranted confidence and impudence. Unlike purer metals such as silver and gold, it is an alloy of copper and zinc, and when freshly made it has an extravagant reflection. And yet, while it might have a middling place in the metallurgical hierarchy, we have a lot of affection for it. Expediency is one explanation: brass has a very low melting point, which makes it easy to mould into intricate shapes like tubas and French horns. Another is the way it mellows, lending objects a warm glow.

This warmth is one reason why brass has been undergoing a slow-burn revival in recent years. It is a favourite material of Tom Dixon, and appears in two of his most popular lighting designs, the Beat and Void pendants, which hang from the ceiling like globular trumpet bells.

Measuring up 

Tom Dixon’s Plane Drop light and MAIN IMAGE Michael Anastassiades’s Mobile chandelier evoke scientific precision

This year he has returned to it again with the Plane Drop chandelier, launched at the Stockholm Furniture Fair. With its brass plates and spherical white lights, which can be rotated into different configurations, it recalls delicately calibrated scientific instruments rather than musical ones.

The same notion of dainty devices measuring unknown forces is conjured by Michael Anastassiades’s Mobile chandeliers. Anastassiades uses thin tubes of black-coated brass to create a refined, airy series of curves and lines with the precision of a sculpture by Alexander Calder.

Natalia Miyar, an interior decorator and designer, believes brass has a chameleon quality. A craft exposition that she curated in Miami last December provided a platform for designers offering quirky and contemporary pieces. Particularly striking were a coffee table by Marcin Rusak, its resin surface decorated with pressed wildflowers and wrapped in a minimalist brass frame; and a series of blackened vessels by Juliette Bigley, lined up like a row of characterful chimney pots.

Juliette Begley’s quirky vessels   

But brass is also popular with designers nostalgic for a time when making things was about manual labour rather than machinery. It rewards being worked delicately by hand – machines leave unsightly marks because it is so soft – and, like marble and terracotta, it feels like an old-world antidote to the brick-and-rivet industrial look so ubiquitous in bars, and to cheap, throw-away culture. Indeed, it improves with age, developing a characteristic patina as you use it. This nostalgia lies behind Lee Broom’s Time Machine, a limited-edition grandfather clock launched at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan. This stately object – with a body in marble, and a minimalist pendulum and hands in brass – marks the end of his first decade in the design business. Bold, perhaps, but not brassy.

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