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Heavy Metal Home : Accents: Decorating with copper, gold and brass--an idea wrought in ancient times--is in vogue again. Keeping it polished is the rub.

June 01, 1991|CLARK SHARON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It is not the sort of heavy metal that detonates from 20,000 watts oftri-amped JBL speakers, peels back your eyelids, ruptures an eardrum then pries open your head and slams your brain into goo.

It will not make Def Leppard a few zillion dollars on their next album, Sonic Banshee. Nor does Jesse Helms want it banned.

This kind of heavy metal makes no sound . . . unless you drop it. You cannot put it in your CD player. It will not scare the cat.

This is the heavy metal from which high residential fashion is made. It is the real thing--brass, copper, chrome, gold. You do not play it; you polish it. You do not listen to it; you install it.

From brass door hinges to the Romanesque splendor of a gold bathtub drain, it is heavy metal that gleams rather than screams. And its use is growing in popularity with homeowners throughout Orange County, according to Scott Sarkisian, owner of Normandy Metal Refinishers in Costa Mesa.

"It's amazing just how much metal there is in homes today," he says. "It's become an integral part of interior design."

Where functional steel once hid under layers of paint, polished brass now shines. Cast iron has given way to gold plate. Designer metals are increasingly used to accent wood, marble and glass furnishings.

In a way, design is repeating itself. As early as 2,500 BC, metal had become a popular decoration in the finer homes of the ancient world. The Sumerians, the Egyptians and the Greeks wrought in-home metallic masterpieces with hammer and punch. The Romans--as they were wont to do--stole metal fabrication ideas from the Greeks for use in their own villas and townhomes.

It was all very elegant and basic. Pound some gold or copper into sheets and nail them on a cornice or perhaps an in-home statue of your favorite god or goddess. It would take a few millennia and the creation of new alloys and coloring techniques to bring about the variety of metal finishes now available for the modern home.

Like all things fashionable, there are vogues. Metals fall in and out of favor.

Take brass, for example. Sarkisian claims brass is king of the home designer metals and has been for years. Yet there are at least a dozen different color tones and finishes available beyond the polished golden sheen of classic brass. The finishes mimic other metals such as pewter, nickel, silver, copper, bronze and gold. There are brushed or satin finishes. And all of them are at the mercy of popular taste.

"I've been in this business since I was a kid," says Sarkisian. "Thirty years ago I was doing what is called verde green finish brass, which is similar to what you'd get with weathered copper. All of a sudden, it goes out of style, then it's back in again. It all depends on what's hot at the time."

Right now, according to Sarkisian, verde green is on its way out again, as are the satin finishes. So what's hot? Try the darker brown shades of oil-rubbed bronze and antiqued brass.

"The darker colors hold up well in the marine air we have here in Orange County," he explains. "They don't need as much polishing. Also, they're sturdier (than the lighter finishes), which makes them popular for hardware uses, such as door handles and hinges."

Although in the past designers tended to adhere to a single metallic theme, Sarkisian says they are "mixing metals a lot more. It used to be you'd go to a home and get all one thing or the other, such as solid brass. Now a lot of designers are going with maybe chrome and gold, or mixing copper with brass, or polished finishes with antiqued, or a combination of four or five different metal looks.

"There's a lot more mixture of colors, which is nice because you don't get the sterility of just one kind of look."

The Newport Beach residence of Gary Hamilton is a showcase example of the new breed of heavy metal home. Metal mixes abound--except in the bathrooms, where everything that looks like gold is gold, either plated or anodized.

In the kitchen, however, a large overhead pot rack blends several metal looks: stainless steel, copper and brass in a pewter finish. Elsewhere, brass reigns supreme. A large English brass chandelier more than a century old hangs in the front entry. Metal accents and sculptures are in nearly every room, including a stunning brass relief of a rhinoceros glaring from a bedroom wall.

The rhino is part of a metallic menagerie created by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamente. Sarkisian's shop is home to a mini-zoo of these brass sculptures that includes an elephant, flamingo, swan, monkey and zebra. There is also a multicolored brass sun blazing from one wall. The pieces fetch as much as $5,000, Sarkisian says.

"These (sculptures) are showpieces. They're not for everyone. You have to have the right home (in which) to display them."

But Sarkisian insists that there is no metal accent in the Hamilton home "so dramatic that you can't do it simply, or on a smaller scale."

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