Industrial Chic

Jan. 1, 2003
Industrial Chic

Perforated metal finds a niche in a number of surprising places.
Catching the eye of teenage shoppers is a challenge. Even if the design works, the intent may be lost if the material fails to express the idea. Using an ordinary piece of metal with holes to achieve a hip image may not occur to some. After all, specialty metals are often considered products strictly for industries such as automaking, equipment manufacturing and other industrial applications.It's not surprising that metal as a design feature occurred to the designers of Gadzooks, Inc., a high-energy specialty retailer of casual clothing and accessories for teenagers. The Dallas, TX-based clothier caters to young customers in its more than 400 mall-based stores across the country. It is only one example where ordinary perforated metal is being transformed into industrial chic. McNichols Company, which started its specialty metal business 50 years ago serving strictly industrial customers, is not surprised at the interest in metal for aesthetic purposes. But the company is intrigued by the changing nature of designer interest. Nowadays, in their search for unusual materials, architects, interior designers and fabricators are asking more probing questions about the properties of McNichols' products. The indication is that they are creating their own interpretation of the look they want, whether it is with perforated metal, wire cloth, various types of grating or diamond-shaped expanded metal.With the advent of the technology age and teen obsession with all things metal, what started as an industrial good is now adorning wall coverings, countertops, benches, ornamental handrails, room dividers, commercial signs and many other applications. So McNichols has made a point of providing product information that supports needs of the designer as well as other customers. High-tech, Low MaintenanceAt Gadzooks, the look of perforated metal not only appeals to the mod shopper, it satisfies the need for a low maintenance material in a high traffic business. From shelf trim to door coverings to counter tops where metal with holes is embedded in acrylic for a smooth writing surface, the metallic theme is repeated throughout the stores for emphasis. Beyond its aesthetic qualities, it is a creative way to safeguard high maintenance areas, such as the base of the stock room door or the face of a dressing room door. Flexible and FuturisticThe popular retail chain is not the only place where perforated metal has caught on in design. The creator of the interior space for Emhart's Fastening Technologies' research and design facility in Shelton, CT, used what he calls "punched" metal in a ceiling dome. The architect wanted to demonstrate the cutting-edge thinking that takes place at Emhart, which develops, produces and applies technology-based fastening products and systems for assembly industries worldwide. New Haven architect Hunter Smith of Ameche Architects saw the punched metal, with its flexibility and futuristic look, as the ideal finish for the ceiling dome that complements the round lobby he created. Not only does the metal allow a continuation of the rounded lobby because it bends to conform to the arch, it creates character. The metal panels, held in place by a T-system, also serve an acoustical purpose. The fabricator, American Sign, backed the metal with sound absorption material to control noise and to obscure the structure above the ceiling. To complete the metal look, Smith wrapped the punched metal around columns that support the dome.Metal with holes by any other name may not seem as sweet. But among designers looking for something functional yet trendy, it has found its place.

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