Each metal speaks its own language: copper is the current king of the mood board, gleaming everywhere from haute décor at Chelsea Harbour to high street pots and pans at Sainsbury's. Bronze, a copper alloy, also has that gorgeous glow that warms a room. Stainless steel and aluminium are clean, clinical and precise, while rougher steel and galvanised surfaces are more industrial and workaday. Polished surfaces add the depth of their reflections and push light to the back of gloomy spaces. And gold is the ultimate luxury statement.
"We tend to think of metals as a technical man-made material, with a crisp shiny aesthetic," says Ian Hunter, co-founder of the Materials Council, whose "materials library" is newly installed on the top floor of design gallery 19 Greek Street, W1. "But many metals are natural materials — and they weather and age accordingly. Oxidisation and patination can be desired and celebrated — getting old in the same way as a leather chair."
Hunter adds that, on the whole, metals have good eco cred, being durable and widely recycled — "they're non-toxic, too, and can be used in small quantities due to their excellent strength".
"Classic metallics never go out of fashion," says Josephine Bennett, head of home design at Laura Ashley, "but the key trend for this season is mixing metals. From rose gold to silver, yellow gold and copper, pair different hues for a modern look."
The latest metallic fabrics and wallcoverings are textured, softly gleaming and very glam. Find them all over Chelsea Harbour, notably at Italian silk weavers and designers Rubelli with a luscious new collection launched at London Design Week last month.
Altfield also has metallic thread woven through silk, although the stand-out item is a wallpaper with hand-laid sheets of silver and leaf it will cost you well over £1,000 a roll. Artist Melissa White was inspired by old Indian printing blocks to adapt Rococo motifs for a stunning wallpaper with a shiny metallic effect. Find these at Lewis & Wood. New brand Anthology boasts a jewel-like palette enriched with gemstones, minerals and precious metals — think pewter, copper, graphite, topaz and garnet.
"New finishes giver us larger particles for deeper, more dramatic effects," explains design director Claire Vallis. In the nearby King's Road, tile wizard De Ferranti does metals with mosaic and "briquettes" in textured and smooth brass, bronze, copper or silver, enhanced with patina, verdigris and even a little rust.
Metalworking is one of man's most ancient skills and is practised in innumerable forms all over the world. In India are the workshops that clad Tom Dixon's striking totem-like bookcases with bronze (tomdixon.net).At the treasure trove shop and gallery of Moroccan Bazaar at Long Drive, Greenford in Middlesex (a trip worth taking) there are intricate, pierced brass lanterns, dishes and white metal chests, all handmade in Morocco under the careful supervision of the family with a strict fairtrade policy.
SA Baxter makes "architectural hardware" (more than 200 knobs and lever handles) by old lost-wax casting — and you can tread a solid bronze floor in their Chelsea showroom. Visit Soane's showroom in Pimlico to see designs from a network UK craftsmen. Of striking beauty is the Helios wall light, a glowing disc of hand-beaten metal.
Today, metals can be blown into organic shapes, or folded by robots into origami-like folds. Laser cutting has reached the mass market, with even lamps at Asda cut into intricate patterns. Cheat with surfaces that look solid, but are only coatings. "Vapour disposition" adds a very thin coating of metal particles and decorative foils can be applied as laminates. Update a room with cast bronze door handles or metal table lamps.
Add warm tones of bronze to the bathroom with taps and showers at Samuel Heath. Or soak in Fired Earth's luxurious patinated copper bath lined with polished nickel — expensive at £5,350. Their large, glazed, square porcelain tiles look like a time-worn copper sheet.
Craig & Rose specialises in metallic effects, including three shades of gold, two of silver, plus copper, nickel, platinum and pewter. "Use quick, light brush strokes all in the same direction," says technical manager Edward Brown. Call 01383 740011 for a shade card and more advice.