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The History of Metal Furniture

From iron to aluminium to stainless steel, furniture crafted from various metals is a popular choice for many who love the durability, structure and look that they can bring. Far from being a new invention, metal furniture has been around for centuries. In fact, a 1996 book on the history of metal furniture even described an iron chair used in ancient Roman times – showing just how old its history really is.

In the Middle Ages, metal became increasingly popular as a material for bedframes: bedrooms were damp and draped in tapestries, and the choice of metal ensured that beds would not be damaged by either moisture or the bugs and moths that gravitated towards bedrooms.

The first known item of metal furniture was a round, three-legged cast iron table crafted by German designer Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1820. Its ‘lion paw’ feet were later used in the cast iron benches for which he became known, and which became popular across the globe.

In the 1830s, iron became more widely used as a construction material for railways, and it was this increased use that also made it a more popular choice for furniture – especially for gardens and other outdoor spaces. From here, metal furniture really started to boom: in the 1840s, Birmingham became known for its metal furniture industry thanks to the Coalbrookedale Company, and in the same decade, August Kitschelt opened a factory in Vienna that specialised in tubular iron furniture.

Cast iron continued to grow in popularity until the start of the Art Nouveau period: it was an era where mass production was shunned, and so factories suffered. However, in the 20th century there were three designers who were instrumental in the revival of metal furniture. Marcel Breuer worked with bent and welded metal to create chairs and other items, while Mart Stam and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe chose steel as their primary material. They were the anomaly though, as other designers of the 1920s and 1930s chose other materials over metal. It wasn’t until Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia burst onto the scene in the 1950s that metal really became mainstream as a furniture choice – and it’s still just as popular today.

Now you’ll find three main metal choices in contemporary furniture. Cast iron is still used – especially in outdoor settings where its sheer weight keeps it grounded on windy days. However, iron needs to be waterproofed well as it tends to rust, and the weight can put some people off. Aluminium, on the other hand, is incredibly light and doesn’t rust, which makes it a popular choice for occasional indoor and outdoor furniture. Steel is low maintenance: it doesn’t corrode and it’s incredibly strong, which is why it is used by numerous furniture manufacturers.

Metal furniture can now be produced in large quantities thanks to changes in manufacturing processes. While in the early days it was wrought by hand and time-consuming to craft, today’s advanced machinery means that it’s now possible to create quality metal furniture pieces that are designed to suit all tastes, with a quick turnaround.

Pipecraft practices high quality precision engineering processes to create a whole host of metal furniture that can be custom built to suit your requirements. Whether you’re looking for a unique, one-off piece or a larger production run, we’ll fulfil your metal furniture needs both on time and on budget – contact us to find out how we can help.

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