Old World Metals


“Good Materials” (207) instructs us to select materials that are easy to work on site and modifiable with inexpensive tools.

Nothing shouts “Modern” like stainless steel.

There are two telltale characteristic where, at a glance, it is easy to judge the age of a home. One is in the size of the window panes (see “Small Panes” (239)), and the other is in the visible metal fixtures and appliances. If you hope to build a timeless house you cannot ignore either of these patterns.


Old World metals are soft and include Brass, Copper, Bronze, and Iron. They have been around since, well the Bronze Age. These metals take on a wonderful patina over time and they are easily cut and shaped with hand tools.

Modern, or “Hard” metals, include Chrome, Galvanized , Aluminum and Stainless Steel. The difference between Hard and Soft types of metals is not so much about the actual hardness or softness, but about the color, workability, and patina. Modern metals are basically colorless and look cold. They do not acquire a rich patina over time. If you must use steel then make it dark, like hand forged or cast iron. Paint it black if you have to.




Examples of interior uses of metals that should follow this pattern include: light fixtures, electrical outlet and switch covers, sinks and plumbing fixtures, towel bars, coat hooks, kitchen appliances, fans and vent hoods, window frames, door knobs, hinges, locks and latches.




If you are wanting to build a timeless house, pay particular attention to your choices of metals. Try to use only Old World Metals for all exposed metal parts and fixtures. It makes a striking difference in the visible age of a place.



Gary Zuker is a Senior Systems Administrator at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989 he built a house outside of Austin. Inspired and guided by "A Pattern Language", he developed 12 new patterns during the process of building his house.
Gary Zuker

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