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When Metal Comes Inside

Metal has become an increasingly popular alternative choice for traditional interior applications

For years, metal has been used for roofing and exterior siding. But new materials, applications and attitudes have moved it inside buildings producing creative, intricate interior designs. Metal's versatility opens it up to virtually limitless applications, while delivering durability and longevity that surpasses many other interior materials. It blends function, form, beauty and style.

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The last decade's technological advances have made architectural metals a very practical solution for interiors. New finishes, coatings and patterns are now available to suit diverse architectural styles. "Specifiers and designers are becoming more aware of the decorative and structural possibilities that architectural metals offer," says Tripp Sandford, executive vice president, Móz Designs, Oakland, Calif. "Móz Designs is offering feature elements that weren't available just five years ago. New digital tools allow us to create dramatic surfaces that can add a 'signature look' to high-profile projects and public areas. Architectural aluminum offers exceptional design flexibility and long-lasting durability.

Metal surfacing has become increasingly popular for use as wall coverings, column covers, room dividers and stairways. More architects are also specifying metal for ceiling treatments in public areas." People have always known metal to be durable, but were reluctant to use it for interior applications, like ceilings.

"The thinking was that it would look stark or antiseptic, and would make the building's interior sound like an echo chamber," says Edward G. Williams, manager of construction services, Chicago Metallic Corp., Chicago. "Now, designers and owners are finding that metal ceilings can provide excellent acoustical control within a space and introduce exciting colors and new design elements. The most common application is where a designer has incorporated a grid-type ceiling into a space and then substituted a metal ceiling panel in lieu of a traditional mineral fiber panel or a fiberglass panel. Designers will also recommend metal ceiling panels, as they are VOC-free and do not contribute any airborne particles that would negatively affect the building's indoor air quality. In addition to the inherent quality of metal as a material, metal panels will stay cleaner in the ceiling."

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Building owners are now finding that a metal ceiling can be used to provide added security in a space and create an open, spacious appearance. "These systems can be configured to provide limited, restricted or no access to the plenum," Williams adds. "This can be especially important in public spaces like schools, courthouses and airports." An important safety feature for a metal fabric ceiling is that the sprinklers can still operate. "The HVAC can also still operate in a hidden environment with open air flow," says Shawn Crismond, technical sales manager, GKD Metal Fabrics, Cambridge, Md. "All of the mechanical items can be hidden but still easy accessible and functional."

In addition to ceilings, Crismond notes other popular interior metal applications are partitions, floors, walls and interior railings. "Interior metal applications possess safety and protection characteristics including fire resistance," he adds. "For large theaters and entertainment venues, metal is very beneficial to the acoustics."

Metal has become a creative interior component for settings with high-traffic areas and multiple levels, in addition to its use an accent material. "Numerous color and profile options provide detail and depth not achieved with traditional interior materials," says Mark Eaker, business development manager, Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp., Louisville, Ky. "Recently there has been an increase in schools utilizing flush-face metal panels for interior applications. Metal panels are a sustainable and versatile choice in comparison to traditional materials. There is a wide range of available colors, finishes and profiles that give building teams unlimited possibilities to meet their needs. Metal panels have a warm, strong, interesting appearance. With the correct use of color, forming, stamping and texture, metal panels provide a look that no other material can achieve."

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Interior metals can be used as a space divider to bisect a large open area when the whole space is not required. "It can also create private spaces within bars, restaurants and conference rooms," says Adis Mustedanagic, technical sales consultant, Cascade Coil Drapery, Tualatin, Ore. "Spaces can be divided vertically by using Cascade Coil vertical ceiling scrims. Dividing the space vertically can provide a level of comfort to the occupier that they would get in intimate spaces as opposed to cavernous spaces." Window treatments can benefit from innovative interior metal use. "Using Cascade Coil for window treatments provides shading from the sun and stabilizes the temperature within the space without sacrificing the view," Mustedanagic adds.

Interior metals can even help save lives. Cascade Coil's GuardianCoil system mitigates the risk of injury resulting from explosions that extends beyond that of the blast pressure and shock wave. For building inhabitants, airborne debris is one of the leading causes of death and injury during a blast event. This woven wire blast mitigation product installed as a window covering or as in-wall shielding behind wallboard captures and absorbs airborne glass shards and fragments while still maintaining esthetically pleasing features. The woven wire mesh collapses around the fragment projectile, safely dissipating its energy. This natural enveloping mechanism significantly reduces the chance of injury or damage to people and property.

Why metal mesh matters

One of metal's most common interior applications is as metal mesh. It's extremely versatile, virtually indestructible and eco-friendly.

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"Architectural design mesh is a great alternative to adding to any space," says Wendy DeCapite, sales manager of architectural products, W.S. Tyler, Mentor, Ohio. "Rolling or curving the mesh in a ceiling or wall application, and then adding a few lighting points will create movement and fluidity. Because the mesh is woven, there are crimps where the wires cross each other. At those crossing points, there will be a light reflection point. How tightly woven or how many crimps there are will depend on the amount of reflection you will have. Also, if you need to hide any HVAC units, you could simply install mesh panels below the units, add a lighting element and the mesh will become completely opaque while still allowing air flow."

Metal mesh's rise in popularity may be due to increased desire for flexible, modular walls without drywall, paint or wallpaper. Mesh can be rigid/fixed or flexible with movement. It is very versatile and its walls can be used for room or area separation, light filtration, walls allowing HVAC flow, security or simply as an accent.

 "Wire mesh weaves have endless combinations of wire gage, mesh pattern and finishes, which make it an increasingly popular alternative choice for traditional interior applications," says Nicole Theis, director of marketing, Wire Mesh Products Inc., York, Pa. "The benefits that wire mesh can offer for exterior applications-energy conservation, lighting control, air flow, low maintenance design and durability-translate seamlessly to interior designs. Wire mesh can achieve soft borders that drywall and other substrates cannot. There are over 10,000 different combinations of weave patterns and styles. Furthermore, wire mesh is offered in endless finishes that can add that 'wow' factor over paint, wallpaper or graphics. Wire mesh provides a sleek and sophisticated modern look that will hold its look over time."

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Materials like metal mesh offer unique textures, dimensions and visual interplay with other interior design components. For example, "The interplay of light with metal mesh can provide a variety of moods and looks," says Harrison Horan, vice president of Banker Wire, Mukwonago, Wis. "Mesh can be used to restore classic looks-think 1950s elevator cabs-or to create new, modern looks like floor-to-ceiling walls, design accents, partitions, and illuminated backdrops and walls." Mesh is scalable. "Spacing, pattern and diameter can all be adjusted to suit the application," says Horan. Mesh can be treated with secondary finishes. "Plating, powder coat, anodizing, polishing … all of these post processes can dramatically change the appearance of the material," Horan adds.

Interior installation

Most interior metal applications are surprisingly easy to install. "Wire mesh can be easily installed with a few standard installation methods," says Theis. "Mounting hardware, such as c-hooks, Mocket-branded fasteners, channel systems, are the most common installations. Many of the installations are slightly or fully custom designed, and created in order to ensure safety while serving its intended purpose."

To a certain extent, interior metal installation will depend on the application. "If you are looking for a simple drop-down ceiling, the mesh can be bent onto an angle and simply dropped in," says DeCapite. "If you are looking to create movement, there will need to be a substructure designed to hold the mesh in tension and shape." In standard applications, metal ceiling installations would require no more time than that of a standard lay-in ceiling. "However, when a curved ceiling is desired, or a security ceiling is desired, or even an upgraded finish such as wood is desired, the metal ceiling will be drastically faster to install," says Williams.

Because of the variety of interior metal applications, there are always special considerations for installation. Because of this, Horan stresses the need to work with a manufacturer who is flexible and can provide material quickly and reliably. "Most new interior metal applications are custom

designed, requiring the entire project team to work together, and requiring manufacturers to respond quickly and consult on the design," he says. One feature of interior metal that eases installation is that it frequently comes preassembled prior to being shipped to job sites. "Once on the site the installer will only need to mount the track and slide the mesh onto it," says Mustedanagic. In case of any additional assembly needed on-site, most suppliers provide easy-to-follow instructions. "Móz systems are user-friendly and can be installed by any experienced contractor or sub-contractor," says Sandford. "The raw material is formable, bendable and field cut-table ready. For wall coverings, Móz offers sheets that are applied directly to drywall with construction-grade adhesives. Móz systems also include all the hardware necessary for an on-site installation, which saves time. There are a number of design options for edge conditions, such as corner trim and flat-seam trim when required at joints. It all depends on the desired effect."

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In addition to these established installation techniques, future architectural metals advances are on the horizon that will give even more product choices to architects and designers looking for a dramatic wall, column or ceiling treatment for a signature project. Insiders predict new photovoltaic coatings for metal that will retain sunlight and other energies that can be redirected at night to illuminate rooms, even entire buildings. New finishes such as powder coatings will produce realistic wood grain finishes producing scenic ceilings with images of clouds and tree branches. Future interior metal systems could even help buildings resist earthquake movements.