THERE are certain traditional materials common to British homes for generations that have rather fallen out of favour. Once copper, brass and pewter glowed in kitchens and dining rooms across the land. Today, for most people, brass is something that once decorated horses' bridles, pewter is for "olde worlde" tankards, and copper shows up on kitchen ranges in historical TV dramas.
However, more recently, innovative designers have been transforming these traditional materials into designs for contemporary living.
One of the first to rediscover the delights of pewter was Keith Tyssen.
Traditionally, pewter is a dull grey colour, but Tyssen's pieces are polished to a soft, reflective surface. His bowls are double- skinned, rather like inverted blobs of mercury. "I love pewter, it feels so good in the hands.
It's warm, it has a gentleness that is calming in our frenetic times," he says.
His most recent designs have simple patterns of dots punched on the inner wall and some are in dark, oxidised pewter. "It's beautiful, gentle and serene and glorious to live with. All you need to clean it is warm water and washing-up liquid," says Tyssen.
It is the reflective qualities of the tin alloy that appeal to Kaya Hoang.
She makes her fluid, organic-shaped vases, dishes and bowls by hammering them around parts of her body, and the asymmetrical shapes she produces from this unorthodox method distort the reflections.
"Pewter works well with flowing shapes," says designer Nick Munro, who was recently commissioned by the long-established Malaysian pewter company Royal Selangor to update its products. "It's wonderful for creating spouts that don't drip," he adds.
His designs range from a tea service to desk objects such as a letter-opener shaped like a fin and a pencil sharpener that resembles a shiny pebble.
Munro appreciates the changing nature of the material, which he feels makes it appropriate for the collection of contemporary christening gifts he has just designed. "I love the fact that it acquires a patina. There is no better choice."
It's not just the Malaysians who have exploited pewter on a commercial scale. The Swedish company Svenskt Tenn - Swedish Pewter - was founded in 1924 to make Art Deco-style pewter.
Recently the company has encouraged fresh interest in the material by commissioning 10 Swedish designers to come up with new products. These include handsome pewter and glass vases and bowls by Anna von Schewen, and platters by Ingegerd Raman.
Copper, too, has come in for a makeover. Ndidi Ekubia uses it for extravagantly shaped vases and bowls. "The great thing about copper is that it is very soft and I can push it really far. I can make large pieces at a relatively low cost and can take my ideas to extremes," she says.
Ekubia is working on a series of copper lights that look like flower pods.
The range will include floor lights, pendants and chandeliers. "I love the colour you can get from base metals like copper," she says.
Ane Christensen is also attracted by the colour possibilities that the element affords. She patinates her geometric bowls, which are cut from one sheet of metal, and uses traditional verdigris (green) to reproduce the oxidation process that turns copper green. …