At the end of the 19th century, because it was durable as well as easy to weld, bend and stamp, zinc became a part of daily life in Europe. In 1890, over 50% of rolled zinc sold in France was to make water jugs, buckets, pitchers, basins, splashbacks, worktops, florists' stalls, etc. Some of these products were produced industrially by specialised companies. Professional applications were often made by zinc workers, thus rounding off their portfolio of activities, especially during spells of harsh weather and in the winter.
These practices became obsolete, firstly with the widespread introduction of running water, which eliminated the need for storage, and then, in the middle of the 20th century, with the emergence of plastic materials. Modern comfort freed itself from this natural material. The only remaining memory of it is the zinc counter tops in typical Parisian cafés. Although these spectacular applications only lasted a short time, they gave rise in France to the expression “a drink on the zinc”. At the time, these counter tops were made by ornamental workshops. But they were not easy to maintain because they had to be sanded every evening to keep their shine. And so zinc counter tops were gradually replaced by tin, then Bakelite and finally stainless steel.
Zinc's come-back started in the 1990s. The general public began visiting flea-markets, unearthing hidden treasures such as antique dormer- and bulls-eye windows, which they used as decorative objects. This trend extended to the garden. People were buying the “past”, covered in lovely old patinas. Grey-blue window boxes became fashionable. The price to pay for this new-found popularity: stores began selling objects in “zinc” that were actually low-cost items made in Asia from galvanised steel!
At the end of the 1990s, designers and architects confirmed their interest in zinc. They started using it in a new way. Far from its traditional rooftops, it began featuring in bathrooms, kitchen worktops and workbenches. Minimalist designers were inspired by its raw authenticity. Natural or artificial patinas gave the material an elegant, noble appearance. Architects also liked using it for continuity between interior and exterior in entrance halls, hotel lobbies, awnings… Industrials developed new systems (overlapping panels, cassettes, textured rigid panels).
Today, zinc is way more than just a fashion phenomenon. It is a source of lasting inspiration for interior decoration. It can be used in many ways, including for contemporary furniture.
For industrials, these specific uses of zinc are a surprising means to promote the material. Objects showcased in interior decoration magazines attract the general public's interest in zinc, for its authenticity and the know-how of ornamental zinc workers.
At VMZINC, we support these complementary uses by developing new surface aspects and encouraging designers and craft workers to visit our workshops to better understand the different production stages of zinc and its patinas. Such exchanges are sure to generate new products and new applications!
VMZINC Communication Director