Copper in the Arts

August 2014

Silicon Bronze and the Visionary Behind Company K

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Jack KearnyJack Kearny, Company K founder and lead designer.

Jack Kearney, the founder and lead designer of Company K based in Seattle, was intent on addressing the disconnect he saw between the designer and the builder in our culture, when he began his business fifteen years ago.

“I not only design the stuff, but I have a shop,” Kearney says of his furniture designs. “I wanted to not only design but also build because I can walk in my shop and change things.”

Kearney initially applied his eye for design by working in the architectural field in New York City from 1985 to 1991.

“When I lived in New York City I used to go out to all of the shops in Brooklyn and Long Island City,” he says. “I was always the detail guy – I would look at the furniture pieces and lighting. “

He found when working in the realm of architecture there were many regrets he had in his design work when he would have the realization it was too late to change anything.

“Now I can walk twenty feet and say, ‘Oh God, fix that,” Kearney says.

His inclination to be drawn to details eventually led him to hone in on his interests through the execution of his own design firm specializing in custom furniture design and fabrication.

“I design and then build anything from small jewel-like hardware to a huge, large-scale, 30-foot wide moving door,” Kearney says.

light fixtureCustom formed light fixture made of silicon bronze sheet.

He works with a large range of what her refers to as “materials with integrity” to create his timeless pieces.

“Steel, leather, wood and glass – all of the alloys and stuff,” he says. “I use glass blowers, leather artisans, upholsterers – I have a small range of guys who make parts and pieces I don’t.”

Kearney has seven craftsmen who work in his shop to help execute his visions of which are influenced by specific cultures.

“Norwegian and Japanese are two that inspire me the most,” he says, noting other aspects of his work that have added to his signature. “Everything has a certain volume or mass to it that appeals to people -- nothing I do is trendy.”

Kearney discusses the materials to which he is most drawn.

“One of my favorite materials to work with is silicon bronze,” he says of the copper alloy. “It is 97% copper. It’s an amazing material to work with.”

One such positive quality Kearney pointed out is its forgiving nature in the welding process, in addition to others.

“It patinas unbelievably wonderfully by itself to an incredible color, it grinds easily,” he says. “It’s a lustrous color and surface. You get super, rich browns out of it that you can’t get out of other materials.”

The fact you can get a welding rod made from the same alloy is appealing to Kearney.

“A lot of the wired copper, you don’t have the exact same alloy as a welding rod, so you can see every place you have welded once it patinas,” he says.

The only issue the material poses to clients is a rise in cost of the finished product.

“A 4 x 10 sheet costs $3,500,” Kearney says. “There are only two mills left in the U.S. that make this kind of stuff. We buy through a supplier who uses one in Denver called Atlas Metal & Iron Corp. and Alaskan Copper&Brass out of Seattle.”

In order to cut down on cost, Company K has tried many alternatives that are around half the cost to no avail.

“We have tried naval bronze, which is a nightmare to work with,” Kearney says. “When you weld you see every place you welded – a corner, a seam. We have done so many things to hide it and nothing works.”

They have made attempts to paint out the joints to match the patina, which also wasn’t successful. There is one route they discovered that works most successfully in creating a similar look to appease clients that alleviates the high cost associated with using silicon bronze.

“We can brass plate steel to create a similar look,” he says. “Someone may not see it, but I can tell the difference.”

There are qualities to Kearney’s work that involves a certain volume or mass that appeals to people.

water spoutSilicon bronze koi pond water spout.

“They have a certain heft. Everything we make has a certain weight to it, which I think adds to its validity. Huge doors that weigh 1,000 pounds and the wind blows it open,” he says.

Kearney appreciates the mark of time on pieces.

“I really like things that wear in as opposed to wear out,” he says. “I love when things tarnish.”

In addition to making custom, commissioned pieces, Kearney has a product line. He has a large range of clients, many of whom are art collectors. Despite his firm being in Seattle, most of what he designs ends up in residences in New York, Aspen and Los Angeles.

“My best clients are decorator-designers because they are pickers,” Kearney says. “I give them two or three designs and they say they want that one.”

In contrast, he discusses the experiences he has had in working with architects.

“Architects are more in tune to see their vision built. As long as I like that vision, I’m happy to build it,” he says.

Kearney particularly enjoys working with clients who want to be a part of the process.

Custom doorCustom machined silicon bronze rivets, 2,000 on each side of the door.

“They love the process and love to be involved in the whole thing,” he says. “People appreciate uniqueness and they are looking for things that other people don’t have. They don’t want people coming to their houses and saying they saw it at IKEA.

Most of his Kearney’s clients are residential who have learned of his work through word of mouth.

“The majority I’m working for are, by and large, people who are building custom homes,” he says.

Much of what Kearney designs involves solving problems with people to find solutions for things they envision that are not available in stores. One such design was a unique dining table request.

“I designed and built a dining table that was a 15-foot long nickel plated table and it had a ten-foot long concealed ice box on it and it had a lid that moved. When you looked at the table, all you saw was this line and this door opened up in the tabletop. It had a custom drainage system,” he says. “That was probably the wackiest customized thing I have made.”

Resources:

Company K, 4001 Aurora Ave., North Seattle, WA, (206) 632-0509

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