What do you do when see a great design idea from another country? Bring it home and start a business! That’s exactly what Chris Plummer of Bastille Metal Works did three and a half years ago when he discovered that no one in the U.S. made high quality, custom pewter and zinc countertops like those found in France. “I was living in Georgia and building pewter and zinc range hoods for a French company, La Cornue. People started asking me to repair zinc and pewter counters imported from France too,” he says. “After standing on them, repairing them, and perfecting them, I got to know the counters pretty well.”
Chris also learned that nobody in this country performed the same kind of craftsmanship. Nearly four years in and with his wife as his business partner, his Savannah, GA, company is growing—and fast! Sixteen employees strong and a long list of loyal clients (most of whom are designers who want to keep him a secret), Bastille Metal Works creates gorgeous custom pewter and zinc counters, range hoods, table tops, ceiling tiles, and other special projects. We caught up with Chris recently to learn more.
CULTIVATE: Mixing metals with other kitchen counter materials is on the rise. What is your favorite pairing for zinc or pewter in the kitchen?
CHRIS PLUMMER: I love a zinc or pewter kitchen island with soapstone perimeter counters. Soapstone is organic and warm, which is a nice compliment to metal. Plus, metal is expensive, so I usually recommend using metal for the kitchen island and range hood but choose a different material for the rest of the counters.
A cast zinc counter with soapstone perimeter counters
CULTIVATE: After you cast a counter, it takes about 10 hours of polishing per square foot to get the finish just right. That’s 320 hours of work for the average kitchen island! What’s the care like after someone has it in their home?
CHRIS PLUMMER: It ranges, and it all depends on how the customer wants the counter to look. Some people polish them every two weeks to get a high shine, others polish once a year. The less you polish, the more patina develops.
A cast pewter and wood kitchen island, with sink
CULTIVATE: Where do you get your inspiration from?
CHRIS PLUMMER: I study old pieces of machinery—ones you’d find in factories a century ago in this country and in France. They’re ornate in nature but not excessively so; they’re elaborate and simple at the same time. I approach my counters and range hoods the same way.
CULTIVATE: Ok, now, the big question: How can someone choose between zinc and pewter?
CHRIS PLUMMER: It’s completely an aesthetic choice. Zinc, our most popular seller, will patina and age in dull grays and browns. Historically, it was used in French bistros, but now it’s gaining resurgence in this country in homes and restaurant bars. We make our pewter with 99 percent tin with one percent copper for durability; it stays a shiny silver and has a brighter feel than zinc.
A cast zinc countertop
CULTIVATE: You recently designed the bar [photo below] at a hip, new restaurant, Lure Bar, in Atlanta, GA. How did you come up with the design?
CHRIS PLUMMER: I wanted a counter to compliment the natural, organic aesthetic of the wooded walls and cabinets. The restaurant owner loves the industrial look, so we went with zinc (because it develops a patina) and a rounded edge profile.
A Bastille Metal Works counter at the new Lure restaurant in Atlanta, GA
Slip-cast zinc counter, with a simple rounded edge atop a dark wood base
CULTIVATE: Unlike other zinc and pewter manufacturers, you custom cast your pieces and there is no welding and or unsightly seams. How else is Bastille Metal Works different from other manufacturers?
CHRIS PLUMMER: Everything, from edges to finishing, is custom. We also recently bought a machine that lets us scale edge profiles. If you want a 3-inch counter design in a 4-inch, we can do it. I don’t like making the same things twice, so even if the customer asks for something they’ve seen on my website, I encourage them to let me adapt it in some way. I ask my customers a lot of questions, and they are part of the process every step of the way.
A cast zinc range hood with pewter strapping
CULTIVATE: Aside from countertops and hoods, you also design metal tables, backsplashes and ceiling tiles, what are other unique ways you’ve incorporated metal into a kitchen?
CHRIS PLUMMER: I love challenges. We’re done some crazy range hoods that aren’t on the website. I once made a range hood out of a 1957 Chevy. I love figuring out how to pull off an impossible feat and make it work.
A cast zinc modern table
CULTIVATE: There are a lot of choices when it comes to kitchen counters. Why should a person choose metal over materials like stone and wood?
CHRIS PLUMMER: It’s a different look. It’s handmade. It’s not perfect, and it has character and imperfections. We really make each counter unique, and the end result looks highly artisanal.
A pewter counter for a French-inspired galley kitchen
For more information and to inquire about a kitchen counter for your own home, visit Bastillemetalworks.com or call toll-free at 866-570-9690.