How Copper Tubing Can Be Transformed Into Spectacular Furniture And Art


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Have you ever met an artist who works with copper? Get together T.J. Volonis – a talented artist based in Brooklyn who builds amazing furniture and wall art pieces using copper pipes. His description helps us understand his intuition that results in so many delicately designed and strongly built pieces: “My work focuses on the dependency relationship between the whole and the segment and the fragile balance between order and disorder. In particular, I work with patterns, portraying them simply and in their entirety, or through the prism of a larger pattern..” His passion for this versatile material was transposed into numerous pieces of furniture, such as an incredible two-meter-long dining table.

How did you start in this business?

  • My path into this business was initially unintentional and a bit unconventional. I have always loved copper as a material: its warmth, versatility and adaptability. He had dreamed of ways to create things out of it, like screens and lighting fixtures, but had never taken it beyond the sketchbook design stage. When my roommate moved out, she left behind a rickety coffee table that she had dug out of a dumpster. I didn’t have the money at the time to replace it, so I decided to remove the legs and build a new base out of copper tubing. I did some research, bought the materials I needed from house deposit, drafted a design and created it. She was happy with the result. At that time I volunteered for a charity art auction that was highlighting up and coming artists. I did another piece and entered it under a pseudonym. The piece was so well received that it won Best in Category and attracted the attention of a gallery owner who participated in the auction. That gave me encouragement to continue.

Have you always worked with copper or did you also experiment with other materials?

  • So far I have only worked with copper. There are still so many qualities of the material that I want to experiment with that I think I’ll focus on it for a while.

What qualities of the material made you choose to work with copper?

  • Its warmth and its “elementality”: the copper pipe seems to encompass the aspects of metal, air, water, fire, earth. I love how it expresses beauty in its various states (bright “new penny” copper, slightly tarnished and torch-worn, air-oxidized to a honey brown, verdigris, and other patinas). It conducts heat easily and can reform molecular bonds when heated. I like to take the copper pipe that was meant for plumbing and rework it to create something amazing.

How many hours go into creating a functional piece of art?

  • It varies a lot. For a piece as large as the dining room table hundreds of hours. For a smaller wall mounted sculpture 20-30 hours +.

Where do you find inspiration to create your beautiful “order and chaos” works?

  • Much of my inspiration comes from New York City itself and its tremendous industrial infrastructure. Communal systems, such as railroad tracks, bridges, and pipelines, are necessary to create a livable environment for a working society. I like to look at this through an artistic lens and reimagine it to be something beautiful, beyond its intended utility. I am also inspired by the material itself and its own sense of expression.

Guide Freshhome readers through the creative process that takes you from idea to finished product. How does it work?

  • I have two clearly different workflows. One is much more serene and intentional. When I’m creating a functional part, it has to be designed quite carefully before starting the build process. The design will change in subtle ways as you progress and the material itself informs the design. The other process is much more open and fluid, this goes for the wall mounted/non-functional parts. I start with a basic concept of the piece, such as a certain image or theme I want to create within the work, decide on the approximate size of the piece, and then jump in and start building it. Again, the material informs the process and the finished piece, but that interaction is even more instrumental in this style of construction.

You capture a beautiful color of the material. Why do you prefer it to, say, shiny copper?

  • I have made pieces that play with the different finishes and states of the material. Some I have left to air oxidize creating a very smooth honey brown color over time, unsealed. Other pieces I have sealed with lacquer immediately to preserve burn marks and torch discoloration. And other pieces I have polished and sealed right after the piece is finished to preserve that new shine. I’m excited to start working with electroplating and forced patina soon. Metal is versatile in terms of finish options, and I find it to be a beautiful material in all of those various states.

It seems that you divide the work into functional and decorative objects, which of these is more challenging and rewarding and why?

  • Each has its own challenges. Of the two styles of work, the most difficult are the functional parts. Often, even with my experience with the material, it won’t do what I’ve designed for it. Then you need to collaborate on the material and come up with a mutually satisfactory solution. I really see copper tubing as a co-creator of my work.

What have you learned from working with copper pipes?

  • That any artist or craftsman who works with physical materials has to collaborate with the materials themselves. They have their own personality, limits and strengths.

You are a self-taught artist. How much time do you spend researching your line of work?

  • Some, but not many. I prefer to be in the studio experimenting. Occasionally I look for instructions on how to achieve a particular look or manipulation technique, but most of the time I figured it out as I went along. I always wanted to be a plumber’s apprentice to learn the more formal techniques. Maybe one of these days it will come to that.

What was the strangest request you had to deal with?

  • Nothing really crazy so far. I’m happy to try anything a client wants me to do. One benefit of working on commission is that I get to experience the material and look of my work from a different perspective.


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