There’s a reason why tin is all the rage. On the factory floor, powder coating, hand painting and thermoforming have cut decades off nature’s way of creating pewter. Tin can be “aged” right away, which inevitably made it poised for a comeback.
“The explosion started three or four years ago,” said Bill Perk, president and founder of M-Boss Inc., Cleveland.
“It’s pretty extreme growth, and it’s fast-moving,” said Rob Larson, director of commercial sales at ACP (Acoustic Ceiling Products), Neenah, Wis.
You know tin ceilings from your youth. It’s the look found in Main Street America–in the pharmacies, ice cream parlors and hardware stores where you bought candy, chocolate malts and balsa wood airplanes. Tin ceilings are part of you, nostalgically rooted, and now in vogue–not the shiny, silvery look of pure, unfinished tin, but tin with character, tin with a Victorian air.
Yes, a fresh kind of extreme makeover is overtaking America’s kitchens, dining rooms, restaurants and bars. What’s popular is not so much the material (tin), but the finish (aged). It’s a trend that spells opportunity.
“This is where a walls-and-ceilings contractor can make a ton of money,” said Larson.
VARIETIES OF ‘TIN'Tin and simulated tin ceilings come in all kinds. Some manufacturers sell the genuine product–tin and tin-plated steel panels. Typically, they sell an unfinished 2 x 4-foot panel for $18 to $20. When painted by an artisan, the charge jumps to more than $80 a sheet.
Aluminum is the newcomer in decorative pressed metal. It has the advantage over tin of being lightweight, less costly and easier to install. When hand painted by an artisan, aluminum panels look almost exactly like their aged tin counterparts.
Finally, there’s simulated embossed metal products. Armstrong, for instance, markets 2 x 2-foot Tincraft panels, which are made of mineral fiber and are designed to look like the real thing. ACP has the Fasade line of thermoplastic tin-style panels with thermally infused color finishes. Both systems are easy to install and affordable. Larson said ACP’s 2 x 4-foot Fasade panels cost $4 a square foot, about half that of most metal panels.
The market for tin and simulated tin ceilings is small, but manufacturers say the niche is growing. “It’s getting stronger all the time,” said Russell H. Underdahl, Sr., chairman of Pinecrest Inc., Minneapolis, which has sold Hammersmith tin ceilings for more than 40 years.
Underdahl sees growth propelled by the décor packages currently popular in many themed restaurants. “Tip your head back at T.G.I. Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday, and you’ll see a tin ceiling,” Underdahl said. For many, dining beneath tin’s graceful ambience summons memories of the olden days and plants the idea of trying it at home.
TV shows, too, lend credibility to the category. M-Boss has supplied hand-painted panels to several projects appearing on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. “People have finally said, ‘We’re putting all kinds of tiles on the floor and on the walls, but now we want it on that “fifth wall” of the house’– the ceiling,” said Perk.
The homeowner is a category driver. Some shop at home centers, where they buy off-the-rack simulated tin panels. Others accept nothing less than tin-plated steel. When they live in an 1890s Victorian home, they want authenticity and, importantly, an experienced walls-and-ceilings contractor to do the work.
REALISTIC RENDITIONSCoast to coast, restaurateurs, pub owners and consumers want tin-style ceilings with Old World character. They want a natural-looking finish right out of the box.
Sheldon Gruber is president of Aa-Abbingdon Affiliates Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. He is third generation in the tin ceilings business, and his company offers 42 ceiling patterns and 18 molding patterns in its Prestplate Metal Ceilings line. Two years ago, the company launched something new: hand-painted tin panels.
“The quality is extremely high,” said Gruber, who added that his finishes are not powder coated or “faux,” but realistic renditions created by artists. “We should have the artist sign each panel–they’re that special,” he said. At $95 a 2 x 4-foot sheet, the price seems high, but Gruber said the hand-painted line is drawing a lot of customer attention.
Earlier this year, Chelsea Decorative Metal Co., Houston, Texas, also launched a hand-painted line of fine-pressed tin ceilings. The 2 x 4-foot tins are finished using eight layers of paint, so colors remain consistent from order to order. Copper Patina, Gothic Gold, Plantation Charm, and Tuscan Sunset are popular choices.
Owner Glenn Eldridge believes the market is still learning about hand-painted tins and is shy about adopting the prices. It’s a big jump from $20 to $81 per panel, so some try to paint the unfinished tins themselves. Eldridge noted that customers often end up disappointed with their work. “More people want hand-painted tins, and so we’re selling them,” Eldridge said. “It’s not overwhelming, but it is new.”
M-Boss’s approach is to keep costs low and offer many options. For an additional charge, more than 75 finishes can be added, and each is hand painted, sometimes by artisans. The company color-matches panels and reproduces custom patterns, even if working off an architect’s sketch.
Underdahl of Pinecrest has a unique cross-merchandising perspective. When customers inquire about his Hammersmith tin ceilings, many discover that Pinecrest also sells steel grilles–175 patterns in all. The grilles can be used in standard 2 x 4-foot lay-in ceiling grid. Like traditional tin, Underdahl’s grilles convey Old World charm but in a look totally new to the marketplace. “It took me four years to bring this out, and it just started taking off last spring,”’ said Underdahl.
So, the market for tin ceilings has something for everyone. Can contractors get in on the action?
MARKET FOR CONTRACTORSAccording to Larson, restaurants and bars represent enormous opportunities. The entryways of commercial office buildings are another segment to consider. Armstrong’s Tincraft panels target boutiques and other types of specialty retail stores. Other solid markets include hotels and casinos.
Some contractors may be able to secure a piece of the action. M-Boss, for example, offers contractors an exclusive territory in representing its line. According to Perk, the contractor is given the opportunity to set up an M-Boss showroom, which is important in promoting the products but not necessary to receiving a territory assignment. “We give them the tools they need–samples and literature,” Perk said.
Knowing where to go for custom renovations may also land contracts. Several companies offer low-cost replications. So, when someone renovates an old building, a ceilings contractor might send in an original tin panel, or a portion of one, and the manufacturer will reproduce it and thereafter keep it in its line. This is one way manufacturers expand their pattern collections.
Traditional tin ceilings must be installed carefully. The snipped edges of tin are sharp, and working with tin leaves little room for cutting error. Aluminum and thermoplastic are more lightweight and easier to handle. Contractors can work with these products without necessarily wearing gloves.
Finally, before quoting a retrofit job, a contractor should consider how a thermoplastic system may reduce costs. The advantage of thermoplastic is that it can be glued directly to existing acoustical panels. In other words, the ceiling cloud may remain and serve as the substrate. ACP, for example, markets a cover that snaps over existing t-bars. “You can essentially bring in the Old World look as seamless as possible to a lay-in grid,” said Larson. By leaving the existing system in place and gluing in plastic panels, the contractor eliminates or greatly reduces the costs of demolition, refuse and new grid materials. And yet, the retrofit still allows access to the plenum.
There are huge opportunities, and the cost savings can be tremendous.
sidebar:Yes, tin-style ceilings are popular, but what specific designs get the nod from end-users?
Patterns: Glenn Eldridge of Chelsea Decorative Metal says Victorian, Americana and Turn of the Century are hot. In commercial work, the story is mixed. Old World is popular, but contemporary patterns are gaining appeal.
Finishes: ACP’s Rob Larson says copper is strong. But so is muted gold, pewter and brushed nickel.
Applications: “There’s a new focus–the kitchen backsplash,” says designer Kate Marker of Studio G Interiors in Chicago. “Stylish backsplash has become an important part of home design.”
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