Handcrafted Artistry Backed by the Unique TRUE Recycling Program

Stacy B. Williams

Special Contributor

Photos Courtesy Tammi Meader and Paloma Pewter

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Antiqued pewter finish liners and drawer-pull hardware. For custom designs, a wax carving is produced as a basis for a bronze master mold. Final castings for stock and custom pieces are made from heat-resistant rubber molds in a centrifugal casting process.Paloma Pewter began in 1994 as a small operation of metal dots and liners in Scottsdale, AZ. At that same time, Byron Barker, a fashion photography location scout, was also living in Tempe and looking for more stationary work. 

Pewter dots, liners, triangles and listellos, as well as matching hardware are available in eight variations of lead-free, decorative metal finishes. Natural pewter is available in Antiqued, Satin, Sterling and Polished finishes. Aged and Natural copper over pewter comes in a penny-bright and dark, oil-rubbed finishes, and Aged and Natural brass finishes over pewter are all antiqued and  hand-buffed in the foundry. Shown here is sterling finish pewter liner inset into stair railing and post. Byron, who has always had an eye for style and a knack for creating, had taken an interest in metal casting on his back porch. The melting process was only assisted by the intensity of the Arizona heat.

Natural pewter is available in Antiqued, Satin, Sterling and Polished finishes. Aged and Natural copper over pewter comes in a penny-bright and dark, oil-rubbed finishes, and Aged and Natural brass finishes over pewter are all antiqued and  hand-buffed in the foundry. Shown here is a repeating line of Oil-rubbed copper tile used as a decorative band in flooring.In the beginning, Byron, originally from Montana, cast a small line of western drawer pulls with some artist friends. As he became more interested in the metal trade, he happened upon Paloma Pewter. He seized upon the opportunity to buy the line.

Rods, liners, and dots returned through Paloma’s TRUE recycling program are melted down, refined and recast; a check for the current market value of the metal, by weight, is sent back to the individual or to a charity of their choice.He quickly expanded the business with the support network of fashion and designer friends, and later, his wife Lonni Leavitt-Barker and his brother Craig.

The understated elegance of a simple, oil-rubbed brass finish dot in a classical design adds warmth to a travertine tile shower niche.Today Paloma Pewter is a family-run wholesale business consisting of the three Barkers: Byron, Craig and Lonni. They own a foundry where their pewter tiles are produced in downtown Eagle, Idaho. Lonni is responsible for the company’s marketing, special projects and showroom visits. She also spends most of her time taking care of the family’s four children. Craig is the shop foreman and does almost all of the metal casting. 

Oil-rubbed copper tiles. Paloma Pewter’s larger format tiles can be installed with a thinset mortar as flooring, backsplashes, and as shown here, hammered finish stair risers.“Byron does probably everything else,” says Lonni, referring to company logistics, travel, recycling, orders, purchasing, budget and finances, etc. She fondly calls him McGuyver. 

By using the purest pewter and casting classic designs with an aesthetic variety of finishes, the Paloma Pewter catalog is an attractive sell. Judging by the company’s steady momentum, the integrity of its marketing package accurately matches the integrity of its products. 

“Our catalog was designed by a team of very talented artists,” says Lonni, “We really like it and believe that it conveys the kind of high-quality products that we offer.” 

Inside the foundry, ingots of pewter are melted and molded through a centrifugal casting method. Once the pewter is melted at 600 degrees, it is poured into the machine, which is rapidly spinning. The centrifugal motion helps the metal solidify in the mold. Then it has to be cooled and can be popped out of the mold. Several molds are produced at the same time for the stock tiles found in their catalog. For custom orders, the beginning of the process is different. 

First the design has to be created. Paloma Pewter has a contracted artist who makes a wax carving of the custom design. Then a bronze master mold is made and this is then turned into a black rubber mold that can withstand the heat and pressure of the casting. The mold is then vented for space and airflow to make sure that it will hold up in the casting process, and then the centrifugal casting production continues. 

Of the 325 showroom and distributors that can be found through the Paloma Pewter website, most are long-standing clients who helped them weather the economy and housing crisis over the last five years. Some of their distributors have gone under, Lonni says, but they have seen a slight turnaround over the past year. 

“Because we own our building and all of our equipment, the biggest issue for us, from a business standpoint, is the fluctuating cost of metal,” says Lonni. 

Paloma Pewter uses only premium quality pewter sourced from reputable metal brokers. The pewter is purchased by the ton and made to order. This consistency is, in part, what gives the company its outstanding reputation. Since Byron first began working with pewter 20 years ago, the cost of metal has increased from three dollars a pound to now well over twelve dollars a pound. The Barker brothers, inherently keen on innovation, have experimented with casting cheaper metals, such as zinc. However, the results were porous and not consistent. 

“Other foundries are using zinc and aluminum these days,” says Byron. 

Both metals are less than one quarter the market cost of pewter today (around two dollars a pound) and they are also less dense. This combination would be an advantage to the manufacturer. 

“We chose not to go down that road,” says Lonni, “because the quality is inferior and zinc, in particular, is toxic when it is poured, melted and polished.”

Lonni and Byron are closely tuned in to the building industry, and they know that “green” policies are important to consumers. TRUE recycling is the result of a brilliant idea by Byron, says Lonni. The Barkers launched their recycling program at Coverings in April.  

TRUE stands for Truly ReUsable Elements, which is an unprecedented concept in the tile and building industries. The concept is simple– when customers are ready to remodel, they can remove the Paloma Pewter tiles and mail them back to the foundry in exchange for money. Then the metal is melted down to actually be reused. 

“There really is no extra cost or hassle for us,” Lonni says, because the machines are usually running anyway. When the recycled pewter is melted down, any impurities or sealant residue will rise to the top and is then skimmed off. The original pewter is then weighed and priced. A check for the current market cost of the metal will be sent to the individual or a charity of their choice. 

“We believe that if someone buys our tiles, they are making an investment” says Lonni, “Our TRUE program allows customers the opportunity to get a return on that investment.”

There have already been several individuals and businesses to participate in the recycling program and the Barkers have only received positive feedback.

Installing these pewter pieces is very much like installing tile. One can use a miter saw to trim the pieces to size and then use a thinset with an add-mixture to hold the pieces in place,” Lonni explains. The Barkers spend time to train their distributors in the specific care of their product.

As with many products in home design, it’s hard to tell why one piece sells better than another. It is especially difficult for Paloma Pewter because they often don’t get to hear all of the final product stories or see photos of the end result as a wholesale company.  

“Sometimes our designers or clients will send photos of our liners installed in homes or restaurants, but we usually don’t know what happens,” says Lonni. 

Paloma Pewter offers the original eight classic finishes, ranging from sterling to antique pewter to oil-rubbed copper. Each finish is made-to-order and all are hand-sanded, hand-polished and sealed. According to Lonni, the oil-rubbed copper is currently the hottest seller, perhaps because it matches with faucets and fixtures from popular lines like Delta and Koehler. 

“The old world feel and design is still going strong in the building market,” she says. 

Conversely, the sterling finish is also very popular and works beautifully with glass. It has a clean, sleek feel and marries well with new, modern architecture. The pearl liners are a big favorite, probably because pearls are just classic, Lonni notes. Lightly hammered liners also look great in any room. 

Paloma Pewter tiles can be found in restaurants, casinos and hotels across the country. It has made its way into some exclusive areas, including the tour bus of famed country singer, Alan Jackson. Its longevity and durability to withstand wet surfaces and general traffic make it a perfect addition to kitchen backsplashes, counter rims, shower tiles and more. 

Not surprisingly, Lonni and Byron’s home is outfitted with pewter accents. She proudly gives testament to its endurance through 11 years of wear and tear. 

“With the traffic of four children and a dog, we have only resealed our pieces once,” she says. 

The Barkers are interested in creating a select line of pewter accents that could be sold directly to individuals online, but they are taking one step at a time. Paloma Pewter will certainly be a company to keep an eye on in the future, especially the TRUE recycling program.

For more information and to contact the Barkers, visit www.palomapewter.com