Christopher Plummer is fascinated with patterns -- in nature, in ancient architecture, in everyday life. He studies their structure and meaning, and replicates and creates them.
They're inked on his skin from wrists to shoulders and form the basis of his two businesses: Metallo Arts and Valley Tin Works.
"Patterns are pervasive, and viral," he said in a 2008 interview.
Plummer grew up in Tanzania and returned to the States to go to art school in Boston. His first job out of school was working for a well-known paint-and-plaster restoration company based in New York City.
For fun, he made abstract art, eventually incorporating scraps of metal into his designs. He began developing paint finishes that work on metal and researching the history of the designs. As a result, he became somewhat of an expert on both subjects.
Four years out of college, he quit his job and bought a 600-ton 1860 drop-hammer metal press for $500.
The catch was that it couldn't be moved, so Plummer settled in Houston and began pressing chromium-plated steel and zinc for ceilings, back splashes and decorative art.
"I gravitate toward things that take a lot of time and effort to do," he said. "(Back then) I had nothing but time."
He did a lot of restoration work, examining patterns he encountered on each job and replicating some to add to his product line. At times, it took a bit of detective work to figure out how and why a craftsman in the 1500s made something a certain way and how to restore it.
Plummer also enjoyed the challenge of developing paints for his metalwork that he could guarantee for life and doing what some call impossible -- welding pewter and zinc.
Seven years ago, he moved to York County (his wife is from northern Maryland) and began working out of a nondescript building at the intersection of country roads in Glenville. It's now the headquarters for both Metallo Arts and Valley Tin Works, neither of which do much -- if any -- business in York County but have had customers as far away as Australia and the Middle East. Inside the large workshop, a handful of employees solder and paint and keep sheets of metal organized according to the pattern pressed into it.
In the center sits a showcase of Plummer's favorite pieces and what he guesses could be the world's most expensive range hood -- the front of a 1957 Chevy complete with working headlights, valued at $64,000 that he displayed at the International Kitchen and Bath Show. The lobby, Plummer's office ceiling, and even a bathroom wall are covered with the company's work.
A little more than three years ago, a kitchen designer friend asked him to make a temporary metal range hood for a customer who was waiting on a $30,000 one she had ordered. The woman liked Plummer's range hood so much she canceled the order.
And so a second business -- creating custom metal range hoods -- was born.
Now, Plummer has streamlined the process for making them, so customers can get one of his customized 12- or 14-gauge steel range hoods for about the same price as a plain stainless steel one. With thousands of color and pattern options, Plummer said, "Our biggest problem is getting people to make up their minds."
Tricia Dolcemascolo of Bergen County, N.J., saw a small ad for Valley Tin Works in a magazine last year and knew right away she wanted one of its back splashes in her kitchen. She planned to order the material and try to install it herself until she learned that Plummer would travel to her house and do it for her.
"It didn't cost much more, and it was worth it," she said. "He painted it all in my back yard and it was all installed in one day. He also custom-made a windowsill for me."
She said the pieces are the highlights of her kitchen renovation, and she gets tons of compliments on them.
"It's totally the 'wow' factor of my kitchen," she said. "It's so much nicer than granite and tile -- gorgeous and durable. I can wash and wipe it and nothing happens."
Amir Girgis of Diva de Provence custom stove company, refers customers who want range hoods to go with their stoves to Plummer. "He can do things and replicate the looks that our customers might want," he said.
"He is pretty unique in what he does. A lot of the other guys just build hoods, but Chris brings an artistic side to things that a lot of other companies don't have. He's more of an artist than a sheet-metal vendor."
In the late 1880s, tin ceilings gained popularity in North America as an affordable alternative to European plaster. They were traditionally painted white to give the appearance of hand-carved or molded plaster.
In the 1930s, tin ceilings began to disappear from American homes as metal went for the war effort. Now, they are seeing a resurgence in popularity.
Although called tin, such ceilings are usually made from chromium-plated steel or zinc.
Plummer, Valley Tin Works