Is It Rust Or Should We Now Call It Patina?

By Shawn Zuver,


I have a friend who bought a beat-up Model T truck a couple years ago and did a great job of bringing it back to running condition, as he’s done with other old autos. What's different about this one is that it doesn’t look as restored as his other projects. There are no bright colors or great graphics. In fact, he preserved the truck’s “barn-find” appearance by sealing the rust that covers nearly all of the metal surfaces.

It puzzled me at first that he would want to hang onto the rusty look, until I learned that he appreciates that the truck is nearly 100 years old and feels that it should be allowed to show its age. Since then, as I’ve watched a variety of car restoration shows that can be found across the TV cable landscape, I’ve seen that there’s a growing movement – at least here in the U.S. – to keep some old autos in their aged skins, rust and all.

And after having more than a year to get used to the idea, I’ve come to agree that it can be a good practice in cases where the sheet metal hasn’t rusted through and there are no significant dents. It’s actually kind of cool to see hints of the original paint color (big surprise - my friend’s Model T had been black) that have been taken over by the creep of reddish-rust that long ago became the dominant hue. If you’d park the truck in high grass, maybe next to a ramshackle barn, it’d look right at home...yet, it starts every time and may even run better than it did when it rolled off the assembly line. It’s really a perfect harmony of an old, weathered appearance and good mechanical operation.

As I hear the restoration experts on TV talk about encapsulating and preserving rust, they often throw around the word “patina” – a term that caught my attention and has given me a much better understanding of why antique car enthusiasts are willing to forgo a shiny, new paint job and instead allow a car to appear like it’s a rust-bucket. In fact, patina is now used loosely throughout the antiques industry to describe the aging of nearly any material.

In our industry, patina sticks closer to the traditional definition (a film of oxide, often green or grey, formed on the surface of a metal) that describes the aging of natural metals – a process that has been admired for centuries for its aesthetics on metals like copper, bronze and zinc. We all know many famous architectural landmarks that fit this description among countless worldwide examples on government buildings, college facilities, museums, homes and other structures. This aging process is so desirable that natural metals are increasingly-popular choices of architects and building owners, and it is often replicated on new metal roof and wall panels to provide an immediate appearance of patina when the product is installed.

In the world of architecture, patina is clearly a good thing. To say that the same desirable patina definition can be applied to the red rust on autos would have seemed like a stretch to most of us five or 10 years ago, and it probably would have been considered an abomination in decades before then.

But times change and so do opinions, which leads me to ask this: If a rusty old car can be considered a thing of beauty, can those same aesthetics be applied to decades-old metal roofing and wall panels that are showing red rust? If the rust process can be stopped and the structural integrity of the old panels hasn’t been compromised, I think there are some instances where it might be possible. And I’m betting that it’s already being done in some instances.

If you're interested in seeing some great examples of natural metals used in roofing, wall and rainware applications, check out dozens of projects in our Design Solutions section. For information on leading suppliers of natural metals for building projects, click here.

Shawn Zuver is editorial/content director for He has been covering the metal construction industry, including residential and non-residential construction, since 1985. To contact Shawn, email

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