Copper doctor Brian James brings life back to historic building

Copper doctor Brian James brings life back to historic building
Brendan Rees

Bringing back the original beauty to the frontages of old buildings is a labour of love for copper specialist Brian James.

Known as the “copper doctor”, Mr James’ latest work involved restoring the magnificent copper of a 114-year-old Art Deco building at 119 A’Beckett St over a four-week period.

“I was approached by the builder [Roberts and Co] of the UNO development in A’Beckett St to restore the original shine to the 1910 frontage,” he said.

“I’m passionate about every project I do because it gives me an opportunity to restore character and heritage to a building.”

The A’Beckett St building’s street-front copper, which runs along the window’s ornate frame, had lost its lustre over the past century, leaving it tarnished and discoloured.

But through Mr James’ craftsmanship, the copper has been restored to its former glory.

The 1910-built building formerly housed a car dealership and a Harley Davidson showroom but is now a newly developed apartment building.

He said people who once walked past the fading façade, had marvelled in its renewed splendour as he went about his work.

“They just love the fact that they see it in a terrible state and then I beautify it and restore the shine,” he said.


It’s very fulfilling. I jump out of bed; I love the challenge.


Using no chemicals, Mr James does all his work by hand, spending hours cleaning, sanding, and polishing.

Mr James was a former communications worker but discovered his newfound passion five years ago when his daughter asked him to have a go at bringing the copper frame of her shopfront in Armadale back to life.

“I thought I never had any talent working with my hands,” he said.

“Suddenly I developed it and also it’s pretty hard work, it keeps you fit, and the other thing is you’re always out in the public and people stop and want to chat to you all the time so it’s a very social job.”

Today, he revitalises old heritage buildings and shopfronts in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

His next project will be restoring the copper element of the building at the corner of Franklin and Queen streets, which is home to a grand copper sculpture of the goddess Fortuna featuring feathered wings and heavy brows. • 


Caption: Brian James displays his copper restoration craftmanship at 119 A’Beckett St. Photo: Hanna Komissarova.

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