From the August/September 2009 Issue:

Solid Style

  • Writer: Janet Purcell

How to incorporate metalwork into your home design

Article Photo
enlarge | A stainless steel countertop and backsplash add a sleek, contemporary look to the more traditional style of cabinetry, says Bruce Berger, owner of Architectural Metal Concepts LLC in Ridgewood. The room evokes the warm feeling the homeowners wanted while still being durable, easy to clean, and long lasting. Courtesy of Architectural Metal Concepts
Boundaries between high technology and artistic vision in the field of metalwork are a thing of the past. If you’re planning your dream home or venturing upon a daring new path with your current décor, consider ironwork — or aluminum, copper, nickel, or bronze.

Fabricators can now create any design, from sleek contemporary to the intricacies of Old World style. You can achieve the look with prefabricated metals if you’re on a budget or turn to a company that employs artisans who hand-forge their products. And you can choose from a wide range of materials and colors, custom and standard.

“Off-the-shelf components can be integrated,” says Diana Lawler of Lawler Railing in Mine Hill, “but to look like it’s part of the original home takes a custom fabricator. The better aluminum fabrications can look like iron but have the advantage of not rusting.”

“And aluminum doesn’t need to be painted,” says Rob Blackman, sales manager of Carfaro Ornamental in Hamilton, which does no iron work and complies with standards of the Green Building Initiative, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of building practices that result in energy-efficient, healthier, and environmentally sustainable buildings. Carfaro’s aluminum products come in eight standard as well as custom colors that are applied electrostatically and baked on at high temperatures. The finishing process uses a self-contained, chrome-free pretreatment that produces no volatile organic compounds.

On the Edge

Today’s technology permeates every aspect of metalwork. Heidi Bravo of International Design & Manufacturing LLC in Linden, for instance, says her company uses a satellite-navigated digital measuring system. The company used the system — which creates a digital map that’s used as a template and then converted to 3-D autocad — to design an ornate guardrail at the Venetian Wedding Hall in Garfield. The guardrail comprises intricate ironwork with goldleaf applied to rosettes and leaves.

The system also accurately designs skeletal structures for steel staircases and spiral stairs, which are then dressed with stone or marble. Cutting-edge technology enables precision in installations such as the elliptical curve of a railing created by Brielle-based Newman Ironworks where there is no tolerance for defect, President Rick Newman says. But comparing cold-rolled items with hand-forged, Newman stresses that the latter has the beauty of small imperfections typical of something that is handmade.

He prefers ironwork because of its physical strength and endurance. “It stands the test of time,” he says. “It’s been around 2,000 years and is relatively unchanged in that period of time.”

The same goes for Michael Nestico of International Architectural Ironworks in Sparta, which does custom-designed, hand-forged iron and bronze work. “You can’t imitate it. You’re using real materials; you can’t fake that,” he says. “And every project is unusual. We just finished a home where the outside is extremely traditional and the inside is Art Nouveau; on another home we had to take off the roof to put in the rails. Custom is more expensive but not tremendously so. We do large-scale projects and manufacture quickly. Everything is done by hand, but in an assembly process.”

Benefits of Versatility

Because metal can be fashioned into any shape and combined with other material such as stone, its versatility is a plus, says Bruce Berger of Architectural Metal Concepts in Ridgewood. “You can have large areas with no seams. You can build around corners and make them dimensional,” he says. “Different metals can create different patinas. Copper and zinc are supposed to look aged. Scratches don’t create a problem. Stainless steel can be sanitized and is hygienic. And copper, in its untreated state, is also anti-bacterial — you just have to clean it daily.”

Berger says high-end metals are competitive with high-end marble and granite. “Granite and marble, however, are dependent on a sealer because they’re porous,” he says. “Metal is impervious.”

He stresses the importance of dealing with a professional. “Pay attention to detail and know what to expect,” he adds.

Janet Purcell
a regular contributor to Design NJ
writes from her home in Hopewell.