More than just a barrier.
Creation of a custom hand forged railing presents special challenges.
The market is dominated by 'cut and paste' assembly shops, who take standardized
factory made elements, made of modern mild steel, and weld them up into frameworks.
This is then called 'hand made wrought iron work' even though it is machine
produced and most certainly not made of antique wrought iron metal at all! One
of the most important factors which will dominate over any creative possibilities
are the current Ontario Building Codes, which have specific requirements on
size, shape, and materials on structural hand rails. (A short overview of some
of these requirements is available as a reference HERE.)
All of the past installations seen here most importantly show creative approaches
to these limits.
Maxwell & Reade House - Manitoulin Island
Spring 2009 - Fall 2010
A set of railings were required for this custom designed open concept home, winding from basement up to the second floor. This is a large project, involving the creation of over 20 individual panels and pieces. An overall concept was 'Sea to Shore to Sky', with individual segments using a progression of organic designs which integrate thoughout. Because of the duration and complexity of the project, considerable use of internet documentation and video was made over the life of the project. There is a separate detailed description.
Richards House - Toronto
Riverdale House - Toronto
I was contacted by a couple who owned a renovated early 1900's home on a quiet street a couple of blocks from the site of the old Riverdale Zoo in Toronto. The newly renovated front deck was of rich western cedar planking and beams, with the roof sheathing of copper sheet. The new extended deck line was cut away in a half circle to preserve a tree planted some years earlier. A primary concern was having a design that reflected the overall natural feeling that the other elements of the landscape and deck had established. Strict adherence to the building codes was less of an issue, but the adult owners did want the railings and handrails to be safe and sturdy. One important factor that had to be considered was maintaining the view from the large and low mounted front window across into the park on the other side of the street. On the technical end, one railing unit would have to be curved in a half circle to fit around the deck cut out for the tree. Also the hand rail on the left side as you face the house had to fit the irregular curvature of the stairs on that side.
The overall project required two stair rail sections, one straight and one
curved, each about 8 feet long. There were two flat panel sections, one five,
the other seven feet long. The large half circle was fashioned of two pieces,
a total measure around the curve was about nine feet. Using a series of thin
flat bars, but set on edge to the viewer, makes the uprights almost 'disappear'
optically from the inside window. Each upright retains its strength from the
2 inch width of the bar - so the thickness could be reduced to 3/16 inch. From
passers by in the street, the railing would be primarily viewed from an angle.
With the individual wide uprights spaced for the code required 3 3/4" inch
gaps, any angled view creates the impression of a solid wall of metal.
For this project I created a detailed photo essay of the work
as it progressed, from initial concept to finished installation.
'Yates House' is an 1800's squared log home that had been extensively renovated to an open concept plan which left the beams and much of the original heavy timbers exposed. Like many of the buildings of this era, the interior was relatively small, so the owner did not want the stair and balcony railings to over power the space.
I had done a set of exterior plant boxes for the first house Lisa had owned in this small village north of Orangeville. She had acquired a set of antique stain glass panels, and wanted a relatively simple framing that would allow these re-finished pieces to become the major decorative element. The upper curves were kept fairly simple so as not to overpower the lines from the simple leading of the stained glass.
For the run of stairs from basement level to ground, then a second run ground to second floor, only a simple tubular hand rail was requested (outside of code at the owner's responsibility). Knowing of the customers love of Celtic art, and having the width of the original hand hewn beams to mount against, the mounts for the hand rail could be quite elaborate. Thick flat bar was drawn, folded and contoured into a set of reversal curves suggested by those common in Celtic Iron Age bronze artifacts. To accent the historic aspects of the house, the metal was finished with satin finish varithane. This protects the surfaces but allows the variations in colour and texture produced by the forging process to remain visible.
'Pease House' is an 1900's small frame construction home in the East Beaches area of Scarborough. Originally these small homes were built and owned by working class families. The neighbourhood has a range of styles and ages of houses, all fairly small, set closely together with small yards and fairly close to the street. The whole area is going through a real upswing over the last decade, with younger couples and new families purchasing what are inexpensive homes - for Toronto anyway! Almost every house is undergoing renovation work of some kind.
The owners here were no exception. Considerable work had already been done inside. The sagging porch had been removed and replaced inside the original frame space. The deck was close to ground level, with only two steps up from the walk. The customer wanted to set off his front yard, and provide a distinctive focus to what was a fairly plain house.
Right from the start, one factor made a truly original design possible. Because of the low height of the deck, the restrictive Ontario Building Code provisions did NOT APPLY. The project required two side panels at about six feet long plus two front panels, one at three feet and one at eight feet. Working inside a fairly conservative budget, it was decided to reduce the number of individual support elements, but then to increase the complexity of each support. (Instead of many simple uprights, there would be few complex ones.) This allowed for much more aggressive forging to be used when creating the elements. The customer had liked the sweeping curves they had seen in other work I had created. A number of potential designs were generated as thumb nails, with one based on a tubing upright and tendrils topped with a wide flat handrail finally chosen. The finish was a semi-gloss paint (chosen for durability).
I think the result was excellent. The vine like lines of the uprights and the light airy design is accented by the natural plantings in the front garden. The customer was quite pleased with how the new railing attracted attention. In fact at least six passers by commented on how good the railing looked - just in the couple of hours we took to install the pieces!
'Binkert & Wiltse House' is a 1920's 'cottage style' home in the Avenue Rd / St Clair area of Toronto. Originally the narrow side lane way was built to accommodate carriages, increasingly the size of modern automobiles was making travel down the shared lane difficult. The home owner decided to replace the original wide brick balcony edging. Here the project was to create both railings and support beams for a side entrance porch, with the total width of the new elements to be no more than 4". Consultation with the Client generated about a dozen potential designs for the balustrades. The final design used heavy gauge steel tubing for both structural strength and visual weight. This material would be forged to create an overall 'organic' feel to the completed metalwork. It was also necessary to ensure the completed stair and balcony railing sections would conform to local building codes.
The first picture shows the overall project after installation, viewed from the rear. The original brickwork and concrete entry steps have been replaced with the natural stone facing seen here. The hand rails are formed from 1 1/2" tube, flattened or drawn to wrapped tendrils. Individual balustrades are formed from 1" dia. tube with a flattened section which was then twisted.
Second is the original layout drawing for the project. As can be seen, the individual panels are more or less symmetrical right to left. At the same time, the railing elements are formed into sweeping curves. The overall effect is natural rather than mechanical. The main supports for the porch were formed of 1/4" side wall tube - more strength than is required. (Its better to be 'sure than sorry'!). The individual panels actually bolted into place on to the uprights once these had been positioned. Although the irregularly of the stone curb caused some problems during installation, this use of five separate elements made handling the pieces a lot easier. (Each panel was about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, each element weighed about 150 lbs.
The final two images show closer views of the completed metalwork. On the detail of the lower stair rail, the way the tube has been flattened at curved sections can be seen. The twists on the balustrades was random in direction, and moved along the straight length. Taken together, this caused the twists to form a line that ran in a sweeping curve over the entire assembly, with twist location and directions symmetrical right to left.
The last detail shows the small panels that were attached to the upper supports and the porch roof. Again the lines of the four triangular panels were similar, but not identical to each other. These were also not 'flat' but intertwined in a slight three dimensional sweep. Each panel was formed of a pair of 1/2" dia. round rods, which mounted into one of two twining 'vines' of 5/8 " tube that was formed around the main support. The use of these small elements allows the design to flow at the upper end, and also enhances the organic appearance of the entire installation.
A number of pieces were created for the Pervan House, located on Lake Rousseau. The building was a large one made of round logs - over 5000 sq. ft. I was originally contacted about providing a large candelabra. Eventually the project was expanded to include a circular stair case plus balcony and stair railings. (The photographs are during the initial installation, so do not sometimes give the full impact of the pieces.)