At a Glance
30 full time
Importation of high-end ironwork
2011 Sales Growth
More than 10%
People love handcrafted goods, but though a segment of the American population is adept at making cookie-dough ornaments, piecing together license-plate wall hangings, and forming ceramic wind chimes, centuries-old skills such as hand-forging iron and casting bronze have become lost arts for most. While still popular in Europe and South America, the processes have given way in the United States to the cost benefits of assembly-line automation and outsourcing to places such as China. However, entrepreneur Jaime Kaplan and his company, Artesano Iron Works, are bringing the production of intricate metalwork back to American soil, and the small firm is slowly expanding because of its specialized niche.
In 1999, Kaplan, a Colombian native, had for more than 15 years been importing furniture handmade from reclaimed wood when an idea struck him. On a trip to Bogota, he realized the possibilities in showcasing and selling various artisans’ unique iron work in the United States himself. He came home and opened Artesano with a retail storefront in Philadelphia. Then, his friend, Ivan Roa, after seeing the beautiful products, became Kaplan’s partner, and they acquired an old warehouse in Philadelphia’s historic district.
“It was a big space in the style of a New York loft, with original brick walls; big, beautiful windows; and high ceilings, and we remodeled it and turned it into a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot showroom,” says Ivan’s brother Igor Roa, now the manager of Artesano.
Artesano started by selling wood and iron furniture, “but after a while people began asking, ‘Can you make a railing? Can you make a door?’” Igor says. Today, the company’s line includes furniture, railings, gates, fences, doors, balconies, lighting, accessories and art—as well as reclaimed wood furniture.
During the first year, Artesano used the warehouse as a showroom, with sales offices and a retail storefront. But the building itself was so beautiful that people began asking whether they could rent it out for private events. The company received so many requests that it opened a new showroom in the historic town of Wayne, Pennsylvania, part of the main line of Philadelphia, and it now uses the original studio entirely as a bookable event hall called Artesano Gallery. “The gallery also [still] showcases Artesano’s work, as all of the tables, chairs, railings, accessories, and wall art are made entirely by the hands of the firm’s artisans,” Igor says.
Now, from its new 5,000-square-foot showroom in Wayne, Artesano oversees its home décor and architectural division—which fashions railings, fences, gates, wall art, furniture, and accessories—and a hardware division—which makes smaller items, including door knobs, hooks, hinges, and fireplace screens. The firm has 30 full-time employees, including architects, graphic designers, marketers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, and painters. Each project, which is individually designed and handmade, takes anywhere from two to four months to produce depending on the size of the project.
Each project starts with a meeting with the homeowner, architect, or interior designer, where ideas are discussed and rough sketches are drawn. The approved design is then put into a CAD program, and blueprints are created. From there, production takes roughly 16 weeks. Most of the iron forging is done in either Colombia or the United States. The pieces are then shipped to the Philadelphia workshop, where assembling is done and finishes are applied. On occasion Artesano has outsourced to a local metallurgical company, King Architectural Metals, for materials, but for the most part everything is done by the business’s own staff.
A recent project the company is particularly proud of is an iron gate with two facing peacocks, built for a private residence in Philadelphia at the customer’s request. The gates are 18 feet long and 10 feet high. The peacocks, which themselves are about eight feet long, are done in intricate layers and multiple colors.
Artesano’s business is booming, and 2011 was its best year. Also, because of the number of clients Artesano is working with in New York, the company plans to open up a showroom in Manhattan in the near future. It hopes to eventually have a space on the West Coast as well, an area where it is already building a strong name for itself. ABQ