the art of metal fabrication

March 2017 Newsletter

the shiny stuff: architectural metalwork

To design aficionados, exquisite metal details are like icing on the cake, or more appropriately accessories for an outfit.  From the maximalist bronze canopy in St. Peter's to a minimalist steel garden gate, beautifully crafted metal elements project strength, durability, and above all an aura of dignity and glamour. Works of metal are also extremely diverse: depending on the process and surface treatment, they can look rough and industrial, or smooth and elegant. To learn more about this important craft, we visit our favorite local collaborator Henry DeFauw, founder and lead designer of a custom metalwork studio in Berkeley.

design studio and workshop all in one

Tucked under the elevated segment of University Avenue, DeFauw Design+Fabrication is housed in a cavernous warehouse dated from the 1920's. In the beginning of our tour, Henry proudly shows off his two vertical bend saws and a large panel saw for ripping aluminum. He explains that the tools he has acquired cost upward of one million dollars, but they are still not enough to accomplish everything he wants to do. Basically, what he does here are fine architectural and furniture metalwork: he often purchases large sheets of materials made in other factories, and he and his team do the cutting, machining, welding, and polishing in order to create custom pieces. Case in point: he is consulting with his fabricators on the stainless steel panels they received and are just about to clip and weld them together to make a custom range hood. Part Raf Simons, part production manager, Henry is both exacting and practical. Here, he is trying to figure out if a light scuff mark can be touched up enough so it does not register to the eye at the specific height and light condition.

seamless collaboration: how a fire pit takes shape

In this recently completed patio for a San Francisco residence, Henry worked closely with the bL designers in refining and fabricating a fire pit which is the centerpiece of the urban outdoor space. Starting with a concept sketch and an outline of dimensions provided by building Lab, Henry and the DeFauw team gave input on how best to achieve the desired look, build to last, and minimize weather erosion. After some back and forth, they presented a proposal to explain how they were going to build it and how much it would cost. After signing the contract, the DeFauw team would work out a set of approval drawings. Then finally, they would complete a set of production drawings for their fabricators.

In this project, blackened stainless steel (with patina created by an acid process) was used to achieve that industrial chic appearance of hot rolled steel minus the rust. Henry's team went to the site to make exact measurement: using a laser level to plot the topography. Four steel laser cut plates that conform perfectly with the contour of the concrete patio were ordered from another factory. Then, the edges were bevelled and the plates were welded together to form a single perfect unit.

about the raw materials

Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour is the back of the shop where metal pieces of all kinds are stored. We learn that there are several main types of ferrous and non-ferrous alloys most often used in architectural metalwork:
  • Ferrous
  1. Mild Steel (or carbon steel) contains less than 2% carbon. It is the largest part of steel production with a vast range of applications. It is strong and easy to weld but has poor weather resistance. Cannot be used outdoor unless it is coated. Hot Rolling is the milling process in which steel is rolled at high temperature when it can be formed and shaped easily. Cold Rolling is the secondary process of rolling hot rolled steel at room temperature. Cold rolled steel has superior dimensional tolerance and straightness, and smoother surface finish.
  2. Stainless Steel contains very little carbon, a minimum of 10.5% chromium, and small percentages of other elements such as nickel, to improve its mechanical and chemical properties. Stain, corrosion, and rust resistant. Can also be surface treated to suit different environments.
  • Non-ferrous
  1. Aluminum is made from refining bauxite and combining with metals such as magnesium and non-metals such as silicon. Relatively light weight, ductile, and malleable, and has excellent corrosion resistance.
  2. Bronze contains copper, tin, aluminum, and other trace elements.
  3. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.
At the conclusion of our tour, we are definitely looking forward to working with the DeFauw team again in the near future.

designer and maker

Henry DeFauw has been creating architectural and furniture metalwork for 21 years. As the principal of DeFauw Design & Fabrication (founded in 2003), he strives for beauty and flawless function in the execution of his firm’s designs and the creations of architects and designers with the use of metal, wood, glass, stone, concrete and more. His shop fabricates all metalwork and relies on an extensive network of vendors and craftspeople for other materials and fabrications. Growing up in Michigan, he learned woodworking in his father’s woodshop, and went on to earn a BA in commercial illustration and graphic design at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies. Before delving into metal design and fabrication in 1996, he had worked as a commercial illustrator, created props and sets in the film industry, shown sculpture in the United States and Europe, and performed architectural restoration. 
Photo captions  
Profile image: Fire pit in the back patio (blackened stainless steel)
1. Henry DeFauw with fabricators Dan Hamilton and Willem Evett-Miller   2. Hot rolled 10 gauge mild steel, usually made as a large coil, then cut and sold as 4'X8' or 5'X10' sheets. 
3. Center group: cold rolled and hot rolled pipes and tubes, cold rolled bars, and cold rolled round bar (solid)   4. Bar and tube (tiger stripe 954 alloy aluminum bronze), square tube (silicon bronze)
5. Conceptual sketch by building Lab    6. Drawing with dimensions by building Lab
7. Detailed production drawing by DeFauw   8. In progress: Steel fire pit with aluminum frame to support the wood bench   9. Ready for al fresco entertaining   10. View of patio from the main level terrace.   11. Henry DeFauw with draftsperson, designer, and estimator Rachel Cloyd
Presentation photos by Scott Hargis Photography
Many thanks to the Houzz community for voting us Best of Houzz for Design 2017!

a bold art piece sets the tone for a master bath

Click here to read an article on Remodeling Magazine.

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