Thursday, February 28, 2013

No.9 Appraising The Jewels of the House with Martin Grubman of P.E. Guerin

Who: Martin Grubman
What: P.E. Guerin - Custom Decorative Hardware
When: Since 1857
Where: Founded + Based in New York City
And Today Has Foundries + Showrooms Internationally

It's been said before that 'knowledge is power and convenience is costly.' A wise statement that holds true in everything from the food we eat to the car we buy; and where could this be more true than in the homes we live in? It's one thing to purchase the cheap products, materials or furniture we need to get us through the moment, but it's another to just get sucked into the cycle of purchasing more and more new throw-away's rather than saving, researching and educating ourselves on the best way to invest in the space we want to be in, that will last for the long run. Sure, change is inevitable, but truly thoughtful investments in the home are sure to not only enhance the personal experience of the space, but also it's monetary value. 

A P.E. Guerin Louis XIV hardware compilation.
We've spoken before about the assets of utilizing the truest of true Artisans when designing, drawing, decorating, and building a home/ building. What Artisans bring to the table in both the design process and the final product are both an enrichment in the literal value of a space, and the ability to enhance the artistic expression and personality in architecture and design. When it comes to the multifaceted world of artistic metalwork, it's been said many times that the decorative hardware is something of "the jewels of the house". And in no way could this be more tried and true than in the case of work made by P.E. Guerin, the oldest decorative hardware firm in the U.S. and last living and thriving traditional foundry in New York City.

Spanning 150+ years of existence and four generations, P.E. Guerin maintains every component of the traditional process of artisanal metalwork in decorative hardware, whose precedent example was set by its namesake and renowned talent, French immigrant Pierre Emmanuel Guerin, a pioneer in his craft. Many of Pierre Emmanuel's original work can still be found throughout New York City, and still in all it's luster and quality. So, despite the trends and culture of immediate gratification and now that rules so much of the consumer mindset today, this company has managed to stick to its guns in believing, to its core, that the production of something special that will last you for generations to come, should still be well thought out, intricately detailed and finished with expert precision.

A stellar example of Guerin's abilities, as seen in many top shelter publications today.
  "With the dumbing-down of society in this country, working standards and products become sub-par, and production is less formal;" says Martin Grubman, Vice President and Project Manager at P.E. Guerin, "maybe not by choice, but because we don't know any better anymore."  

Martin Grubman, who has been with P.E. Guerin for over 25 years now, has become a true advocate for the process and the product. 
Martin even noted that in common manufacturing of, say, bathroom hardware or faucetry today, there's been a mass decision somewhere along the line to attempt to alleviate skews and alter knob and lever creation (and their valves) so that each one goes a different direction. This is actually commonly practiced so as to have one less thing to do in production, saving manufacturers costs, but not necessarily creating a product that will last a lifetime. 
"We recently had a homeowner call us, who'd taken over an old family property in Pennsylvania, a house built in 1926, that had Guerin hardware in it," Martin notes, "They sent it to us to have us refinish the items and add a few new valves, then we sent it back to have it re-installed- it looked as incredible as ever. Actually, same thing also happened with an old hotel in San Francisco a few months back. It's all still immaculate."
It's impressive to say the least, and certainly no surprise Martin appreciated this moment in his work with Guerin. Having originally worked in the high-end building industry, Martin had seen a thing or two in the design + build process of high quality homes, and intimately understood the process when he met Andrew Ward, the fourth generation CEO and President of P.E. Guerin.    
A Louis XV Decorative Paumelle, gold-plated hinge
When he saw the difference in custom products versus mass produced products that were selected, ordered and installed in his work in building, he had come to know intimately that quality was far more important than quantity. When Andrew Ward mentioned he needed some help in his shop and studio, and Martin had gone in himself to see the process, he didn't hesitate to start working there part time, going in 3 days week. His work with Guerin quickly became of great interest, and not so long after he began working there full time, he felt right at home joining something of a family of artisans and craftspeople who had all also been with the company for multiple decades. 
Incredible detail on this tiny Lilypad + Dragonfly
"We'll take on someone new from time to time, and if they show aptitude in a certain part of the process, have them apprentice with one of our older artisans who's been with us a long time." Says Martin of the team. "But most of us have been here for decades." 
And P.E. Guerin, like many of the artisans we've spoken with, bring the process of design development and active collaboration to the table as they engage their designers, architects and homeowners in creating the perfect hardware for each and every project. But beyond being simply beautiful, nice 'things' used to decorate a space, they are both high-quality, functional assets, as much as they are a joy to look at, with products ranging from bathroom fittings and fixtures, to custom furniture and furniture hardware. And it's no wonder all of the products that come out of Guerin are meticulous and perfected, they are handled with care by highly trained, master craftspeople who are in fluid communication with one another (and have been for some time).

A photo of the original P.E. Guerin team in front of their [still current] home in
New York City's West Village. A copy of which still as it hangs in their office.
The four-floor building that houses each painstaking, hand-made step of P.E. Guerin's manufacturing and finishing process in New York City's quaint West Village, is also home to their headquarters and a majority of the company's history, having been their prime location since 1892. As you trot up the old wooden stairs you can almost imagine it as it was in decades past. Every nook and cranny of each floor has been carved out to create even the smallest station to customize their work. You can see exactly what this looks like when you take a tour at the famed foundry on Jane street [by appointment only], where clients, prospective clients, students and museum staff alike can call to try and arrange a tour of the shop / studio just for something of a peek into not only a rarely seen world of craftsmanship, but also a look back through time.
This custom Hippo faucetry goes from modeled mock up to priceless perfection.
We had the privilege of having Martin himself give us a tour of the facilities and the process from it's beginning stages all the way back down to the showroom. We couldn't possibly recapitulate all of the details accurately here (there are so many), but a few of our favorite moments certainly include seeing a live bronze pour, during which bronze that is heated to just below 2,000 degrees is poured into their meticulous moulds and cast into what will become someone's immaculate faucetry. The details the cast naturally emerges with are remarkable, and this is even before any of the other fine tuning to come. 

A Guerin Artisan Chases a custom doorknob in their New York Studio.
Jacqueline, one of Guerin's long time Master Artisans hammers away at a clients custom monogram detailed doorknobs.
Which brings us to our next favorite part of the tour- The Chasing. On the second floor of Guerin's long time home is a room of expert chasers- those who sit and hammer out the details (literally) of every last piece of hardware. Using any number of tools with any number of fine tips (imagine steel the shape of a pencil, and in place of a single point at the end, would be any number of small dots, lines, textures or patterns). Hammering these tips onto the flat surfaces and crevices of each product, a new piece of hardware is given remarkable detail and character. 

Some of Guerin's incredible history is sure to be tucked away in their archive.
These details are a result of P.E. Guerin's in-depth design development process, wherein mock-ups of finalized drawings are [often] first carved in wood to be sure scaling, measurements and details are all accurate and approved. If something looks like it could use a shift in design or detailing, Guerin could probably refer any designer to their archive of each and every detail they've cataloged or saved in their library (also something of a treasure to see). They keep some of their stock of wooden mock-ups and some of their precedent and research literature in the archive as well.

Each product may be of a different material, but can also be finished in a myriad of materials and styles. From buffing, polishing or brushing anything from bronze, nickel or pewter, P.E. Guerin informs on the best products for specific use as well as recommended maintenance and care (which is often quite simple). Each of these distinct differences and are part of a selection process that will still ensure a long lasting product, it's more about an educational component to the program, rather than a blind selection and purchase. And in line with the educational moment in P.E. Guerin's tour, Martin also always likes to laugh and quiz any visitors he may have, asking: 
"Do you know what the main difference between brass and bronze is?" Sometimes there are good guesses, but few know the answer: "Brass has more than 12% Zinc, Bronze has less than 12%..." Martin smiles.
A Louis XIV Doorknob with incredible detail.
Martin notes that while they are both Copper compounds, most people will refer to a product or material as Bronze because it sounds 'sexier' or more expensive, and they can charge more for it. Sure, you may note it's likely a yellower tone could indicate Brass and Bronze tends to be a bit redder, but this isn't always the case. For Martin, and P.E. Guerin, it's more about knowing exactly what you're using and how you want to use it, this will actually enhance the value and afford proper care instructions.

Having gotten to know so much more about the process of creating something magnificent that lasts, and also how open so many of these artisans and custom ornamental professionals are to informing their customers, it is a breath of fresh air to know we can get on board and learn as much or little as we like at any time. After all, investments take research, interest and a desire to learn (or even simply, to know what it is we're paying for, and why it may be a good or bad idea). And again, if we're seriously thinking about investing in our homes, what better place to start than with some of the details that top off and complete each space and will make them our own. 

But beyond all the wonderful new insights we've learned and the incredible work we've viewed by Guerin's artisans, if there's one thing Martin Grubman would like to leave us with it is also the reminder: 
"We do everything- Modern, Transitional, every period imaginable, Deco, Nouveau, (after all we did live through that period)... We don't soley specialize in 18th Century ornamentation." Martin speaks of the process, the stock and the custom abilities, "Some people don't realize how tactile it all is, what a treat it is to look at everyday when it's all said and done."
We can't argue with that. When we purchase our first property, we know exactly who to call for the hardware. We think it's well worth saving for.
A whimsical bathroom will get this Swan Basin set in Pewter and Gold.
A fantastic marine and nature inspired basin set from Guerin's recent "Whimsy" collection. 
A fantastic stepped set of Art Deco inspired hardware.
Martin Grubman still works and thrives at P.E. Guerin and can be contacted at their Jane Street offices for an appointment. P.E. Guerin has been seen and written on in a number of publications, including recent articles in Veranda, Hyland, Traditional Home, and many more. To learn more about them, you can visit their website at

1 comment:

  1. so informative...I love the history connected to their work - phenomenol care & quality.... Can you wear any of their designs?
    Thanks Alanna.