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Ironclad

July 22, 1990|Barbara Thornburg

VERDIGRIS COPPER was the designer metal of choice in the '80s, but wrought iron is fast becoming the most popular material of the '90s. Previously used for outdoor furniture and garden decoration, today's ironwork feels comfortable inside the house. Designers and sculptor-blacksmiths hail its versatility: There is almost no end to the items that can be cast or wrought. Iron can be polished to a mirror finish, soaked to create an instant aged-rust patina or, as with the delicate ornamental iron seen here, simply painted.

In this Pacific Palisades residence, Santa Monica-based designer Brian Murphy uses painted ironwork throughout the house. The chandeliers, newel post, banister, railing, decorative wall hanging, room divider and dining-room table have been fashioned from new or recycled materials. Murphy describes the effect as that of a Mexican wedding dress: layer upon layer of white, lacy iron.

A master of celebrating the everyday object--his work has included chairs made from old surfboards and wall sconces created from hula skirts--Murphy prefers old, discarded ironwork, much of it found in junk shops or purchased from ironmongers. Here, a window transom becomes a chandelier with Tivoli lights, and two window grates form a table-top (an aluminum baseball bat pinch-hits for one leg; other legs are free-form, hand-wrought steel). Ornamental panels from old gates are turned into the stairwell railing, and three fan-shaped exterior transom-window grates become an airy room divider and wall tapestry. The hands-on craftsman quality of today's ornamental iron, coupled with its eminently tactile quality, gives it a contemporary spirit that resonates with tradition.

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