Black iron is red hot. Ornamental wrought iron need not be relegated to the outside perimeter of a house, as a fence or gate. The black metal looks as much at home inside a modern 21st-century house as it does in an English Tudor.
The beauty of ironwork is that it can be as simple, or as ornate as you want, said Steve Austin of Austin Iron Works, whose website (austinironworks.com) showcases dozens of examples of iron in all styles of decor. Ironwork is a conspicuous way that lets a homeowner convey a sense of style and yet, has been one of the classic, constant elements in design through the centuries.
In the ancient world, it was the Hittites who, in modern-day Turkey, first created handcrafted wrought iron pieces. When America was first settled, iron was considered one of the most valuable resources of the Colonies. In 1585, a deposit of iron discovered by Sir Walter Raleighs expedition on Roanoke Island, provided the ore for many wrought iron pieces in early America.
Under the skillful hand of a blacksmith and the heat of a forge (a furnace that can reach temperatures up to 2,000-degrees), wrought iron can be cut, twisted, spiraled and bent.
Today, the term wrought iron is a bit of a misnomer; however, since steel, stainless steel and bronze are most often the metals of choice used to make ornate banisters, decorative gates, fireplace screens and other architectural details.
And yet, ironwork continues to forge its way inside homes. Austin, who has been in business for nearly 40 years custom-designing and constructing wrought iron pieces, said the ironwork needs to match the architecture of a home.
Although wrought iron pieces should be beautiful, the aesthetics should never compromise its function, he said. The wrought iron piece must first work in the space and serve its purpose.
Design motifs from other cultures, including Spanish, Russian, German and English influences, often can be seen in wrought iron pieces. Details such as arches, ellipses and circles found in a homes architecture can be mimicked in a wrought iron design, as well.
Austins favorite wrought iron designs incorporate influences from both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco design periods, which can include organic forms, such as flowers or butterflies, set in a geometric or repeating design.
Wrought iron pieces can be found from grand staircase handrails to decorative curtain rods, and Austin said there are pre-made pieces which come from overseas, including Mexico and Italy.
However, handmade pieces, constructed by artisan blacksmiths still appeal to homeowners who want the one-of-a-kind craftsmanship that is evident in wrought iron. Austin suggests people interested in custom-made wrought iron piece should first consult the Artist-Blacksmith Association of North America, or ABANA, for qualified referrals.
Because ornamental iron is custom-made by hand, most of the expense is in the labor. However, there are also price differences between materials that are used: Steel averages $1 per pound, stainless steel is around $5 per pound, while bronze costs $15 per pound. Customers can expect to pay at least $65 per linear-foot for a custom-designed staircase banister, Austin said
For people who want to accessorize with pre-made wrought iron pieces, expect to pay around $50 for a pair of quality candlestick holders. Wrought iron curtain rods are also popular and range from $200 to $1,000, depending on detail and ornamentation.
The metal used for wrought iron is fighting a losing battle with oxygen and rust never sleeps, especially with pieces that are kept outside. Black is the most durable and traditional finish color for wrought iron. The lighter the color of finish, the more likely rust spots will show through.
Depending on how wrought iron is constructed, it can give a home a more refined or rustic feel. Often, the wrought iron in a home is the finishing touch and is like jewelry to a home, Austin said. That touch of black can anchor a space and give it a look of sophistication.