Photography: J. Barclay
Something about a wrought iron gate gives a sense of old world-ness even if a property is not historic. Thinking about the traditional craftsmanship that has now been mechanized, it is a special art of forged metal into beautiful mosaics and timeless patterns for walkways, porches, spindles and many other uses. To me the black iron is juxtaposed best against greenery and flowers, letting vegetation and bushes act as a natural wall or fence against them, or perhaps they may be a trellis for organic growth. Wrought iron is also a beautiful transition in material from masonry and stone, providing an intricacy of delicate pattern against a structure. Other colors can be just as beautiful to match colors of the structure itself, match interiors or allow for verdigris over time.
True wrought iron has withstood time and some historic properties bear beautiful entry-ways and terraces with original ironwork that is hundreds of years old. The original compounds of true iron versus steel are what have made them so durable. Steel became in vogue later due to exorbitant costs of iron and beautiful pieces are made today using steel elements however they do not retain their properties as their “iron-clad” counterparts and will fade and rust without treatment.
My stance on historic preservation is the same for the salvage of true ironwork as it is for original masonry, millwork, plaster and hardware. It is worth saving, searching for and re-using. The effort is cumbersome, inconvenient and arguably, expensive. But the beauty and craftsmanship is unmistakable and if salvaged and preserved well, it will never need to be replaced so I argue the value yield outweighs the painstaking efforts and the initial cost. Plus, the material is true.
With that said, if you choose to salvage ironwork, besides the general searching in your area on Ebay or Craigslist, below are a few resources to start and possibly end with, depending on your needs for a project. Whether massive pieces for an entire fence or staircase are needed or just a small gate or window covering, you should be able to get on the right track with these resources to find what you need.
- Olde Good Things has a very large collection of architectural elements, hardware and various pieces of metal work.
- Columbus Architectural Salvage has a great collection of random parts and accessories.
- Philadelphia Salvage Co. is an amazing retail and design-build organization that will assist with large commercial projects as well as residential projects to ensure historical integrity in and around greater Philadelphia. They may serve as great advisors for your project and can help you with reclaimed materials from their own inventory.
- Oley Valley Architectural Antiques, Inc. has a beautiful inventory of very large pieces such as driveway gates and large fence sections.
- Chairish has a great eclectic collection of vintage metal work, including abstract mid–century modern iron gates and doors.
Alternatively, if you’d rather not salvage and are opting to go for the historic look but have it custom made, start your shopping experience with Compass Iron Works. This is a family-owned business of skilled artisans and iron historians. They provide a great education about metalwork and they have a beautiful catalog of work they’ve done since they started in 1998, including very difficult replications.
Perusing these sites is fun even if you don’t have a current project. The differences in color choices, scroll-work designs, from massive and heavy to small and delicate pieces is mesmerizing. It’s amazing to realize how important it has been to collect such work and how extensive some inventories truly are. The art of iron work lives on!