Thursday, August 25, 2016

Industrial Interior Design 101

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Industrial interior design is defined by the raw exposure of a building's inner-workings. Pipes, ventilation ducts, wood beams, concrete, and brick typify this design trend. For those bold enough to live in vast, echoing spaces among hard, dark surfaces, industrial design can be a creative cathartic outlet. For those who enjoy cozier, more cushy living, this trend can seem a bit cold and imposing.

Image Credit, Impressive Interior Design

If you like industrial interior design, but not sure if you can pull it off? Don't fret, because industrial interior design has a lot to offer. Not only can marry two design aesthetics seamlessly, it can also be applied to just about any living space. Furniture is the easiest way to add a touch of industrial interest to any living space.
Antique hardwood cabinets are great way to add industrial
warmth to any space
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

Antique industrial cabinets are an easy way to add a touch of industrial flare to any room. Look for something made of hardwood that can blend easily with existing furnishings. Wood cabinets are also a great way to inject warmth to an otherwise cold design style.

Industrial carts make the perfect coffee table
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

Get your hands on an interesting industrial cart. By positioning this as a coffee table in your living room, you can add interest to the room while also providing a functional place to put your cup of joe.

A repurposed industrial item makes a great light fixture
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

Repurposing something old into a funky light fixture is not only fun, but also a great way to get bare metal or even wood to look chic. The light fixture pictured here was crafted out of an old metal chimney sweep!

Experiment with found industrial objects and
find a new, unexpected, and fun way to reuse it
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

Don't be afraid to break the rules! Using found industrial objects is a creative way to express your love for the design trend without committing to a room entirely to the style.

Industrial interior design may seem like a cold, harsh trend, but with a little imagination and willingness to break the rules, even those who love comfy living can inject a bit of industrial interest into their favorite spaces.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Detroit's Mythical Mayan-Themed Fisher Theatre

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Affectionately called, "Detroit's largest art object," the Fisher Building has drawn architecture fanatics to its doors since 1928. Built by Frederick and Charles Fisher (a.k.a. the "Fisher Brothers" founders of the Fisher Body Company in 1908),  this monumental structure was to rival the planned Rockefeller Center in New York. The Fisher Brothers hired Detroit-based architect Albert Kahn to design the structure. Kahn was given a budget of $35 million dollars to build a majestic building worthy of the Detroit skyline, sparing no expense. While Kahn preferred to stay on budget, he selected over 40 different types of marble for the lobby, over 400 tons of bronze for decoration, and sub-contracted artists including Hungarian artist Geza Maroti to design frescoes, and other designers for the creation of a 4,000 seat Mayan-themed theater.

Interior of the original "Mayan Theatre."
Image credit, Andrew Schneider, Curbed Detroit
The Fisher Theatre was the crown jewel to an already breathtaking building. Designed by Chicago-based architects Anker S. Graven and Arthur G. Mayger, the design for the theatre was selected by Kahn through competition. Graven and Mayger wanted to design something different from popular design trends of the time and embraced the motifs of ancient Mayan culture for their theatre. Their unique, over-the-top design was meant to invite a sense of wonder and enjoyment for theatre-goers which included gold and ivory accents, banana trees, and even macaws to greet guests in the lobby.

Fisher Theatre post-renovation. Image credit
By 1961, the charm of the Mayan-themed theatre seemed to wane as the space age ushered in streamline, futuristic, and minimalist designs, ultimately leading to the theatre's remodel that removed the original Mayan motifs.

For many Detroiters, the "Mayan Theatre" as it has often been called, has lived on as a sort of urban legend. While many locals have heard stories of the theatre's past life, it's hard to believe that a Mayan Temple once graced the corner of Second Avenue and Grand Boulevard. And, if belief wasn't enough, until only recently have few photographs survived showing the theatre's former glory.

Thank goodness for writer/contributor Andrew Schneider of Curbed Detroit, an online blog dedicated to sharing the stories of Detroit's homes, neighborhoods, and architecture. Schneider recently stumbled upon a series of original photographs of the Fisher Theatre shortly after its completion in the basement of a Chicagoland home. His find of 32 photographs show the true beauty of the so-called, "Mayan Theatre." These photographs are a rare look at the Graven and Mayger theatre that so many of us locals have tried to get our hands on for years - proving that this urban legend really did exist in the heart of The D.

View of the 4,000 seat "Mayan Theatre." Image credit, Andrew Schneider, Curbed Detroit

      Curbed Detroit
      Detroit Free Press
      Wikipedia: National Register of Historic Places Listings in Detroit

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Our Bronze, Silver, and Gold Picks for Antique Lighting, Furniture, and Stained Glass

By Gretchen Sawatzki

In the spirit of the 2016 Summer Olympic games it only seemed fitting to present our bronze, silver, and gold picks for antique lighting, furniture, and stained glass categories. These Olympic-sized picks demonstrate the best in quality, manufacture, and design.

Our bronze antique lighting pick has it all, from its Beaux Arts design aesthetic, crisp brass casting, and decorative elements to its antique hand-blown shades. This light fixture from the early 1900s is well-deserving of its bronze medal status.

Our silver antique lighting pick is a big contender, with it's egg and dart pattern, cartouches, and antique gold aurene shades, it's hard to imagine that this light fixture didn't meet our gold standard.

And, finally our gold medal goes to this beautiful wrought and hammered bronze antique light fixture from none other than Tiffany! With over 50 stained glass pieces per panel, this small fixture packs a design punch worthy of gold.

The bronze winner in the antique furniture category goes to this antique Tudor style marble side table. Although petite in size, this table offers beautifully detailed carvings and a exquisite octagonal shape as stately as bronze itself.

Our silver antique furniture pick is as unique as it is hearty. With its solid rectilinear design and original leather upholstery, this armchair is a stunning and formidable contender that works hard for its silver medal status.

Lastly, our gold medal winner: our antique Chinese altar from 1850 is a beast of beauty and style. From its polychromed surface details to strong stance, this pick deserves nothing short of gold!

The stained glass winners demonstrate some of the best in the world, even our bronze pick. This beveled, stained, and jeweled glass beauty shows grace in form and execution.

The angelic imagery and gorgeous glow of our silver medalist combines color and artistry to create a one-of-a-kind antique stained glass window meant for grandeur.

And, finally the winner of the gold medal in our stained glass window category goes to the oversized painted and fired stained glass window depicting the wedding of Henry V of England and Catherine de Valois of France. This window symbolizes the coming together of two nations and signs of good will - all amazing qualities that embody the spirit of gold!

For more Olympic-sized picks check out our Pinterest boards.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Electric Lighting and the Mail-Order Industry

By Gretchen Sawatzki
Bare bulb light fixture from ca. 1935.
Image by Hannah Manning via Materials Unlimited

As early as 1802, inventors worked to create an effective electric light, and by the 1880s the light bulb was perfected. Inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were also in a race to provide electricity to every home in every major city in the United States.

By the turn of century, gas powered lights gave way to electric and wealthy individuals capitalized on the luxury of electric light bulb. To demonstrate their wealth, many middle and upper-class families of the era purchased bare bulb light fixtures for their homes. This visual cue told all visitors of the families' modern sensibility and affluence.

In cities where the electric light bulb was becoming more commonplace, gas fixtures were quickly phased out. Although 90% of the population had access to electricity by the 1930s, 10% of the population located in rural areas still lacked the utility. In these areas gas fixtures were a necessity. The mail-order catalog industry capitalized on the lighting needs of metropolitan and rural families alike. Companies like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward offered gas fixtures, combination gas and electric fixtures, and the ever-coveted electric bare bulb fixture.

Combination gas and electric fixtures from the Sears and Roebuck mail-ordercatalog circa 1910.

In 1936 the United States government passed the Rural Electrification Act as a part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal which allowed the government to collaborate with private utility companies to supply electricity to isolated farmsteads. For many rural farmers the government initiative and the mail-order industry were the only links to both electricity and a supply of affordable lighting. By purchasing through a catalog company, farmers could order the fixture they needed and have it sent via rail line to rural post offices nationwide. By the post World War II era, electricity had reached all corners of the country with help of not only the U.S. government but also the mail-order industry.

   National Park Service
   The History Rat

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Photo Friday: Repurposed Industrial Furniture

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Thinking green is not only trendy, but also a great way to repurpose old industrial furniture or equipment. In manufacturing cities like Detroit, Michigan, industrial buildings are repurposed into affordable lofts, and steel furniture and mechanical parts are front and center in interior design.

This former "De Walt" industrial cabinet base has given new life as a maple butchers block. By removing the old cabinet and retrofitting a wood slab, this old steel frame transformed into a fully-functional and trend-worthy piece of furniture fit for any home.

Interested in industrial design for your home? Browse our inventory of industrial items today.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Knowing the Difference: Brass vs. Bronze

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Brass furniture knobs.
Image by Hannah Manning via
Materials Unlimited
Brass and bronze are often confused due to their similar look, but these two metals are quite different. Here's your quick guide to knowing the difference!

Brass is commonly found in all types of hardware including door knobs and furniture pulls. It is hard and has a bright yellow coloration that can darken and age over time. Its weight is lighter than bronze and is non-magnetic.

- Comprised of approximately 65% copper and 35% zinc
- Hard, but easily corrosive
- Light weight
- Bright yellow-gold in color
- Non-ferrous (non-magnetic)

Bronze is commonly found in all types of decorative items including hardware, light fixtures, candelabras, statuary and more. It is also hard and has a rose gold-like coloration that can darken over time. Bronze is also known for its greenish-blue patina that comes with its age. It is very heavy and is also non-magnetic.

- Comprised of approximately 80% copper, 10% tin, and 10% mixed metal
- Very hard, not very corrosive
- Heavy
- Yellow in color with rose undertones
- Non-ferrous (non-magnetic)

Bronze door knob set with greenish-blue patina. Image by Hannah Manning via Materials Unlimited


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Before and After: Victorian Door

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Before restoration
Image by
Hannah Manning via
Materials Unlimited
Here's one of our latest "Before and After" projects from our workshop. This antique Victorian era door with original oval window was transformed from rugged to ravishing!

First, we stripped the door down to its original raw wood. Next, we plugged the deadbolt hole on the lock stile using a matching species of wood, and the refinished the surface of the door.

To finish it off, we restored and refinished the hardware to be fully functional!

Interested in having a door restored for your home? Don't go to the big box store. We have a range of services to fit your custom project needs.

 Visit our website to learn more about our custom services.

After restoration. Image by J. Noss.