“Like No Other™”
The subject of today’s blog is one of the more intriguing I have encountered, in part because of their products, in larger part because of the thinking that has produced them, both contemporary and historic. The products I want to talk about are being made today, but those who launched the company were very much thinking in terms of what has gone before, hence their name, Hardware Renaissance. Any renaissance is a rebirth, a repeat, a harkening back to what once was, both in the work itself and in the thinking that creates that work. Interestingly enough, it was a group of thinkers who launched a movement well over a century ago that continues to have a profound influence on those who are looking for something more significant to do with their lives than simply showing up every morning at something that is little more than “just a job.”
The Arts and Crafts Movement around the turn of the Twentieth Century was one of the more interesting and influential movements that absolutely ever was, not only for the effect it had during its first run (1880-1910) but for the revival of it which has now been going on longer than the original movement did! The basic concepts came from a handful of Englishmen who railed against the machine around the end of the Nineteenth Century. Viewed from our ultra-modern age, it seems strange to think machine-made goods should have been an issue in what we now view as a much simpler time, but it was very much an issue then, as it is now, and surely will be forevermore which is why that movement yet lives.
I won’t pretend to be privy to the motivations of Anagha Dandekar, the co-founder and president of Hardware Renaissance, but it is clear that she shares a lot of the philosophy of those who were so influential in that movement. These days we tend to think only of the end product, as opposed to the methods used to achieve those ends, but the two are inseparable, as John Ruskin and William Morris pointed out at the time. It’s easier to discuss their thinking if I deal with specifics for a moment.
I had a project going when I read Hardware Renaissance’s press release, and as I sit down some weeks later to write this, that project is still in progress. The base cabinets are almost finished, the drawers just now getting their finishing touches, but I don’t want to talk about the work. I want to talk about the feeling that’s gone into it because how one feels about what one does all day was integral to the Arts and Crafts Movement, as it is to contemporary companies like Hardware Renaissance.
Ours is an age in which just about anything can be made in a factory. I have seen CNC routers (computer controlled cutting machines) that can take an entire four-feet-by-eight-feet sheet of Melamine and over the course of about ten minutes drill all the necessary holes for European-style cabinet boxes and then cut the sheet itself into some eight or ten component parts. A rather bored-looking kid was assembling them with Confirmat Screws, one box every ten or fifteen minutes. I’m told that all the cabinet box parts for an entire kitchen could be cut in two or three hours. You can also get factory-made drawer boxes, and factory-made drawer fronts and doors. All one really needs to be a cabinetmaker these days is a screwdriver and a free afternoon. But to tell you the truth if that’s how I’m going to work, I’d rather drive a bus.
Not to put too fine a point on this, there is a decided difference between the mass-made and the one-made. Passion. I didn’t slip drawer fronts out of a cardboard box and attach them to the drawer boxes I’d also removed from a cardboard box. Both of them were from materials I selected myself, planed, cut, joined, shaped, and sanded. And the more of it I do, the more I want to do, because it is a process that feeds on itself in some respects. Pride begets fine workmanship begets pride in the work just done begets even more effort on the next phase of the project, the whole of it rising up like a Jacob’s Ladder.
There is not a product being made these days that would not benefit from that kind of passion, and we especially see that in what—from the outside looking in—is surely a purely prosaic product: door knobs! And I know what you’re thinking. These aren’t door knobs; they’re masterpieces! Just so. I think it’s worthwhile to show how they got there.
Anagha Dandekar was born in India and came to the US to get an MBA. Her first thought was to join the family business, but as time went by she found herself wanting to form a company of her own. At first it was selling Indian art, but she took an abrupt turn when she met David Coe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mr. Coe was making beautiful high-end, antique reproduction doors, the kind of door that fairly screams for hardware like that in these pictures. It was a synergy that proved to be overwhelming.
What was needed, they decided, was a company devoted to the making of fine hardware, but NOT just factory-made. They wanted to develop their own designs of course, but they also wanted to focus their attentions on individual artisans, not elaborate machines that simply stamp out a part. Their bronze pieces are made with a detailed sandcast method in small batches, which is followed by intensive hand chasing and cleaning, buffing, and polishing to refine the designs. It’s a process that makes it simplicity itself for them to customize any of those products. But it’s their iron hardware that takes them all the way back to what once was.
Unlike the many machine-made monstrosities now available in the marketplace, all of Hardware Renaissance’s iron hardware is made one item at a time from a steel rod or plate. The metal is heated to red hot in a forge and then shaped by hand. Both bronze and iron products have their finishes applied by hand, which makes the application of that finish, along with the chasing, cleaning, buffing, and other fairly routine processes considerably more than just a chore. Work that way and you’re much more an artist than a laborer because the final appearance is very much a result of your will.
All this handwork means that you can see the hands of him who made it in everything Hardware Renaissance puts in the marketplace because of the aura of excellence that permeates pretty much anything made by one who loves the work itself. These people don’t work under a spreading chestnut tree like the village blacksmith immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but the process is about the same, as is the integrity and workmanship. And the art? That is all theirs, and there’s nothing else like it.
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