NEW YORK – Hand-wrought iron farmyard and kitchen tools, worked by blacksmiths over fiery forges, were unadorned until the early 1800s. As the craft evolved, however, wooden cupboards, dowry chests, sideboards and wardrobes were secured with increasingly ornate iron hinges, keys and locks. Realizing that the functional can also be beautiful, blacksmiths ran with the notion, producing all sorts of decorative wonders from wrought iron.
At a time when homes were heated by fire, sturdy, wrought-iron firedogs (also known as andirons) prevented crackling logs from tumbling out of the hearth and onto the floor. Wrought-iron fire screens, available in a variety of dense spiraled, floral or lattice-like designs, restrained embers from leaping to the carpet beyond and mitigated the intense heat of the flames. Today, wrought-iron fire screens have been repurposed as impressive room dividers. Many such gilded gaudies have survived into an era in which fireplaces are no longer necessary, but no one wants to relegate them to the trash heap. Edgar Brandt’s dramatic Paon fire screen, featuring a perched peacock amid open coils and leaf-work, sold for €34,000 ($35,598) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen GmbH in Munich, Germany, proving that demand persists in the 21st century for exquisite works of wrought iron.
Many contemporary households have incorporated unique, hand-wrought iron pieces as decorative accents. Entranceways are fine settings for slender pedestal tables, broad table-top consoles supported by wall-set brackets, and massive painted wrought-iron hall racks. Wall-mounted clocks, luxurious chandeliers, hanging pendant lamps, and sets of flowery, wall-mounted, scroll-backed sconce-type lanterns with rippled pagoda tops also make striking interior statements.
Cartouche-like designs also embellish wrought-iron pricket sticks, music stands, door transoms, and exclusive pieces of furniture, such as Oscar Bach’s curved bench, which has decorative panels depicting dolphins flanked by Poseidon. Stylized designs often adorn architectural wrought-iron exterior items such as balcony railings, window grilles and driveway gates.
Gardens typically evoke visions of sweeping landscapes and lush flower beds, but wrought-iron architectural elements can, and do, enhance their already powerful visual appeal. A favorite choice for augmenting gardens is monumental garden gates, especially those commissioned for particular landowners or estates before the turn of the previous century. Such works range from gates rendered with narrow, stately bars topped by twisted-spike, spearhead, or fleur-de-lis decorative finials to almost absurdly elaborate gilded, multi-panel, sculptural geometrics festooned with scrolls or florals.
Narrow or low wrought-iron gates are eminently functional. They can lead to hidden pathways, divide flower beds or support climbing vines or rambling roses. Graceful garden arbors, arched or rounded, free-standing or fenced, may do the same. Wrought-iron gazebos – shaded, open-air grottos gracing spacious vistas – offer solitude and backdrops for romantic encounters. Also, strategically-placed wrought iron garden panels can offer outdoor privacy.
Durable wrought-iron patio tables, love seats, benches, chairs and other furnishings – heavy enough to withstand wind and rain, but light enough to be easily rearranged – help create, define and improve outdoor living spaces. Though detail-rich designs seem to complement traditional settings and sleeker contemporary styles suit modern arrangements, both varieties lend themselves to mixing and matching. All can be painted in a rainbow of shades and seamlessly paired with upholstered pillows, permitting still more imaginative options for shaping a personal landscape.
Small wrought-iron accents can add beauty and intrigue to a garden. Rustic oak-and-wrought iron wheelbarrows or genuine ship anchors, for example, convert nicely to lawn ornaments. Flower carts, planters or hanging baskets cascading with blooms look spectacular placed near wrought-iron weathervanes or pedestals bearing classic, Greek-style pierced iron armillary spheres. Wrought-iron garden lanterns add a welcome sense of whimsy, as do modernistic painted plant or bird sculptures, iron-legged birdbaths, and hanging antique wrought-iron cages that once might have contained flocks of brightly-hued chattering parrots.
Wrought-iron creations – be they bold, delicate, or minimalistic – add charm and ambiance to any setting, both indoors and out.