Beardmore was founded in 1860, and its architectural ironmongery graced the grandest public buildings and finest homes in Britain and abroad. The brand is undergoing something of a revival, with an in-house team working on both historical and contemporary designs, as well as taking bespoke commissions, with products being made at Beardmore’s own foundry on the south coast. Clients include developers Candy & Candy, interior designers Nicholas Haslam and Nina Campbell, and architects SHH and Smallwood. Below, the company’s Theo Antoni offers some insights into how to successfully choose and specify ironmongery for a major project.
When do you like to get involved in a project?
We ideally like to get involved when the project budget’s been set. Once we’ve got all the information about the floor plan and door detail (such as the height and thickness of the door), we’ll design an ironmongery schedule, including all the hinges, locks, latches and door closers.
Because the door ironmongery is the last thing to be fitted, people can leave it too late – they’ve either run out of money or haven’t left enough time, because we work to a ten-week production schedule. Ironmongery is a high-value item so it needs to be in the budget early. And it’s often the things that aren’t on show, like the hinges, that are the most important: you don’t want your doors sagging because you’ve used poor-quality cheaper hinges.
Should you think about your door first, or your ironmongery first?
Work out what style of ironmongery you want before you design the door. First decide whether you want knobs or lever handles, because you’ll be designing the whole door around that. Or, fall in love with a door, but be aware that you might be restricted in your choice of ironmongery. We’re constantly advising people that their doors and ironmongery won’t work together; you don’t want to be forever banging your knuckles because they’re incompatible.
If you want massive doors, and you put them on hinges, at a certain point the door will drag. You can put a wheel on the leading edge to stop this, or have a pivoting door, with the pivot set away from the door frame – but then the gap can create a handtrap. You also need to make sure you can actually shoulder the weight of a heavy door – it shouldn’t be difficult to open. Some people even go for automatic opening doors if they’re too heavy.
High-end ironmongery is expensive – why should people invest in it, and what are the benchmarks of quality?
They say God is in the details, and that’s definitely true when it comes to architectural ironmongery. If you want something that’s going to look and feel the same, and work the same, for the next 50-odd years, then it’s worth spending the money on now.
You can’t really tell the quality of brass by looking at a new product, but we use higher-quality brass, which has less zinc content. Poor-quality brass degrades in a not-very-attractive way, going a lighter yellow rather than a deep gold. You can go into a house that’s had brass levers for 200 years and it’ll look fantastic; then you can look at handles bought from a high street DIY shop ten years ago and they look terrible.
Good-quality brass feels chunky and expensive in your hand, but extra weight isn’t always a good thing – if you don’t spring the latch correctly it becomes too heavy to operate.
Are there trends in ironmongery? What’s in right now?
It definitely goes in cycles. We went through a satin-grey, stainless steel phase; then burnished bronze. Now we’re seeing aged, unlacquered brass coming back into fashion – the unlacquered finish means it ages and patinates naturally, not keeping that shiny brass look.
The choice of finish can give the same product a totally different character, especially when it comes to the less detailed products – a plain square bar can look totally different in a burnished bronze than a satin chrome.
Another big trend is the move towards concealed hinges. It can really make a difference when you’ve got one of those really minimal schemes with no architraves, no skirting – all the detail removed.
Does Beardmore’s long history make it a good source for historically accurate ironmongery?
We do get approached for Grade-I listed buildings, where we might be brought an existing door handle and asked to reproduce it.
Beardmore does have a big archive, but it’s only now that we’re having it properly looked at and catalogued. It contains some of the old patterns, which means they can be used to make new pieces. Now we’re showing more of our archive I think more and more people will be coming to us for advice on period properties.
People think in quite simplified terms about period styles – beading on a backplate, lever or knob for Regency; rope detail for Georgian; plainer-looking for Victorian. But actually you find those details spanning really long periods.
What’s the advantage of having your own foundry?
We can make unique products. It’s rare to be an architectural ironmonger and also a manufacturer: most people are all selling the same products, but we’re selling our own designs. It also means we can offer a bespoke service, so if someone likes a lever handle but wants it longer, or a knob they want to be bigger, we can do that.
What sort of techniques does the foundry use?
We have a pattern maker who is able to make 3D moulds from a 2D sketch or photograph – it’s a real art form. Depending on what it is, it could start off as a mould in wood or plasticine, and then we use the lost wax casting technique to make the final piece. Lost wax is used for something that has a lot of decorative surface detail, but for something plainer we’ll probably use CNC milling, where you take a block of brass and mill round it using a machine. But even CNC-milled objects need a lot of hand finishing.