The true test of a skilled team of artists and artisans is the ability to step into a project at the last minute and create the defining traditional architectural elements to perfection and on time and budget.
The metal-forging studio BELT was more than up to the challenge when called upon to manufacture a sculptural bronze staircase banister, front-door embellishments, and decorative chains for a 20,000-square-foot new-construction waterfront residence called Via Marina in the Sunshine State’s exclusive Palm Beach area.
“Typically, this work would take five to six months,” says Louis Beltran, the architect, designer, sculptor, CEO, and the maestro of BELT, which has a showroom in Hollywood, Florida. “Yet we only had three because the original subcontractor abandoned the job, and we came to the rescue.”
The company, which has 140 employees, made a quick mockup of the staircase railing before taking on the challenge of manufacturing in such a short time.
The team crafted every piece by hand in the company’s 110,000-square-foot atelier in Armenia, Colombia, where they are on a mission to elevate craftsmanship and empower the community with it.
Typically, BELT designs the metalwork or collaborates on its design, but in this case, because the project was so far along, it was commissioned only to manufacture the pieces. The hand-forged pieces, which have soft, clean lines, reflect the classic architecture of the residence, which the owner uses as a summer house. The most striking metalwork BELT created is for the central staircase, which rises majestically from limestone steps toward a spectacular leaded-glass circular skylight.
“With bronze, it’s an art to feel the metal’s temperature and know the right moment to hammer and twist it to create forms,” Beltran says. “If it’s too hot, it will melt; if it’s too cold, it will crack. For 37 years, we’ve been making unique and inspiring handcrafted pieces of art to satisfy the most demanding tastes and deliver unique craftsmanship. Our artisans have decades of experience, so we could do this.”
The welding of bronze, he notes, tends to age it at a different rate than the rest of the piece, resulting in a slight difference in the patina that, in the case of the staircase banister, would have marred the look. The requirement for absolute perfection absent any imperfections also made for a challenge.
To keep welding to a minimum, the BELT team devised a system of hidden mechanical joints to assemble the 10-foot-long pieces of the staircase banister. “The heads of the hidden bolts were ground so they don’t show and to make sure the color and surfaces match,” Beltran says. “Working with small screws like this is more flexible than welding, but it’s not something that’s done often. It requires special skills.”
Noting that the installation was a perfect fit, Beltran says that “it’s a true bronze gem—clean, sophisticated, and Classical. We gave a lot of input to the final result and added value to the project.”
Because the specifications called for contrasting hand-applied dark and ultra-light-color patinas that complement the palette of the walls and ceiling, extra expertise was required.
On the elaborate hand-forged bronze work BELT created for the front door, there were fewer issues with mechanical connections because the patina was darker. “The owner had a glazer from England come over to make the glass,” Beltran says, adding that, customarily, BELT would have taken care of it, too.
The other part of the project was to forge bronze decorative chains and collars for the limestone pillars that lead over the bridge to the property’s garage and pond. “We created a heavy-gauge chain—it’s ¾ of an inch—and attached the collars by embedding stainless steel posts in them,” Beltran says.
The “craft and aesthetic of the pieces we made for Via Marina speak for themselves,” he says. “This project results from the magic when homeowner, architect, builder, and artists and artisans collaborate to make a dream come true. The results are spectacular.”
BELT’s Louis Beltran, Cesar Quintana belt.com.co
Angie Janesheski of Smith & Moore Architecture
BELT’s Gonzalo Garcia, Cesar Gonzalez, Freddy Oliveros, Alexander Mapura, Wilmer Tobon, Jhoanny Toro
BELT’s Boris Buitrago
Rick Burns and Rachel Ortiz of Davis General Contracting