“About 30 percent of the company’s business is completely custom. We welcome it.”
Speaking with Scott Baxter, the founder of architectural hardware design firm SA Baxter, is like conversing with a fine art dealer. “We hate the word factory,” says Baxter. “We are a modern foundry and atelier.” All of SA Baxter products are handmade to order by a group of artisans using both modern and old-world techniques.
Some say SA Baxter makes the best hardware in the world. They certainly have grabbed the world’s attention, in any case. The company currently has completed projects in the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, South America, United Kingdom, and India, and also has five or so super yachts floating about the high seas.
So, all this attention begs the question: How does a small company in New York’s quaint Hudson Valley attract such a global clientele? Baxter says his strategy has always been about design. “Although we have tremendous respect for classic design and produce many classic designs ourselves, we also have a passion for twisting or redefining them a bit, adding a fresh and unique identity.” This approach comes though as you navigate the plethora of design options on display in its New York City Design Center showroom and on the company website.
SA Baxter manufactures products in-house, using the “Lost Wax” or “Investment” method for casting its products. Every door knob, pull, lever, and hinge starts off as a CAD-generated 3-D model or hand-carved original form from which a mold or negative image of the piece is made. The mold is then injected with wax, which is hand-worked to remove parting lines or defects that might exist on the replica. A weeklong process evolves these individual wax parts, attached in groups, to wax “trees.” These trees are dipped into as many as eight coats of a slurry and sand mixture, which ultimately hardens into a solid shell. The shells are then fired in a large oven to 1,800 degrees, at which point the wax is melted out, or “lost.”
At this point, the well-choreographed dance culminates with melting the metal of choice at temperatures up to 2,300 degrees inside a crucible, and then pouring molten metal into the now very hot shells where the wax once was. All this is done by foundry craftsmen with great respect for the dangers that lurk at these high temperatures. Very steady hands in a series of precise motions make for the perfect pour. If all goes well, the end product is an exact metal version of the original carving or 3-D model.
The parts are then cut off and put on CNC-programmed lathes and mills, where the mechanical interface is precision-cut for perfect fit and operation. Once inspected, it’s off to the finishing area where one of 200 possible finishes are applied again over many days of hand polishing, de-burring, texturing, hammering, chasing, plating, and/or patina work. The result: a made-to-order piece of jewelry for your home.
Buyer beware…SA Baxter is not just for any budget, and pieces often can take months to produce, depending on the complexity of the design. The company currently is quoting 12 to 21 weeks for delivery (already the fastest turnaround in the industry), however, it is in the process of developing a quick-ship program that can bring the lead time down to as little as six weeks. Available only via “the trade,” hardware is on display in the New York Design Center and in the Farmer Brother’s showroom in London, England. Baxter says two additional showrooms will open in 2009, starting with Los Angeles, followed by Miami. If none of these locations are convenient, with deposit and proper credentials, SA Baxter is all too happy to provide samples for project presentations via your favorite carrier.
Have a custom design in mind? “Not a problem.” says Scott Baxter. “About 30 percent of the company’s business is completely custom. We welcome it.” They seem to love a challenge and have virtually no limitation due to the company’s unique in-house capabilities.
Most recently, SA Baxter co-developed a wonderful lever with world-class designer Anthony Browne for a project here in the USA. The product team loved it so much, they made the design a permanent part of their collection. As a result of this effort, the line was selected by the A&D community as “Best in Class” for the Hardware category at the annual Interior Design Magazine’s coveted Best of Year Awards held at the Guggenheim Museum late 2008.
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