This 160-Year-Old Hardware Factory Is Straight Out of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley

Emma Bazilian
·3-min read

From House Beautiful

Behind the doors of an old brick building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village, there’s magic happening. For more than 160 years, P.E. Guerin—the country's oldest decorative hardware manufacturer—has been handcrafting unique pieces at its Manhattan foundry (it moved to its current location in 1892) using long-forgotten techniques.

The process begins in the sample room, filled from floor to ceiling with nearly 100,000 specimens—knobs, faucets, hinges, latches, and more—and which Vice President Martin Grubman likens, aptly, to “the wand shop in Harry Potter.” Next, the chosen piece is cast in sand before being filed, chased (a process that involves using miniature chisels and hammers to add detail), and polished to perfection.

Photo credit: PAOLA + MURRAY
Photo credit: PAOLA + MURRAY

Unlike more common methods of hardware manufacturing using machines or lost-wax molds, sand casting results in a much rougher product, which requires a significant amount of hand-finished by a well-trained metalworker. Luckily, says Grubman, "we have people here who know how to do that," many of whom have worked for P.E. Guerin for decades. "You have to be able to appreciate the art form—it's not something that just anyone can master," he adds.

It’s a painstaking process—according to Grubman, a single basin set takes roughly 40 hours to complete, while the hardware required to outfit a full house might require four to six months—but one that gives each piece a truly one-of-a-kind character. No two are exactly alike, and that’s the point: “It’s like comparing a handmade sweater to a mass-produced one,” Grubman says. “The machine-knit sweaters will all be perfect, and the hand-knit ones might have a few imperfections, but which one would you rather have?”

Photo credit: P.E. Guerin
Photo credit: P.E. Guerin

For many of America's top designers and architects, the answer is obvious. Throughout the company's 160-year history, its hardware has outfitted legendary private homes (including the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and Henry Ford's Fair Lane in Dearborn, Michigan), cultural institutions (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and even the White House (the Kennedys chose P.E. Guerin doorknobs for their private residence).

While its 18th- and 19th-century reproduction hardware is still a popular choice for restorations and historically-inspired projects, that's far from the extent of its offerings, says Grubman. "People tend to think of us only for antique hardware, but we also do handmade modern work—we were here in the '30s making what people now call Art Deco hardware, and we were making Mid-Century Modern in the '50s and '60s."

As for whether P.E. Guerin itself will ever adopt more "modern" production methods in its New York foundry, Grubman holds firm to the intricacies of sand casting. "Sure, it's harder, and there are inherently more problems, but I don't think you could create the same quality product otherwise," he explains. Besides, "converting to any other method just seems like a big pain to me!"

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