Article in Chicago Luxury Homes & Condos
By Jennifer Martin
When Lynn Parquette’s grandfather came over from Germany, he figured he’d get his start in America as a roofer. His first job, once he arrived in Chicago, was as a roofer. But not liking the dangers of the job, he decided to enter a less risky line of work. That choice was one of Chicago’s finest moments.
“He started doing exterior railings, the iron fencing and gates that were more common outside homes back in the 1930s,” said Parquette, vice president of Mueller Ornamental Iron Works Inc. “He did metalsmithing in a garage and eventually started creating beautiful designs in his work.”
Today, Mueller Ornamental has a team of experienced artisans who create hand-forged ornamental railings, fencing, gates, furniture and specialty items in iron, brass, aluminum and stainless steel. Having served hundreds of residential and corporate clients throughout Chicago, the surrounding suburbs, Illinois and many other states in the U.S., the company has experienced constant growth and has relocated three times to larger buildings.
“I think customers keep coming to us because we offer so much flexibility,” said Parquette, whose
Mueller Ornamental crafts all types of items, from lightly accented stairway rails to intricately fabricated furniture pieces. Its projects can be as small as a window security grille or as large as a massive driveway gate—and larger. Once, when working for a publishing company, the company fashioned a metal sculpture that resembled a printing press with paper running through a roller.
Mueller’s residential creations are widely known for their beautiful hand-forged scrollwork that’s graceful but not gaudy. A swan-style stairway rail lets the eye relax into movement in a room that’s otherwise angular and blocky; a baker’s rack adds a touch of old world charm to a modern kitchen. Lacy, luxurious window grilles belie their underlying function as a utilitarian security screen.
If it seems odd that industrial-strength steel and iron can be transformed into something so delicate, the change can be explained by the skill of Mueller’s craftsmen. The bending, shaping and hammering of the metal into beautiful detailing for the home is a dying art, Parquette believes.
“Schools will teach you welding, but there are very few that teach blacksmithing,” she said. “And it’s a very labor intensive process. Unfortunately we’re becoming a throwaway society, and people don’t always want to commission an item that will last.”
But Mueller Ornamental believes that elegant, hand-wrought metalworks will always have a place in high-quality homes. The company is even known for rehabbing the early 1900s stair rails that are still found throughout the Gold Coast. “They’re a part of our history, and they’re worth preserving,” Parquette said. “They create a sense of connection with Chicago’s past, with the people who once lived and dreamed here.”
Mueller Ornamental’s talents stretch from French and baroque to art deco and modern contemporary. Not long ago, the company was awarded a job to fabricate new bronze and steel rails in the Illinois State Legislature, for which they were given an Executive Director’s award for pride in partnership by the Capital Development Board. But Mueller also creates sleek modern stairways with materials such as mirror-finish bronze and stainless steel caps and glass rail panels. The company’s artisans have one foot in the past and another in the present, retaining the best of both. This versatility, coupled with a solid grasp of high-quality metalsmithing, gives the company is strength and appeal.
“The great thing about this work is that every product we do is unique,” Parquette said. “Even if you do it twice, it doesn’t come out the same, because that’s the nature of working with metal. I think my grandfather chose a wonderful field and a great legacy for his family.”
Neither the drawings or depiction nor its content may be copied, reproduced or edited to a likeness without the written consent of Mueller Ornamental Iron Works Inc.
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