Magical World of P.E. Guerin

Magical World of P.E. GuerinMagical World of P.E. Guerin |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.

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?”

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).