Beyond the Fence: Metalwork at Ferra Designs Inc.

A metalworker fashions his creations using this special welding bench at Ferra Designs Inc. (Photo courtesy Ferra Designs Inc.)
A metalworker fashions his creations using this special welding bench at Ferra Designs Inc. (Photo courtesy Ferra Designs Inc.)

For Rob Ferraroni, the founder of Ferra Designs Inc., a custom design and metal fabrication firm located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, craftsmanship has always been about fine-tuning the balance between traditional techniques and new ideas.

Growing up, Ferraroni was trained in woodworking by his father, a master builder from northern Italy. As a student – first at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, then Pratt Institute, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design – he was exposed to the origins of hip-hop culture.

“The old break dance crews and graffiti artists,” Ferraroni said. “So I had a lot of ideas around new types of urban furniture.”

At Pratt, Ferraroni learned the traditional principles of blacksmithing and welding from Michael Malpass, a renowned artist and metal sculptor.  Ferraroni then began to incorporate both wood and metal into furniture creations. Soon after he graduated, Ferra Designs Inc. took shape.

“The desire to start Ferra was motivated by wanting to create the ideas I had after my exposure to metalwork,” Ferraroni said. “I was successful in debuting my line of elegantly hip furniture that had an urban influence. I am primarily a creative person who also enjoys the challenge of executing high-end projects and aligning with top shelf architectural firms and designers.”

Jeff Kahn and Rob Ferraroni of Ferra Designs Inc. stand in their metal shop. (Photo courtesy Ferra Designs Inc.)
Jeff Kahn and Rob Ferraroni of Ferra Designs Inc. stand in their metal shop. (Photo courtesy Ferra Designs Inc.)

The burgeoning firm took on larger and more complex metalworking projects, often designing the projects from their inception. Early clients included Barneys New York and Calvin Klein.

Ferra Designs continued to evolve in 2000, when Ferraroni partnered with friend and fellow craftsman, Jeff Kahn, a Long Island native who got his start in metalwork while building sets for the hip-hop industry.

Noticing an increasing demand for speed and specialization in the industry, the partners invested in new software and machinery – including water-jet cutters – that allowed the firm to tackle projects few others could complete. The firm’s portfolio showcases a string of projects straight from the pages of glossy architectural magazines, including designer bronze and glass staircases and library catwalks.

“Before we had the modern equipment, we were able to achieve the same results by handcrafting everything,” Kahn said. “It’s very hard to find people with our skill set. They don’t teach it in schools anymore.  So we’ve trained all our employees to have traditional skills. These guys can build anything with their own two hands.”

Ferra Designs created the metal gates at Building 92 as well as the boat sculptures located throughout the Navy Yard.  On some projects, the firm collaborates with other craftsman in the Yard, including woodworker and cabinetmaker David Melchior and etcher and sandblaster Evan Eisman.

Now with a dozen fulltime employees, Ferra Designs is busy finishing projects at upscale Manhattan apartments and modern beach homes in the Hamptons.

“If you take the best of historical and contemporary ideas, you get a better result with anything you do,” Kahn said.

Both Kahn and Ferraroni foresee continued changes in the near future, with plans to offer high-end products, ranging from furniture to audio equipment, at a nearby space in Building 50A. The products will have the same precision and attention to detail found in Ferra architectural metalwork projects, said Ferraroni.

The partners also want to broaden Ferra Design’s reputation as a full-service design and build firm.

“We want this to be known as a place where you can come and expedite everything from the idea to the manufacturing to the installation,” Ferraroni said.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AixQam_AxDo

Anselm Doering is the CEO of EcoLogic Solutions, a Brooklyn Navy Yard-based manufacturer and supplier of green cleaning chemicals and technologies for commercial users.  He can be reached at anselm@ecologicsolutions.com.

Franz Wisner is a freelance writer living in Fort Greene. He can be reached at franz@storydrivenink.com.

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