At A Glance: More On The News From Branch

The Stuart garden dining table was so many years in the making. To see that table in production is a dream come true. I am a designer, first and foremost. To see a design come together and get built is what keeps me designing.

I am very lucky to have a steady stream of clients asking for landscape design. Everyone who approaches me for design is individual-and different. I appreciate that. My landscape design firm is very busy. But the years I have spent designing this garden dining table came from a different part of my design heart. So happy that Branch is ready to ship.

Ipe foot detail on the Stuart garden table

Stuart table top detail

Stuart table base detail

Stuart tables

Buck’s first bar edge rendition of the Stuart table, 2005

First 21 foot long Stuart table in place, 2006

The Barry tapers

The interior of the barry tapers

The square Barry tapers

The leg and flange detail on the square Barry tapers

The rim detail on the round Barry and square Barry tapers

the metro pots

the metro pot interior top rim helps keep the steel sides straight during the galvanizing process.

the interior of the metro pot.  The holes in the corners are required by the galvanizing plant, so zinc does not get trapped under this rim.

the basin (58″ top diameter)  and bowl (40″ top diameter)

exterior detail on the bowl

bowl interior

the square Hudson tapersthe square tapered Hudson pot bottom is comprised of 2 loose plates that sit on a rim. This helps the molten zinc to drain off the pot quickly. And it helps to insure that water drains away just as quickly.

The Dean pots

The Dean elliptical fountain

the brake form fountain

custom table and benches

Buck designed and fabricated these lattice strap steel spheres from an idea he had-no drawing. He tried to explain to me what a classic lattice pattern would look like in 3 dimensions – to no avail. Now I see. They have been a mainstay of our collection for a good many years. I am pleased to see these spheres have some contemporary style company. We are installing a pair of custom made and very contemporary planter boxes from Branch this morning-more on that later.

 

 

 

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The Stuart Garden Dining Table

Though I have not posted in a good while about the Branch Studio, their work has been newsworthy. Every week they are shipping out stock and custom made steel ornament for the garden. It has been an incredibly busy season so far for them. Stock? Branch manufactures a stock line of garden boxes, pergolas, and fountains in a variety of sizes. Should you be interested to see what the Branch Studio makes and tries to keep in stock, Branch has its own section on the Detroit Garden Works website: The Branch Studio  The design of most of our garden boxes, pergolas and fountains represents our modern version of classic European garden ornament. I am pleased to say that I think that my small midwestern factory is producing some of the most gorgeous and beautifully made planter boxes, pergolas and fountains for the garden being made and available for sale in our country. Just my opinion!  I spent a good year researching garden boxes, many of which were fabricated from cast iron, wood, and lead. I spent another year building boxes and revising the sizes and proportions.  Buck took the lead engineering the most efficient weather and wear proof construction. What Branch fabricates is the result of a lot of what is commonly known as research and development. Even now, it amazes me how much time and effort gets swallowed up by that phase. Branch is about to release a product line featuring more contemporary containers, and the Stuart dining table.  The initial idea for this table was generated over 20 years ago. Don Taylor, an old school artisan/craftsman, was hard at work redoing my kitchen. I wanted a long, thin, and tall island table – on wood wheels, just for fun. My only request was an under structure for that table that would look like an arch bridge, or aqueduct. He was happy to oblige. That pine table on wood wheels has been in my kitchen, and in the back of my mind for better than 20 years.

When Branch first opened, our primary fabrication was concrete faux bois. Faux bois, translated from the French as “false wood”, is an ancient art in which garden ornament and pots are fabricated from concrete formed and carved to look like wood. Troy made this faux bois birch sideboard at Branch 7 years ago. I sketched the design for him which included a bridge arch underneath. Though we eventually gave up fabricating in concrete for steel, I still treasure this early Branch piece. I could be my favorite detail is how Troy made the log legs look like they had been whittled down at the ends. That graceful detail would resurface in the Stuart table.  Buck made early incarnations of the Stuart table by special order. And he built a prototype for our deck. His very important contribution to the design is what he calls a bar edge. The frame of the top of the Stuart table angles down. That angle is really friendly to elbows. This detail creates a profile that is thin, spare, and elegant. My interest in designing a contemporary dining table for the garden was a product of my research into what was available. Traditional tables are available in lots of sizes and configurations.  But what if you have an interest in a contemporary outdoor dining table?

Both the Stuart table top and feet are fabricated from Ipe. Ipe, commonly known as ironwood or Brazilian walnut, is four times denser than teak. It is so dense, it sinks in water. It has the same fire rating as concrete and steel. It is just about too is too dense to catch fire. That density makes this wood very hard to mill, plane or cut. But it makes it just about the most indestructible and desirable wood to use outdoors. Ipe decking has been available for a number of years. But we thought to use this incredibly hard and rot resistant wood in our handmade garden dining tables.  Pictured above, our contemporary version of the whittled birch log legs at the bottom of a faux bois piece we fabricated 10 years ago. The upper portion of the foot would be inserted into to each table leg.

During the prototype fabrication phase, Buck brought this steel Stuart table leg with an Ipe foot home for me to see. Oh yes. I really liked it. I had a specific request that that the top boards have spaces in between them, so rain water would drain off quickly.

The Stuart table is named after Buck – his middle name, that is. His bar edge is a beautiful feature of this table, is it not? He stuck by me throughout the conversation and noise that marked the design phase. And he went on to engineer the construction of the table. The base is more than adequate to support the considerable weight of the Ipe top. Best of all, this table is able to withstand anything the weather might dish out, both summer and winter.

Every Stuart table manufactured at Branch is hand made.

Stuart table top under construction

table bases

The steel and ipe leg assembly is handsome and sturdy.

We make the table in 3 stock sizes – 7′, 8′, and 10′ long. It took 4 men and a front end loader to stack them up for this photograph. The three tables together weigh just shy of 1000 pounds. Rugged, I’d say.

Left to its own devices outdoors, the wood will weather to a gorgeous silvery gray.

Another special feature of this table is the generous overhang at the ends. The persons sitting at each end will have plenty enough room for their legs and feet. Branch is able to make custom versions of this table.  Last week we finished a 9′ table with accommodation in the center and a specially constructed base for a garden umbrella. Finished yesterday was a version in which the slanted bar edge was flipped up side down, adding more flat space to the table surface. Another client placed this table on her enclosed porch.

Interested in the particulars?     The Stuart garden dining table

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Galvanized

the branch studio fountain 2016Every winter, the Branch Studio fabricates a new fountain or two. Some years that fountain is classical in form. Classical garden fountain style interpreted in steel interests me, and our clients. Our fountains come ready to fill, plug in, and turn on. There is something about water in the garden that enchants, so I like to make it easy as possible to have. Some years our winter fabricated fountain is contemporary. We have in the past fabricated an elliptical and rectangular steel fountain with a congested steel rod surface. The rectangular fountain has over a mile of steel rods welded to its exterior, and weighs close to 4000 pounds. Have you seen it?  The elliptical fountain has been placed in a private garden. In the interest of fabricating a one of a kind fountain, our newest contemporary fountain is a shape we have never done before.
The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (3)This winter, our contemporary fountain from Branch is spherical, and features our signature stick like and prickly surface. A pair of steel hemispheres, 64 inches in diameter,  got welded together. We sliced the top third off that welded hollow sphere.  The remaining 2/3rds of a sphere became the armature for this fountain. Owen and Riley, with followup from Sal, spent a good bit of the winter welding sticks of all different sizes to the surface. Our group of companies, Deborah Silver and Company, who designs and installs landscapes, Detroit Garden Works, who retails just about everything beautiful and useful for a garden and landscape, and The Branch Studio, who fabricates whatever garden ornament a gardener or landscape designer might dream up for a project –  hope to help every gardener and landscape designer get where they want to be with their landscape. But in the dead of the winter, we just express ourselves, and keep our fingers crossed there will be a client who hears what we have to say.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (1)Branch created this fountain for the garden strictly on speculation. Why would I speculate?  All of the Branch fabricators, and the studio head, Buck, are very creative people. They need a project once in a while that allows them to stretch their wings, and fabricate something new. This is a breath of fresh air for our group. It creates excitement in the studio. And is is good for a client seeking a very unusual and one of a kind ornament for the garden.

The Branch Studio fountain 2016 (2)The Branch group handled the fabrication of this fountain like they were born to make it. Once the stick making had covered the surface, a decision was made to leave the 6″ wide return plain. The contrast of one complex surface to the other plain one is striking and pleasing. The fountain jet will be fabricated next. The jet pipe will mimic the spherical shape and construction of the fountain. Water from the jet pipe splashing over a rod steel covered sphere will be quite musical.  The sound of a fountain is a considerable part of its attraction.

20160419_124028 (2)Clients considering the purchase of Branch containers are concerned about the longevity, and the durability of their resistance to rust, and rightfully so. Everything we manufacture is meticulously hand fabricated with heavy gauge hot rolled steel, with a lifetime of service in mind. The cost of them reflects this. What we do to prevent rust is considerable. All of our containers, fountains, and garden ornament are sent out for galvanizing after it is fabricated. Our galvanizing company has a zinc tank  6 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and forty feet long. This shape has everything to do with the fact that most steel that comes here for galvanizing are steel beams using in the construction of building, bridges, and so on. The plant manager was dubious the day we arrived with our first load of garden containers. 13 years later they know we are as serious about rust prevention as we are about beauty. We pay for galvanizing by the pound.  Our scale at Branch only weighs objects up to 2000 pounds.  This fountain went over the 2000 pound mark.  We won’t know what it weighs until after the galvanizing is complete. The fountain is lifted with a bridge crane via steel straps in preparation for the dip.

20160419_124120This tank holds 824,000 pounds of molten zinc, heated to about 900 degrees. The galvanization process completely immerses the raw steel object in molten zinc, very slowly.  The shock of the heat to the steel is considerable.  Steel which is not thick enough can be damaged by the plating process. The molten zinc coats every surface with a skin of zinc. How much of a skin?  This fountain will weigh 20% more once it is galvanized. This means that a 3000 pound object will emerge with 500 pounds of zinc coating its surface.The fountain was lowered into the tank ever so slowly.

20160419_124757 The shop foreman made a trip up to Branch to inspect what we had a mind to galvanize, before we took the fountain to them. An object of this size and complexity is a once a year project for us. There are logistical issues that need to be addressed in advance. There was plenty of discussion about what it would take to get the fountain to sink slowly and evenly. An object that floats on top of the molten zinc is a problem object. Our big spherical fountain had lots of holes drilled in it, which will be repaired with galvanized steel discs once the galvanizing process is complete. Our garden boxes have loose galvanized plate steel bottoms which are added after the boxes are galvanized. A box with no bottom sinks in the zinc bath.

20160419_124729The fountain took as long to emerge as it did to descend.

20160419_124500A molten zinc tank always has floating hardened zinc and impurities floating on the surface.  Prior to and during the galvanizing of this fountain, the surface of the molten zinc got raked, so those impurities would not be deposited on the surface. Occasionally a glob of something will stick to an object.  If it is chipped off, or ground down too hard, the integrity of the galvanizing might be breached.

20160419_124541If a galvanized object from us develops a small rust spot, it will do so within 2 weeks of being outdoors. That spot can be repaired with cold galvanizing compound. A breach in the galvanizing is a rare occurrence.

20160419_124549The moment any steel object emerges from a zinc bath sports a shiny as silver color. Once that object comes in contact with the air, that shiny surface begins to oxidize, and will become that dull gray color one usually associates with galvanized metal.

20160419_124649The process by which Branch fabricates, finishes, and sells their garden pots, fountains, pergolas and ornament is all about beautiful design and fabrication, and a thoughtful and serious finish that is unlikely to need any maintenance. My thanks to the plant manager for taking these pictures for me.

spherical Branch fountain (2)Back at Branch, the fountain is awaiting our final signature finish, which will give the steel that blue gray patina which is reminiscent of lead. Heather, who handles all of the Branch Studio inquiries, came with me for a look see today.

spherical Branch fountain (1)I am sure this fountain will be up and running soon.

A New Gravel Driveway

landscape under construction (8)I admire people who buy old homes, and sign up for all that it will take to renovate them. That is a huge commitment in every regard. An undertaking such as this demands lots of time and even more patience. I cannot imagine the expense. This gorgeous English Tudor style home is 95 years old. Very old homes like this one are remarkably sturdy and well built. I own a house built in 1930, and I can attest to how rock solid it is. I can barely drill a hole in my steel mesh reinforced plaster to hang a picture. That plaster and brick set over concrete block walls means that my house is incredibly quiet and structurally sound. This home features a virtually indestructible brick fired from a clay body featuring a big mineral content – manufactured with the idea of longevity and service in mind.  A good bit of the trim is hand carved limestone, all of which is excellent condition. The new roof is slate; slate roofs last just about forever. But great age exacts a toll on the working parts of an old house. Every house is a small city. It needs electricity, heat, air conditioning, weather tight windows, plumbing – this is a short and not comprehensive list. What got updated here is just about everything, and took a year and a half to accomplish. A kitchen and bathrooms that worked well in 1920 were reworked from the ground up. The interior renovation of this house is finished, and is finished beautifully.

a new driveway (1)My client’s interior designers introduced me to them and their property.  Eventually they would turn their efforts towards the landscape. Last year’s landscape efforts were concentrated on a pool, terracing, a spa, and an astonishing pergola built and installed by the Branch Studio. Screening trees, and a large collection of small spring flowering bulbs got planted late in the fall. This year, we hope to plant the front, side, and rear yard landscape. The property had been neglected for decades. The gravel driveway, all but invisible under a thatch of compost and weeds, was lined in concrete curbing that went 24 inches below grade.  A number of trees grew up, and spent decades thriving. Many of those trees were now were in serious decline.  Disease and fierce weather had taken their toll. The roots had grown over the curb, reducing the width of the drive to just over 8 feet.  A new driveway design and installation would need be the first part of the installation of the landscape.

a new driveway (13)Once the front yard landscape was agreed upon, there was a lot of work to do. Once the dying and diseased trees came down, the stumps were loaded into a 30 yard dumpster – almost 12 tons worth. That is a staggering number, and it explains why so many large machines are parked in the front yard. Taking apart an old landscape and driveway is a shocking experience, but bare dirt that is asking to be regraded is a big breath of fresh air. It is never an easy thing to abandon what was, and go on.

a new driveway (12)Once the drive curbs and the trees were removed, the ground had to be graded.  In this case, there was quite a bit of what I call balancing to do.  The land which was high on one side was lowered, and the low side needed to come up.  From the street, the land would look balanced, left to right.

a new driveway (4)The grade of the driveway would determine the final grade of all of the land surrounding it. A large motor court some 56′ feet wide by 32′ deep would be a dominant feature of the landscape. This would permit off street parking for clients who entertain regularly. But most importantly, a gravel drive and motor court seems appropriate for a house of this age and architecture. It interests me that many very old homes with motor courts were built before the advent of motor traffic. It can be a beautiful feature in and of itself. The accompanying landscape would in a simple way feature the house and gravel court.

a new driveway (2)In many respects a gravel drive is simpler and somewhat less expensive to install than concrete, asphalt, or stone.  One of the biggest expenses is the cost of the edging. The gravel must be contained.  A hard boundary is what keeps the gravel in place.  Gravel that has crept away from its intended location can look great in a very informal setting. It would look messy and untended in a house of this architectural formality.

a new driveway (3)
Both the drive and motor court are edged in 1/4″ thick steel.  That steel edges is secured by steel stakes that are driven into the ground through steel loops welded to the back of the edging. The steel has to be this thick to withstand repeated vehicular traffic, and stay in place.

a new driveway (6)The gravel motor court will be bordered in concrete paver brick, three bricks deep.  The border will help to visually reduce the size of the gravel area. It will also recall the brick on the house. This brick will be dry laid between parallel bands of steel edging.  Concrete brick can better withstand compression weight of a vehicle. Pictured above is a base layer of compacted road gravel.  The finished crushed stone will be added at the very last, at the height you see indicated by the top of the steel edging.
a new driveway (5)A large new blue stone front walk will make beautifully clear the location of the front door. The house is not symmetrical in its footprint.  The walk which is large enough to feel like a terrace is a centering gesture. There is plenty of room for containers out away from the front door. This exterior entry way echoes the scale of the spacious foyer just inside.

a new driveway (9)An important element of designing any driveway is to check if it is driveable.  My clients drove it a number of times when the scheme was painted on the ground. One little but significant change was made to help anyone backing down the drive stay in the lane. A driveway that doesn’t work well always shows where that pinch point is. Curves and changes of direction need to be gradual and sweeping.

gravel drivewayThe drive at the back will be installed as concrete aggregate, rather than compacted gravel. This will make it easy to shovel a path from the detached garage to the back door. The forms are being set for this portion of the drive. An iron fence and gate appropriate to the architecture is to come soon.

a new gravel driveway (3)The bed lines near the gate to the back yard were specifically set to allow my clients to back out of the garage, and turn around.

a new gravel driveway (2)As of late yesterday, the finish gravel has been put down in the motor court. The concrete brick is due to come in today.

a new gravel driveway (1)At the last of the day, a pair of 25 foot multitrunked katsura trees were added to frame the view of the house from the road. The landscape will be underway shortly.