THE CREATORS: Michael Rydinski founded Decorative Metal Arts in a garage. Today its sought-after custom architectural pieces are attracting a lot of attention.
IN HIS UPSTAIRS OFFICE (two Jackson Pollock posters, one wall of wood, lots and lots of metal), Michael Rydinski recounts milestones and projects like he’s leafing through a packed travelogue of adventures — starting with the most adventurous of all.
In 1997, Rydinski founded Decorative Metal Arts. In a garage. With only the basics: a TIG welder, a chop saw, and just the right combination of experience and instinct.
“I started in shipyards in Seattle and did commercial site fixtures and was exposed to forging and stuff like that,” he says. “I worked at one shop and did all kinds of different jobs, and liked architectural stuff the best: It’s interesting to look at, and unique, and brought out my creative side. I had thought about my own business for a while. A bunch of circumstances came together, and it came to a turning point: If I’m gonna do this, I should do this now. I didn’t have a clear vision, but the timing was good with the economy, and people noticed the work we were doing and liked it.”
A metalworking glossary
• Blackened finish: Usually applies to steel that is patinaed with a chemical that turns it black, or blacker than it comes from the mill.
• CNC cutting is metal that has been cut by the machine, reading an electronic drawing file and directing the path of the cut. Plasma, water jet and laser cutting are done this way. Machining also can be done by CNC-controlled machines.
• Etching: Chemically cutting a pattern or text into metal.
• Hand-forged: Steel is the metal most associated with forging. It’s heated in a forge until it’s orange-hot and then hammered or formed into a shape, by hand or with a power hammer.
• Patination: Chemically oxidizing any metal.
• Pitted steel: Steel that has been left outside for years and has rusted enough to form pits in the surface of the metal.
• Plated steel: Steel that is immersed into a bath containing another metal and electrically charged to draw the metal in the bath to adhere to the surface of the base metal. Examples: brass, nickel, chrome plating.
• Structural steel: Any steel shape that is capable of carrying a load. I-beams, wide-flange beams, channel and angle iron and square tubing are examples.
Source: Michael Rydinski, founder, Decorative Metal Arts
That’s still happening, but on a much grander scale (DMA worked with Dale Chihuly on the Bellagio project in Las Vegas and crafted old-school bronze handrails for the Washington governor’s mansion), and with appreciation much deeper than “like.”
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Now that his business has evolved into 10,000 square feet of lofty, bustling shop space, almost directly underneath the West Seattle Bridge, Rydinski’s upstairs office overlooks 10 artisan craftspeople creating up to 20 custom projects at once amid an absolute utopia of power tools: a horizontal band saw for big, thick pieces of metal; a metal-bending press brake; a hole-crafting milling machine — and a TIG welder at each station.
Rydinski calls DMA “a full-service custom metal fabrication studio focused on high-end residential and commercial projects,” and says most of its work originates with contractors, architects or interior designers.
Designer/project manager Carrie Simmons, who met Rydinski when she was researching her thesis for a master’s degree in architecture (she ultimately picked a metalworking career instead), calls their work “functional but very artistic, not necessarily the structural stuff that gets buried. We pretty much say, ‘Yes, we can do that’ to everything.”
Proof lies in the voluminous pages of that metalworking-adventure travelogue:
Currently in production:
• A lunchroom-y dining table with four sets of long, lean legs, destined for a Kirkland office. “We made a shop drawing and drew up the legs: each piece with water-jet-cut precision, then welded, sanded and blackened,” says Rydinski.
• Impressively sizable aluminum, nickel-plated and patinaed pivot and pocket doors. “They’re 9 feet tall or so, 3½ feet wide; there are two of them, for a hallway,” he says.
• A “superclean,” all-brass, floor-to-ceiling towel bar that’ll take on a dark patina. “We’re putting holes in it,” Rydinski says. “There’s another tube, like a ladder. A screw will hold it. This takes about a week for fabrication, two weeks start to finish — fairly simple.”
Currently in a supercool home near you (Rydinski notes that a lot of DMA’s work can’t be publicized because of nondisclosure agreements):
• A stunning centerpiece staircase in a lakefront home, with cantilevered, nickel-plated steel steps and a stainless handrail.
• “One recent job was an entire bathroom clad with 3/8-inch-thick stainless, giant plates, 8 by 20 feet, shipped in from China,” says Simmons. “A shower with a niche — it’s amazing what these architects come up with.”
• Just inside the huge, patinaed zinc pivot door (with a hidden hand-forged steel pull) to a Madison Park home designed by Stuart Silk Architects, a textured steel wall grounds a grand floating pathway of blackened-steel stairs, creating what Silk calls “a center spine of steel, so the stair was floating and kind of wrapped up and around that.”
Currently in supercool places considerably more accessible to the public:
• “The biggest project was a whole facade for a commercial building: 1111 Third Ave., between Seneca and Spring,” says Rydinski. “They were really outdated columns. We wrapped them with flame-sprayed zinc panels with a light feature that extends into an overhead canopy. That took up the whole shop. We did the installation, too. We transported it in pieces on a flatbed truck and installed it at night. We had to shut part of the street down.”
• Another substantial piece, with Seattle artist Celeste Cooning, is scheduled for installation in 2025 at the East Main light-rail station north of Lake Washington, Simmons says. “It’s a big, giant, 14-by-16-foot gate along the fencing. She wants to put art panels on the fence emanating from the gate, on which we’ll attach layers of intricately cut patterns.”
• Near the Seattle Aquarium, Rydinski fabricated “that bike rack that looks like a squid,” he says (from a design by artist Susan Robb). “We get a call every year that someone stole the bike wheel off of it. They wanted it to spin. I think we got it this time.”
“Every job has its own type of challenges. They’re all different,” he says — like a seasoned traveler who’s seen a world of beauty and then, like a superskilled craftsman, added to it.