In the thick of what he describes as an “apocalyptic industrial wasteland” sits Jonathan Rummel’s blacksmithery, where the Andover native pounds out not just a living but a lifestyle. The craftsman refers to himself as an architectural metal worker, and, for the last 10-plus years, he has honed his skills, becoming something of a Renaissance man.
At 38, Rummel—owner of North Andover–based Hand Forged Works—has experience as a carpenter and a builder in addition to his metalwork. He is also a designer, photographer, drummer, and competitive mountain biker. “I do a lot of things that are aggressive—I like the constant movement.” That constant movement has resulted in a bevy of bespoke architectural furniture, hardware, sculpture, and specialty products for both residential and commercial spaces.
Since graduating from Andover High School, Rummel has been fielding a steady stream of small-commission jobs. One client has always led to the next. Over the years, his work and mission have matured—and the scope of his skill set has broadened. “I try to expand upon my capabilities with every job,” he says. “I try to push the envelope of what I can do, what I can design, what fits aesthetically with different environments.” Describing traditional New England blacksmithing as just one component of his work, he notes a desire to “push a more timeless, sort of transitional contemporary craftsman style that fits a wider spectrum of projects.”
Rummel works with architects, builders, and interior designers—at times at the ground-breaking level but more often mid to late stage in a project, when he comes in to “plunk a few cherries on top.” Employing “Old World craftsmanship,” Rummel manipulates metal into forms that reflect the natural world while complementing the built environment. Clients include the likes of Carly Simon, for whom he made a hanging pot rack for her kitchen on Martha’s Vineyard. As with all of his works, the design was based on how she would be using the space. “My specialty is site-specific design…. [I] design for usability and functionality,” he explains.
And Rummel’s barn-rustic-meets-industrial-chic aesthetic fits with diverse architectural styles. He doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself by referring to his work in restricted terms, as he is equally comfortable designing for timber-framed homes and highly modern spaces. “I am very open to various styles,” he notes. No matter the genre, his work is “well-intentioned.” He believes people are most interested in finding something niche. “Everybody wants something specific, something well-thought out and well-designed.”
Rummel prides himself on understanding how people interact with architecture and the environment—he views those relationships as a “holistic package” and notes the growing number of sustainability efforts made by many in the design-build industry. In support, he uses select reclaimed and locally harvested materials and natural finishes whenever possible.
Among his wares are end tables, coat racks, sink stands and basins, rack systems, countertops, railings, brick oven doors, fireplace screens, candle stands, and the occasional sculpture piece—like the one currently traveling from one yoga studio to another. “They promote the business by just being there,” explains Rummel. Of a piece currently housed at Exhale Spa at the Battery Wharf Hotel in Boston, he says: “This is a religious sculpture—it feels a little weird to try to sell it, so I just let it float out there.”
Of his pieces in general Rummel says, “They all have something special about them.” Though he calls out a helical staircase built for a client with a 300-acre mountaintop property in The Catskills as his masterpiece. “Spiral and freestanding helix staircases are the most complex staircases to build,” he notes.
Though Rummel respects the ancient nature of metal work, he gleans ideas from Japanese design principles and appreciates clean, contemporary lines. “Metal work can get very ornate,” he says, “and a little over the top and too fabulous.” In contrast, he is more interested in “a grounding aesthetic.” Forged steel and, nowadays, bronze are Rummel’s primary media, but he also enjoys working with wood, stone, concrete, and glass. And everything he produces is one-of-a-kind; he never replicates commissioned works, though he does have two product lines—belt buckles and bottle openers made with Colorado–sourced bronze, which he likes for its warmth. “It’s a higher-caliber material…it’s physically warmer to your hand than steel,” he explains. “It’s more high-end, which is where I am aiming.”
Rummel says it’s important to note Hand Forged Works is not a one-man operation. He works with a small group of skilled artisans who help move projects along; he also sources work out to other shops, which enables him to take on larger, more complicated projects. “A lot of architects think being a one-man show takes too long and is too expensive.” Intentionally, he walks the line between being large-scale and singular. “That’s the happy balance I am looking for.”
After decades spent working with his hands in so many capacities, the craftsman says: “There’s something to be said for spending a large chunk of my life producing these monumental products for other people…. It’s a labor of love. It’s a craft that’s been around for a very long time, and I am trying to push it into the future.”