Late last year my wife and I undertook a major remodel of our kitchen and master bath. While we were at it, we also decided to upgrade a few other parts of the house, such as our guest bathroom. One goal for that room was to find unique pulls for a wall-mounted cabinet that would make it much easier to open its doors.
While browsing in a local decorative hardware store, we found a line of animal themed pulls that fit the bill. After looking at display samples and thumbing through a catalog, we decided to purchase two beautiful bronze moths. You can see one in the following photo.
While I was very excited to add these distinctive pulls to our bathroom, I was equally thrilled to learn that they were designed and hand crafted in Los Angeles by Martin Pierce Hardware. I immediately wanted to meet the people behind this business, hear their story and learn how they produce their products. So I reached out and set up an appointment with Martin and Anne Pierce, the owners of the business.
What follows is an edited transcript of my in person conversation with Martin and Anne that took place on July 2, 2015. Since my wife joined me for this interview, we both asked the questions. To streamline the conversation in written form, I have consolidated our questions and present them below under the acronym CLA (i.e. Curating Los Angeles).
CLA: What brought you to Los Angeles?
ANNE: We’re both from Worcester England and we met in London. Martin was trained as a woodcarver and a sculpture, and that was where it all began. We left England in 1980 and came directly to LA. We were actually heading to San Francisco but it didn’t work out. By the time we landed and spent some money there wasn’t any left to get to San Francisco.
CLA: Was your intention to start this business when you arrived here?
ANNE: I don’t know what we were really planning.
MARTIN: We were really here on a mission just to check it out. I brought my carving tools with me. We just started to make furniture initially for people in Beverly Hills – cabinets, chairs. We got some pieces in the Pacific Design Center within just a few weeks.
CLA: How do you two work together?
ANNE: We didn’t use to. My background is law, but I never practiced here. I really wanted out. I eventually took over the business side of things. It became obvious it would be better if I became involved.
CLA: Were you always located in this building?
MARTIN: We originally had a space in downtown LA but then the Northridge earthquake happened. The building cracked down the middle because it was brick.
Anne was in real estate at that time. We were able to buy this place. It made sense. It’s a stucco building and it’s not going to fall down. So we’ve been in this space for about 20 years.
CLA: How did you get from furniture to cabinet hardware?
MARTIN: Because I made a lot of case goods I needed the correct pulls for the drawers and doors. I couldn’t find anything I liked so I made my own. I created the design, carved them in wood and found a foundry that would make them for us. So we sold the furniture with our pulls on them. It just evolved from there.
ANNE: All the pulls originally came from a particular piece of furniture. The moth pulls that you own came from a sideboard.
Eventually we felt that if we’re going to make cabinet pulls why not make door hardware too. It was a big leap because it’s quite different from non-functional pulls. They have moving parts and locks.
MARTIN: We didn’t know anything about hardware. In a way we come at it from a different angle than other hardware manufacturers. We first focus on the way a piece looks and then try to make it functional. A lot of hardware is either borrowed from someone else who did it a long time ago (antique stuff) or very plain. They tend to follow in the same tradition. A lot of hardware looks like other hardware.
[Martin briefly steps out of the room]
CLA: Was Martin formally trained in his craft?
ANNE: He went through an apprentice program. At 16 his father found him a position in a company that made antique reproductions. He learned how to carve. I think even at school he did woodwork. That was his strength and he’s really honed that over the years. The apprenticeship was fundamental to his development. It gave him a structure to his training.
CLA: How do you promote your work?
ANNE: We rely upon our web site and word of mouth. We tend to be high end. It’s a niche market.
CLA: Do you seek out relationships with architects?
ANNE: Absolutely. We sometimes produce a custom piece and then use that design as inspiration for a production line. Pieces evolve over time.
Custom pieces help to underwrite our other work. We have to carefully select the pieces we produce. We can’t afford to produce every idea that Martin comes up with.
CLA: How has living and working in Los Angeles influenced your work?
ANNE: It’s a very free city – very creative. There is just so much going on here. We live in Hollywood and we’re surrounded by lots of talented people. Many of the actors in our neighborhood think we’re in the business, which is hilarious.
If you’ve got an idea here and you’re skilled in some way it’s relatively easy to make things.
MARTIN: You can get so many things made. You can buy things.
ANNE: It’s a good place to problem solve. You couldn’t do this in England.
CLA: What do you mean by that?
ANNE: For example, we needed a membrane for this light fixture to keep out bugs but wouldn’t degrade. How do we find it? You just pick up the phone and start calling around. We got to people who work with optical lenses for the theater. You keep connecting. Eventually you get to the right person who helps solve the problem.
MARTIN: Here we can turn things around quickly because we have access to all these skilled people. That’s the thing about LA.
CLA: If you had stayed in England would your designs be the same?
MARTIN: I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
ANNE: England is a bit stuffy.
MARTIN: There is no way our hardware would sell in England. Perhaps a very limited amount of it. It’s just not traditional. Their homes aren’t modern and our pieces don’t fit.
ANNE: That said, we have done work for Candy & Candy, a big interior design company in London. But it’s peculiar work. Silver plated pulls for some luxury apartment in Hyde park or whatever. It’s a different sensibility, however, I do think things are changing there. The younger crowd is into the steel and fluid forms. So now it’s a much more contemporary aesthetic. But you couldn’t sell our work to our generation in England.
To learn how Martin Pierce creates his hardware using the lost wax technique, I highly recommend these three blog posts written by Anne. They do a wonderful job explaining the entire process.