By CAROLYN CAMILLERI
Depending on your perspective, metalwork is a trade, a skill or an art — and sometimes it is all of that together. Adam Ruddell describes himself as a Red Seal-certified metal fabricator. He is co-owner of Broadwell Metal Company, a business he started in 2019 with Kyle Taylor, a Red Seal-certified welder and metal fabricator.
While “metal fabricator” and “welder” may sound very industrial, what they create is more in line with art: fine-quality architectural and structural metalwork.
And their work is showing up in some of Vancouver Island’s most impressive homes as railings, fireplace surrounds, stairways, planters, gates and sunshades, as well as on cabinetry and set into wood and concrete.
“We’re noticing on almost every home we see come through, whether it be a new design package from a contractor or an interior designer, there’s usually one or two elements that are metal,” says Ruddell. “Metal is becoming, definitely, more and more prevalent.”
As it gains in popularity, people want to know more about it.
“Metalwork is quite a challenging process to get into, to learn. It takes a lot of equipment and a lot of skill and a lot of time,” says Ruddell. “I find that metalwork is definitely one of those more mysterious things. The average person may not know as much about it as they would woodworking or something like that so it’s nice to be able to open the window a bit on it.”
How do home projects typically start? Do people come to you with an idea or are they looking for ideas?
It depends on if it’s a contractor we’re working with, who usually has a design package from an architect or a designer with something already planned, or a homeowner.
If it’s a contractor, the designer has usually drawn up what they’re after, but as you dig into it, they’re usually always changes that need to be made and different processes we have to work around. That’s where our expertise as metalworkers comes in handy with the designers. Often, they design something that’s awesome, then will say: “I want it to look like this. How do we make it look like this?” Then we’ve got to figure out how to do it, which is fun. We love doing that.
If it’s a homeowner, usually they have an idea of what they’re after, maybe some images from Pinterest or a design magazine. From there, we’ll plan with them what will work best for the project. Usually, it’s a little more of a blank slate if it’s a homeowner, and we get to run with that a little bit more.
What are some of the functional reasons to include metalwork in a home?
For functionality, metal is great to work with. It’s extremely durable, really strong — far more durable and stronger than wood or other materials. It has really great longevity, too, if you’re using it in a high-use area — a fireplace or a handrail, stairs, countertops. It’s also quite durable and has extreme longevity in exterior applications.
And another sort of function that’s great is that because it is quite strong, we’re able to achieve thinner profiles and designs than you can get with wood. If you want a really thin handrail or some thin shelving or cabinetry, you can achieve that with metal.
Is there a difference between metal used outdoors and metal used indoors?
There isn’t really any difference. All metals can be inside or outside. The difference between exterior and interior metals is the final finish that you’re putting on the metal. Raw steel, for example, if you left that outside untreated, it would rust over time — it would turn that rust colour which is becoming very popular. We’re doing a lot of raw steel planters or fences or gates, and it rusts up over time and has a nice patina finish on it.
If they don’t want it to rust, then we’ll do a powder coat or epoxy paint or sometimes galvanized. But other metals can be left outside without anything done to them, like stainless steel or aluminum. Stainless steel is really great for exterior applications.
Tell us more about finishes.
Powder coating is quite durable. It’s fairly cost effective. It can be susceptible to damage over time and it’s harder to touch up if it chips. Epoxy paint is really good. It’s usually a bit of a higher cost, but again, you can achieve a really nice finish with that. Galvanizing is a whole different process. If we do galvanize something, it has to go over to Vancouver — there’s nobody on the island that galvanizes — but galvanized metal can be left outside. It’s really, really durable.
How do you guide homeowners in making decisions?
It really depends on the project. Big ones are obviously budget, design parameters and desired finished product, then we’ll work with them to figure out exactly what will work best for the project within that. Every project we work on, we strive for the highest-quality finished product. Depending on which way they decide to go, if they want to go with maybe less of this or more of that, we try to make sure we hit all the goals so they’re happy with what they choose.
Do you have any favourite home projects?
There was a project we worked on with Billy Thistle at Point Break Developments and architect Chris Foyd of Bo Form and Chad Falkenberg at Falken Reynolds Interiors. It was a house built right on the water in Cadboro Bay. We did a really large raw-steel window box. We did a stainless-steel custom island — it was about 14 feet long.
We did a blackened steel fireplace surround. We did a handrail. We did a custom light fixture that was really, really beautiful. We did extensive metalwork there. I would say that house probably incorporated the most metalwork with the most different finishes and applications that we’ve done so far.
For another beautiful project we worked on with Rannala Freeborn Construction and Scott and Scott Architects, we created a whole lot of aluminum exterior — raw exterior aluminum — and some planter boxes, gates and window boxes.
We’ve been lucky to work on some really unique and interesting projects and work with some of the best contractors on the Island and some of the best architects in Canada.