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Artisans of Michigan: Stainless steel and high end metalwork

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Steve Fidler watches as two of the company's artisans work on a recent project.

This shop is Fidler Furniture Company… headed up by Steven Mark Fidler.

“We do primarily custom metalwork. We do some woodwork where we have exotic woods we mix with our metalwork. Sometimes people want a table and they want a wood top, but a metal base and we can do both of those,” Fidler explained. 

Fidler does a lot of different kind of metal work. Some of it is art, but the bulk of it is beautiful and functional. But he didn’t get to this work in a direct line.

“Sometimes you have in your mind what you think your career is going to be and what you’re going to do and it just it just kind of changes. And that’s kind of what happened with me. People said, ‘You do metalwork? Can you make this hood?’ Well, being bold and confident, I said, ‘Yeah. Sure.’ And, so we made one. And then, we made another one. So, things kind of went into it. People hear that we can do these hoods and now everybody- I have people that send me a national magazine ad and they say, ‘Can you make a hood like this?’ And I’m cracking up. And they say, ‘Are you crazy?’ I said I made that hood. And it’s in a national magazine. We can do a lot of stainless steel counters and that’s kind of fun because we do them in homes, we do them in restaurants, we do bar tops in big bars and so we get to meet with people and you go in there and everyone says, ‘Hey, this is the guy who made this bar top. Oh, this is really cool!’ You know it’s just- it’s fun.”

LG: About your cooking hoods, don’t you buy those at Lowes or the big Hobart kitchen appliance place or something like that?

“ No. No. No, we make those from scratch. Our customers will sit down with us and they want the straps from this style of a hood, they want the shape of that style of hood, so we can really help them because we take several different concepts and put them together to get their dream hood.”

LG: How did you get started in this business?

“Well, I worked for Hobart Food Equipment, so my background was some stainless work. I had an opportunity to be a partner in a company that made commercial kitchen equipment. And then, I end up making- I came up with this idea (that) I was going to make stainless steel tables, occasional tables. I went to interior designers and I said, ‘Look at these and this new line of tables we have.’ And, they said, ‘Well, do you make countertops?’ Yeah, I’ve made those for years, but look at these beautiful tables. They didn’t want the tables. They wanted countertops and cooking hoods and other stuff.”

LG: But, these aren’t utilitarian. I mean, they are, but you inject some style and art into them.

“Yeah, we make them with a lot of different materials and we have a lot of different finishes. We do some patina finishes where you take chemicals and put it on the metal to change the color of the metal and change the texture of it. And, you know, mirror-polished stainless and brass and bronze and copper and painted wood. We mix a lot of different media to come up with a look, a different look that a customer might want.”

If you’ve spent any time in downtown Grand Rapids, you’ve probably seen Fidler Furniture. But, the company does work beyond western Michigan. Steve Fidler listed a few of his projects.

“Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, J. W. Marriott, Reserve Wine Bar, Ferrari in Detroit. We do a lot of work in Chicago in condominium associations," he said.

"Everybody says you should put your name on it, but when we do it with private people and that, I don’t know if they want my name on it or not, so we don’t put our name on it. Haven’t yet,” Fidler noted.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Anthony Amalfitano's copper tubing and Edison lights were on display to encourage employees' creativity.

When we visited Fidler Furniture, there were some exhibits of side projects by the people who work there. For example, Anthony Amalfitano’s lamps made of copper tubing and Edison bulbs were on display.

“I just kind of thought it was neat and it doesn’t take a lot of tools to put it together that way, so, just a little bit of creativity at home, I guess,” Amalfitano said.

Walt Gurdak had a sleek sort of moped sitting on a table at the shop.

“It’s more of a 60’s 50cc racer style. You didn’t see too many of them in the United States. They were more European,” Gurak said.

And there was some work by a guy who Fidler says has quite a following, Jay Prosch-Jensen.

“I do metal art. Been doing that about five, six years now. Mostly recycled, mostly found object type of thing is what I do. And, yeah, it’s very nice that Steve embraces it the way he does and lets me work out of his shop and use some of his tools and even the scrap,” Prosch-Jensen said. 

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Walt Gurdak's interpretation of a 1960s era 50cc racing moped.

Fidler says this is all about fostering creativity and keeping good people on staff.

“We hire artisans and artists. Like everybody here, they do art work in their spare time and even after hours. I enjoy giving other artists an opportunity to use the shop. We have a huge investment here for making art work and stuff and most artists don’t have a great big press and shears they can use.”

And Fidler says it’s also about keeping the work interesting.

“I feel like I’m doing a weekend fun hobby every day. Every day feels like a Saturday to me. I just- I love what I do.”

LG: Is it the design work of the hands-on stuff that you like best?

“Both. Both. I do a lot of the design work. We do have an engineer who helps with all the technical aspects of everything, but I like meeting with customers and coming up with concepts. I do work in the shop a lot. It’s hard to stay out of here. I like coming in weekends even,” Fidler said.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Artisans of Michigan is produced in partnership with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the Michigan State University Museum.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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