(ARA) - It is safe to say that one can find garden pieces to fit virtually any budget. A quick visit to the local home center during the warmer months yields a bumper crop of outdoor furniture, statues and accessories designed to appeal to the ephemeral tastes -- and wallets -- of a broad cross section of homeowners.
But if you're looking for heirloom quality designs, you'll need to look further than your local big box retailer. You'll want to go where some of the country's leading landscape architects and interior designers shop for statuary, urns, chaise lounges, fountains and other handcrafted products.
Florentine Craftsmen, a New York City-based operation that has been in the same family for more than 85 years, is one of only two manufacturers of lead statues and ornaments in the United States.
"Our clients are looking for craftsmanship that will last several lifetimes, so our materials need to withstand the tests of time and weather," says Skip Brown, whose maternal grandfather founded the business
The Florentine Craftsmen catalog, which features more than 400 products, showcases everything from mythological creatures and classical figures to garden animals to fountains. In addition to lead, the company offers statues and accessories in bronze and stone, and its furniture lines include products made of premium welded cast aluminum, wrought iron and cast bronze. There are many finishes available, and since Florentine Craftsmen makes each piece to order, opportunities for customization abound. One example of their craft is the large statue of Ben Hur in his four-horse chariot made for Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas.
"My grandfather, Vincent Primavera, came to this country from Central Italy when he was in his teens," Brown says. "When he started Florentine Craftsmen using old-world manufacturing techniques his initial product line was dominated by hardware : hinges, hardware, outdoor lanterns and that sort of thing."
Primavera's skill and business sense soon led him to design and produce high-end outdoor furniture and statuary, and the line continued to evolve from there. "Many of our designs, particularly the statues, have not changed very much over the years," Brown notes. Our clients are after a classic, timeless look, which is one of the reasons they feel comfortable paying up to several thousand dollars for a statue."
The company's furniture collections are updated more frequently, but some of its most popular items are chestnuts from yesteryear. The "Star & Dolphin" design, to cite just one example, dates from the 1920s and remains a best seller. Florentine Craftsmen worked with the original designer and initially made this furniture line in cast iron.
Like other high-end garden furniture manufacturers, Florentine Craftsmen's designs rival the finest indoor furniture. Offerings include custom-size dining, serving, coffee and end tables with glass or metal tops. The company sells arm chairs, double and triple settees, side chairs, bar stools, luxurious grand chairs with matching ottomans and chaise lounges, as well as double and triple grand sofas. For those with an eye on the budget, bolted construction furniture is available in several styles, and generally fetches slightly less than half the price of premier pieces. The Florentine Craftsmen facilities combine foundry and sales office, and every piece is made entirely on the premises.
Catering to custom tastes
In addition to leading landscape architects and interior designers, Skip Brown sells the company's wares to high-end garden boutiques. The Forentine Craftsmen catalog is made available to all retailers and often sparks ideas on the part of homeowners or the professional designers they employ. "We don't stock anything, so customers can specify a statue with a different finish," Brown explains. "To a large extent they can combine 'Part A' and 'Part B' from any of our hundreds of designs. This flexibility is a big selling point." Brown likes to tell of the woman who asked him to produce a suite of terrace furniture incorporating a rosette motif from the interior railing of her rather grand home. "We had no trouble complying," he says.
Delivery ranges from two weeks to two months, depending on the season and scope of the order. For more information visit www.florentinecraftsmen.com or call (800) 577-1188.
Courtesy of ARA Content