Studio Tour: Carbon Industrial Design
I had the pleasure of touring Carbon Industrial Design recently, surveying every inch of this fascinating warehouse, woodworking, and welding industrial design studio on N. Fayette Street, near Rt. 1. just east of Del Ray.
I wanted to stay and tinker. Which is what the owners do every single day with the their huge collection of salvaged machinery, inventory, and artifacts from the earliest factories in the U.S. – paper mills in Massachusetts, tobacco farms in the South, schools in Philly, even old bowling alleys. They use the materials to restore and fashion one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture, decor, and art.
The nondescript view from the back entrance belies the vast museum collection awaiting inside – an orderly, immense, curated collection of treasures.
The Carbon Industrial Design team are Glen, Jim (shown in the photo below), and Mike.
Raul and Will are the lead welders. Will does mostly onsite fabrication, and Raul oversees all work in the studio. Ovidio is the lead carpenter.
The front of the space is retail, where they display some unique and found furnishings, for purchase, as well as metal distressed letters they create out of scrap metal.
The owners have a liking for old signs, I noticed, and for typography. Jim said they collect signs up and down the Eastern seaboard. (He wishes he could get his hands on some from the old hotels along Rt. 1.) You’ll see more as I continue on into other rooms on my tour.
The welding studio takes up one half of the back area, and when I visited Raul was working on preparing old cogs for one of their current commissions for The Shelby Apartments in Alexandria. (Here is a story of a 12-foot-long trestle table that Carbon Industrial made for The Shelby from wood they salvaged from an old Maryland tobacco barn.)
After welding brackets to each cog, he’ll weld them onto this counter, which will go in the outdoor patio of the apartment complex. “No matter the size of the job,” says Jim, “we work our best to design and build exactly what our clients want, with reasonable timing and pricing.”
Mounted on either side of the back room are two old signs from Old Town, Alexandria. You may recognized this one from the Royal Market, which Jim says they purchased during the market’s renovation.
He was delighted, he says, when underneath that sign, he discovered the older King Cole Market sign. It now hangs opposite the Royal Market sign.
And in the center are a variety of old cigarette ads and metal automobile signs.
Here and there on the rows and rows of shelving in the studio, you’ll find other relics of American product design.
And more nostalgic lettering on display.
The owners collect vintage automobiles and motorcycles to work on too. This is a Packard (that runs) which Jim tells me is the first luxury limousine with back seats facing each other.
These are Glen’s bikes. He used to race motorcycles and Jim says he’s had the Triumph for as long as he can remember. Today, he and Glen tinker with the Terminator bike when they have time.
For some reason, says Jim, people now bring them old metal cars too. Toys from the 20th century that they display in the retail space.
These drawers came from an old 19th century forge and foundry for the pulp and paper industry and mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts and held the blueprints and designs for the parts and machinery. You can read more about this acquisition on the Carbon Industrial website.
They have come into possession of stacks and stacks of the original (now fragile) prints. One of their clients wants them to scan the designs to create bespoke wallpaper for a restaurant interior.
In the very back of the studio, opposite the welding area, is where the team completes their woodworking projects.
Here is a headboard they’re making from salvaged wood.
The clients wants it stained in a blue like these samples.
Atop the uppermost shelves are approximately 10,000 tobacco stakes from a Virginia plantation. Jim says they’re not sure yet what they’ll do with them. “We will probably use the stakes in restaurants as a back bar, or create custom room dividers,” he says.
I spotted another intriguing find amongst the rows of salvaged metal and wood items – these piles of kilim rugs. Jim says they’re storing them for Joe Reeder, a history buff and collector who specializes in Americana, and the owner of the one of the Pre-Revolutionary Old Town home – the Fawcett-Reeder home – on the corner of St. Asaph and Prince Streets. The idea is to re-dye the rugs and then use them for pillows to sell in the store.
You can stop by Carbon Industrial Design when they’re open and take your own tour or view their online catalog. Jim also plans on offering welding classes to the general public. We’ll be sure to let our readers know when the school opens.