If you're lucky enough to be blessed with big-budget commissions, executing custom details is probably not that difficult, assuming you have access to skilled craftsmen and fabricators. But high-end and even modest projects need problem solving—especially when custom fabrication is either impractical or simply not an option. Material connections are especially tricky, says architect Todd Walker, AIA, principal of Archimania in Memphis, Tenn. “There are a lot of different ways architects want to transition things,” he says, and finding a solution can be difficult at best, impossible at worst.
Thankfully, there are plenty of off-the-shelf products on the market that can help resolve transition issues and a host of other problems. In the process, they can create details that are every bit as elegant as a skilled artisan's, but not nearly as costly.
source decoders One company popular with architects looking for stock solutions to such challenges is Alpharetta, Ga.-based Fry Reglet Corp. John Hubert, AIA, of Wyncote, Pa., often uses Fry when he wants to create a simple reveal around windows or doors. “We build our own work now, so we're the installer,” he explains. “Sometimes we create our own reveals using a piece of lattice trim, but other times we use Fry's ‘F' reveal molding.”
Fry offers a wide variety of interior wall trim pieces that create vertical or horizontal transitions between ceilings and walls or between walls and other building materials. Charles Alexander, AIA, uses the company's J-channels as termination trim when fiber-cement siding meets door and window openings. “We detail all of our siding with it,” says the principal of Alexander Design Studio in Ellicott City, Md. “We can get a higher-quality finish with it, and we don't need molding around windows.”
But Fry isn't the only game in town for such items. The Interior Specialties Division of Bossier City, La.-based Gordon offers aluminum plaster and drywall reveals and trim in a multitude of profiles and sizes. And Trim-Tex in Lincolnwood, Ill., produces a range of vinyl drywall accessory products that includes shadow and reveal beads, “J” beads, bullnose beads, and Magic Corner expansion beads.
For architects and designers, the question of detailing is largely about availability, says Ivor Brown, principal of Berkeley, Calif.-based Slant Studio, a firm that stresses “an economy of means” in its work. “It's a matter of what kind of configuration you need,” Brown explains. “We start by asking ourselves if an off-the-shelf material will work or if we can build [a detail] out of a kit of parts.” He says the firm's investigations have led to a short list of reliable suppliers that offer products which work well in most situations.
Slant, for example, is a fan of Oakland, Calif.-based Feeney's CableRail assemblies for railing infill options. Made from Type 316 stainless steel, the pieces come with an assortment of attachment hardware and cables in a variety of thicknesses. Unfortunately, local code changes forcing architects to create smaller railing openings have left Slant exploring options other than cable railings. “We're moving away from it,” Brown acknowledges, “but cost-wise it's still pretty good.” He says the firm also uses Tampa, Fla.-based McNichols Co. for metal mesh and Julius Blum & Co. for a variety of solutions. (The Carlstadt, N.J.-based company supplies ornamental iron, bronze, and aluminum elements such as handrail brackets, glass rail mounting, pipe railings, traditional railing components, and metal tubing bars and shapes.) Alexander also relies heavily on Julius Blum, specing the company's specialized metal pieces “so that they require minimal fabrication in the field,” he says.
Walker's detailing decisions largely depend on the look he's trying to achieve. “A lot has to do with the philosophy of the design,” he explains. “Is it minimal? Industrial? Is it going to be elegant?” Once these issues are resolved, the architect explores his options. He often uses Fry Reglet for reveals, but he also looks to Plattsburgh, N.Y.-based Schluter Systems for transitions between flooring materials, such as wood to tile.
Not every architect approaches detailing in the same way. Christine L. Albertsson, AIA, a co-principal of Minneapolis-based Albertsson Hansen Architecture, uses custom cabinetry and millwork for her detailed expressions. Sometimes she'll focus her attention on items that her clients will interact with on a daily basis, like door handles (for which she uses Rocky Mountain Hardware of Hailey, Idaho). “A lot of clients respond to [the hardware], so we use it over and over,” she says of the company's creations. Another favorite strategy is to infuse the work with tactile elements such as textured tile. “We like to spec tiles that are a pleasure to clean,” she jokes.
subtlety gets you noticed In recent years, manufacturers have been designing (and redesigning) a slew of products that are particularly appealing to the architectural community—either because of the look they create or the problems they solve. For example, Seiho International in Pasadena, Calif., has developed a following with its unique collection of round AC registers and diffusers that break the standard monotony. Made from aluminum with hidden brackets, the pieces truly stand out in a residential project.