When Clay Beardshear was in college and working as a construction carpenter, he became exposed to metals and fell in love with the ability to join steel. “It’s so versatile,” he says. “We really are able to manipulate it and there’s something really incredible in that. It also takes on so many characteristics based on the sort of elemental structure of it and the way it works with heat and the way it can work with different acids and finishing. It really is like an enormous canvas that you can play around with.”
In 2010, Clay, who lives in Minneapolis, opened Live Oak Ironworks, which provides custom-designed furniture, fixtures, doors and architectural metals in his forge, or studio. “We work predominantly with steel for so many of our projects, especially when it comes to furniture,” he says. “But then there's the stainless aspect of it, which is a whole different animal, and brass and bronze as well. They all have their own characteristics and their own nuance and are somewhat of a living patina for the whole of the object’s life and for the whole of our lives.”
He and his coworker, Syd Meyer, do a lot of the designs in-house for homeowners and work with many great architects and interior designers as well. “By custom making each piece to a client’s specifications, we're able to focus on all of the details and make it look perfect,” says Clay. “I love the idea of people's days beginning and ending with, say, a table that we made. You might pick up your keys every morning from that table and then when you get home at night, you put them back on that table. Every day you interface with this item that we have crafted for you.”
Making these one-of-a-kind and unique pieces is also a great challenge. “If we can outdo ourselves every time, then that's great,” he says. “Then we get to keep learning, keep evolving and getting better. That's a profound thing in our work. We're not just doing the same job forever. We're doing a new job every time.”
Clients sometimes bring in pictures of something they like, or describe an image that’s in their heads. “We're able to work from a napkin drawing all the way up to a blueprint. We recently installed a table from a client-provided design and it was just wonderful, really beautiful. It was nothing that I ever would have thought to do, so sometimes it’s a collaborative relationship, which really benefits everybody and provides us with inspiration.”
When someone commissions a piece, Clay and Syd like to visit his or her home if at all possible. “It’s great because we get to see the space we're building for.” Clients can also come to the studio in Bloomington to talk about what they want and to look at examples.
When clients see a finished piece, they often comment on the depth of the material and the textural nature of it, which is something one wouldn't typically associate with metal. “There’s a lot of detail to focus on so you can kind of get lost in it, which is really wonderful,” says Clay. “A lot of other people have said that our work ends up very soft, in a good way, meaning that it all just blends together and kind of flows.”
Working with a wide range of talented architects and contractors provides him and Syd with some exciting large-scale jobs. “We get to sink our teeth into these big jobs where we're building something that is then being surrounded by everybody else's amazing work,” he says. “That is just a wonderful thing.”
In addition to homeowners, contractors, architects, and designers, Live Oak Ironworks also does work for commercial clients. “We’ve made some pieces for restaurants, which is really nice because again, we’re thinking of people's experiences around that big banquet table.”
Since many of the pieces are very heavy, they often deliver the merchandise. “We give everybody the white glove treatment where we bring the item to them and set it exactly where it needs to be.” Clay has traveled to places like Oregon, New York, and California so he can personally deliver and set up pieces for clients. They can also ship merchandise.
In addition to furniture, Live Oak Ironworks has done cabinets for kitchens and brass fixtures such as towel bars and vanities for powder rooms. “Once again, these things that people get to interact with on a daily basis become a part of their lives, part of their homes,” he says. “I feel really lucky to be doing what we’re doing and how we're doing it. And I’m just looking forward to the future of it.”
To find out more, or commission a piece, go to liveoakironworks.com/ or call (912) 604-6230.