As runaway construction input costs have sent real estate prices soaring in recent years, perhaps no material has seen larger leaps than metals, like iron, steel and copper.
Why then is Adam Steel, an interior architect known for swathing the suddenly precious metals on walls, doors, staircases and other features, so in demand?
Israel’s master of metal, who changed his last name from Perez in a nod to his chosen vocation, has designed and installed features for luxury spaces in Israel, Turkey, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia and elsewhere. Most of his designs are for homes, but he has also done work for corporate clients such as Microsoft and recently completed designing the cladding and other fixtures for a lobby space in a 29-story Miami residential tower that will provide subsidized housing to civil servants.
His designs are certainly not for the budget-conscious, though: A staircase designed and manufactured by Steel will average between $250,000 and $300,000, while each door is likely to cost between $140,000 and $200,000.
“As prices to buy property have become so crazy, buyers are happy to spend more on unique features, because they are already paying so much,” Steel told The Times of Israel recently. “What I make is expensive, but every piece is different, and those who buy from me recognize this is a once-in-a-lifetime expense, and part of the core infrastructure of the house. Increasingly, I am seeing people who want less but who want the best. Quality is difficult to find, but it’s what I try to give with every project.”
Steel, 33, says he struggled through school, but, at age 17, he had his first experience working with metals at an aluminum factory, and was hooked.
“I was no good at reading and writing. But art and things that involved using my hands, I loved,” he said.
Steel loved to play with the metals. He appreciated how tactile and how beautiful they could be and recognized he had found a space that felt right to him in which he could perhaps do something extraordinary.
Ten years ago, Steel set up his own design business focused on creating internal features of homes and workspaces out of metal. In doing so, he transforms what could be purely functional into complex works of art which showcase the materials he uses.
Today he has a factory in Israel – in Petah Tikva – with around a hundred workers.
Investment in interior design of properties, including interior architecture, has increased by almost six percent each year since 2017, according to market research by Fact.mr. It is forecast to continue to grow by around six and a half percent a year over the next decade, creating a market worth over $200 billion globally by 2032.
Aside from iron and steel, Steel also works with copper, aluminum, zinc, and bronze. His portfolio of projects includes sweeping staircases, doors, walls, handles, and more recently, unique bespoke furniture.
Steel often works with established architects like Oded Lavi, known for his luxurious residential designs, and Ron Arad, the acclaimed British-Israeli industrial designer behind such projects as the ToHA building in Tel Aviv, the Design Museum in Holon and the UK Holocaust Memorial.
Alongside all the work for private clients, one project of which Steel is particularly proud is a flight of stairs he made for a hospital in Afula, which he sees as helping to create an environment that is reassuringly beautiful as well as therapeutic.
“There is nothing better than working with metal in its natural state and using those natural properties it has to change over time. My style is minimalist and works with the texture of the materials I use,” he said, his love for his materials shining through.
The materials he works with are frequently recycled, and care is also taken to minimize the energy needed throughout the production process. Everything that Steel produces is built to last a lifetime, and longer.
“I want to do work that makes people go ‘wow!’ and that they keep for fifty or sixty years. Perhaps that they hand down from generation to generation because it is timeless,” he said.
In 2015, a home he had built for himself out of shipping containers and outfitted with his metal creations was awarded “House of the Season” honors from the Architecture in Israel quarterly, earning the young artist early recognition for his unique style and creativity.
The home, made of containers used to bring raw material to his factory, includes a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom up a flight of metal stairs. Floor-to-ceiling windows keep the relatively cramped space light and airy.
“A container is a good size for a house,” he said. “It is very cheap and very strong, and can merge with the environment. We don’t use them enough. There are so many things that we can do with them rather than just throwing them away.”
Over the last two decades, containers have increasingly found second lives as cheap, easily built and often chic housing, offices or stores in Israel and around the world.
Steel’s newest project is extending the reach of his work, though he will not compromise on quality. Instead, he plans on branching out from exclusively bespoke commissions of interior features to producing a wider range of furniture and fixtures, much of it aimed at consumers working with a somewhat smaller budget than his traditional clientele.
“I want to create some of the most beautiful tables and chairs, storage units and mirrors, in the world. These will be special purchases,” he said.
Despite increased international interest in his work, and increasingly extensive projects overseas, Steel insists he is staying put.
“I am a Zionist and an Israeli, and I will stay based in Israel, while my brand I hope will travel in front of me and increasingly bring me unique and challenging projects inside and outside of Israel,” he said.
By working with metal, Steel’s pieces manage a timelessness that craftspeople working with other mediums might be jealous of. It’s an idea he connects to the long history of the Jewish people and the objects that sustained it.
“I go into a synagogue and it is beautiful and minimalist, focused on its core purpose, with nothing extra. We create Torah scrolls which survive through the ages and are used again and again. That is what drives me – to produce pieces that really speak to people and that survive.”
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