Archive for category: Uncategorized

warmth + winter

23 Feb
February 23, 2016


February is here, which means winter has set in. We hope that you have already taken steps to prepare your home for winter. Cleaning your furnace filter, refrigerator coils and maintaining drains all are essential in winter home keeping safety.  If you live in a part of the country that hasn’t already received some amount of snowfall, chances are within the next three months you still could. Which means, you’ll be spending time preparing a fire and enjoying the physical warmth and inviting atmosphere it provides.


We are quick to recognize the importance of tending the functionality of the fire; ensuring there’s enough wood supply and keeping the flue clean, but what about the esthetics of the fireplace?

The screen and tool holders don’t have to be an eyesore; rather they are another expression of style. Architects and interior designers commonly utilize the fireplace for design inspiration as a focal point in the room.



Great Lakes Metal Works can help with just about everything besides making the fire (but word around here is, if you offer Richard a homemade German Chocolate cake, he’ll probably do that too!). We create beautiful, one-of-a-kind fireplace surrounds, fireplace tool holders and can also recommend a chimney sweep or bulk firewood source if you are in need. 

An imaginative screen reflective of this client's taste in design meets the demand for function as well.

An imaginative screen reflective of this client’s taste in design meets the demand for function as well.

A decorative element above the fireplace is a great way to set the style for the room

A decorative element above the fireplace is a great way to set the style for the room.

Tree of Life Installation- San Antonio Public Art Commission

21 Dec
December 21, 2015


The Tree of Life: a well-known motif used throughout many world cultures, is symbolic of strength, growth and legacy. It’s a positive image, suitable for any community but chosen for this particular project because of the embodiment of hope, a common experience and new beginnings. These are things we all relate to. This particular Tree of Life is nestled in the green space courtyard at the housing development of The Gardens of San Juan Square, where all of the apartment windows look out into this green space, serving as a daily reminder of family and home.

San Juan Drawings-111314_Page_9-2

Drawing by Landscape Architect, Gary Lehman of G Studio


Once again, we turned to the cultural narrative of the community as we made our decision for this piece. The Tree of Life is a historical form of art, based on the Biblical narrative connecting all forms of creation. The traditional Mexican version is expressed in clay sculpture, however our Tree of Life is constructed of steel and bronze, but maintains the symbolism of connection through the home, nest and tree imagery.

The installation includes a gazebo, with metal vines that wrap around the columns. The vines are reminiscent of the Zarzamora (blackberry) plant, which is the street address of the community. From the gazebo, roots become visible that gently curve through the landscape, connecting to the house sculpture culminating in branches upholding a nest, which is woven from bronze, copper and steel. The sculpture is rendered as if it is a drawing in space and because the format is linear, the viewer can experience the landscape as the house frames it, as well as enter the house and experience the landscape from within.  The sculpture plays with our perceptions of interior and exterior, the intimacy of home and our public place in community.

The scale and size of the installation was engineered by Great Lakes Metal Works, utilizing two types of steel; stock imprinted with a tree bark texture from Germany and another stock which was hammered for the desired effect. The roots were plotted and dug out by hand with the help of ambassadors from Haven for Hope, a local organization that exists to equip those struggling with homelessness. We used river rock and rainbow gravel to fill the root systems of the installation, to give a natural feeling of flow and movement.


Artist Donna Zarbin-Byrne working on the nest for the house sculpture


Ambassadors from Haven for Hope, working diligently alongside artist Diana Rodrigues Gil on the installation.


Our progress at the Gardens of San Juan was recently documented for a local San Antonio news station, KSAT (see top of post).




Does Ambiance Really Matter?

22 Oct
October 22, 2015

Think of the last time you had a truly enjoyable dining experience. What made it so pleasant? You may not be surprised to realize it was more than just the food that satisfied you. Does restaurant ambiance affect the enjoyment of food? Studies show yes, restaurant ambiance plays a huge part in whether guests positively viewed their meal and if they will come back again.

A New York Times article entitled, “Ambiance of Eating: What is its Role?” explains how eating is both a physiological and a psychological act. “The body responds in the most subtle of ways to surroundings- to harsh colors, bad lighting, noise or tension. It is no coincidence that some of the highest-rated restaurants are also among the most beautiful,” explains an inspector for Guide Michelin.

With that knowledge in hand, what steps can be taken to ensure a relaxed dining experience that matches the food you’re serving? Let’s consider how the atmosphere of your restaurant can enhance the pleasure of what is eaten.



Including planter boxes is a great idea to create a calm and soothing environment and an easy way to incorporate nature into a dining space.


Decorative fireplace surrounds are a thoughtful detail to the dining space, adding to the comfort of a room.



As one of the first things seen upon entering a restaurant, the hostess stand should also be a statement piece, reflecting the style of the restaurant.



Consider the signage with your restaurant name; it can easily become a piece of art and more then just a title.


A custom built bar top is a sure way to up the wow factor of a restaurant as well.


You may have already thought about this, but the same principles apply to your residential dining space as well. Equally as important is the room where meals are eaten; just as the bedroom is a place of solitude and rest and no work should be done there, so the dining room or kitchen is the suitable room for eating. Next time you’re tempted to plop down in front of the T.V. just remember the adverse affects this has on your digestion and ability to judge how satiating a meal has been.

We’re available for design consultation, fabrication and even restoration of any wood, metal or stone element of a dining space. Give us a call at 773.517.6733 or email us at



The Moon Garden at Our Public Art Commission In San Antonio

01 Sep
September 1, 2015

In the last post, we introduced a public art commission that we are a part of in San Antonio, Texas. Great Lakes Metal Works co-owner Donna Zarbin-Byrne and artist friend and colleague Diana Rodriguez Gil have been commissioned to create an installation that will serve as a focal point for the new outdoor area in the Gardens of San Juan neighborhood.

A lot has taken place in the past few months, from choosing materials for ground cover, conducting workshops with local residents, to a community town hall gathering to publicly introduce the project, and the fabrication of the gazebo columns and metal nest.

Let’s take a closer look at the Moon Garden component of the project, a contemplative environment that invites its visitors to recall memories of place and origin.  The Moon Garden is named for the lunar cycles symbolic of the cyclical patterns of migration throughout history, specifically the migration of native peoples throughout the Americas and Mesoamerica. The crescent and full moon evokes the image of the Lady of San Juan, the namesake of the neighborhood and is depicted in art throughout Mexico. The concern of the project is with cycles of time within the community, beginning with references to Mesoamerican markers located at the Zarzamora Street entrance.

unnamed copy

Donna and Diana working on the moon

Indicative of the iconography of Mesoamerica, sculptural forms called stele are being created to mark and welcome the public into the garden space. Stele are free standing stone slabs which historically were erected for funerary or commemorative purposes, used as territorial markers or to commemorate military victories. The stele being created for the Moon Garden feature imbedded iconography, animals, and botanicals, in bronze and ceramic imbedded into concrete forms. They pay homage and are reflective of the style of the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations.


Sketch of Stele by Donna Zarbin-Byrne


Another detail the artists highlight is the natural plant and foliage of the area. Silver falls dichondra and frog fruit with white flowers were chosen for their shape and color correlating to the namesake of the image of the virgin of San Juan, are also plants native to Texas.


San Juan Drawings-111314_Page_2

Drawing by Landscape Architect Gary Lehman


Around the moon garden will be tiles painted in the talavera style also referencing the Spanish influence of the area. Talavera tiles are a blend of Andalusia Spanish and native Mexican style of craftsmanship.

All of these images serve as a reference to the collective imagery that we recognize as a community in large part with roots to the Americas. Collectively, all of us living in this region can relate to the style and iconography of these images, understanding intuitively the connection to historical landmarks and narrative. The narrative is not created as an instructive timeline, but rather as symbolic forms allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own story and imagination while they experience moving through this sculpture garden. Even before the physical groundbreaking of the garden began, we were able to see it due to the detailed depictions by our wonderful landscape architect, Gary Lehman of G Studio.

San Juan Drawings-111314_Page_3-2

From the statue of Lady of San Juan referencing the colonial period after the conquest in Mexico, to the native Texan plants, and the stele-like stones, Donna and Diana have specifically chosen to reflect the history of this neighborhood through iconic imagery and symbols.


SA Live featured us on September 1 in this great video segment.