Robert Lavezzo in his studio with some of his creations.

Lavezzo Designs is a design and metal fabrication studio located in Emeryville, and last week Lori and I had the pleasure of interviewing its owner, Robert Lavezzo. I know Robert very well since we co-owned Lavezzo Designs for 12 years until I left a few years ago to pursue other interests. 

Lori: How did you get started in metalwork, Robert?

Robert: I started working at a metal shop while I was still in high school. I realized that I liked doing that, so I stayed with it. I never took metal shop in high school, but I learned different disciplines by working at different shops. I worked in a production welding and then at a precision welding and sheet metal place. There I also learned machining. Then I went on to work at a sign shop which was a completely different world. 

Janelle: How so?

Robert: They [sign companies] look at things in a different way. They aren’t into precision, and are much more practical in that they make things work. At precision metal shops you work from engineered drawings, you have to stay true to that drawing and be extremely precise. Sign companies are more creative and visual, so you learn how to make things look “nice”. You worry about how a sign goes together as you build it. That was a lot of fun for me. The precision shops taught me how things go together well, whereas in sign shops it was more relaxed, more creative, and instinctual. Journey men did things differently, based on their previous experiences, so there was never just “one right way” to do things. For me working at the sign shop was kind of a vacation, because you could be less rigid in precision but you had to be sure the signs were structurally sound and visually pleasing. 

Lori: What makes up the bulk of your current projects?
Robert: Currently, I’m doing a lot of work for interior design firms in San Francisco. I haven’t been doing much designing myself lately, but I do have one railing project I’m designing. I’m enjoying working with the interior design firms—they have an idea of what they like to see, and they are very creative. It’s fun to be a part of the process. I just finished up doing some work for a winery in St. Helena. High polished brass was used throughout the project: fireplace surrounds, covers for projectors, champagne boxes, wall shelf unit, and tables.
Hammered Copper Coffee Table 

Janelle: What is your favorite part of any particular job?
Robert: Figuring out what the client wants. It is the hardest part, too. You have to help clients define what it is they want. People are good at telling you what they don’t want, so you just have to look at it from their perspective—look at their house and see what they are used to seeing. I like the process of clarifying what it is people are looking for. For example, if somebody says that they want “darkened steel” as a finish, this can mean many things. To some people this means that the darkened finish is mottled; to another, this means they want a perfect, even finish. I also really enjoy figuring out how to make things. This sometimes takes longer than actually making it.

Janelle: I know that you also do work for non-designers. How does that process work?
Robert: I find out what they want, and see if it is something I can do. If they have a sketch or drawing, then that is the first step. We can get together, or they can email me, so that I can calculate a ballpark figure of what the cost will be. Even a rough sketch is very helpful; it doesn’t need to be a rendered drawing. I just need to get a feel for what it is they are looking for. A good client for me knows what they want, and they trust the craftsman to figure out the details, taking the measurements and figuring out how to make it. 

Janelle: So that puts the responsibility back to you in a very clean way, because you are the one who figures out how it is going to be built and what’s going to work—from structural aspects to the installation. 

Robert: Right. 

Manzanita Sconce - Lost Wax Casting (Lori Pepe-Lunché Designs)

What kind of metals do you work with and which one is your favorite?

Robert: I work with all of the steels: stainless steel, cold-rolled and hot-rolled steel; I also work with copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, and even pewter. I once made a bar for a client that was an old French design. That project required a lot of hammering and forming. 

Lori: What is the most expensive metal?
Robert: Bronze or pewter. Steel is the least expensive. Metals have different qualities, so I don’t have a favorite. For longevity, to last for generations, go for bronze, stainless steel, copper or brass.

Janelle: I heard that you now do cast metal projects, too? 
Robert: Yes. I do two types. Sand casting is for small pieces. It is limited to particular forms, nothing too intricate. For more intricate pieces with lots of detail I do “lost wax” casting. It is expensive and takes time, but is worth it.

Lori: Thank you for meeting with us Robert!


Lavezzo Designs
5751 Horton Street 
Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 428-2384