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Albemarle House — originally built by Patricia Kluge and her then-husband, the late John Kluge, and now owned by none other than Donald Trump — is one of the area’s most lavish homes. With 23,000-square-feet and 45 rooms, it’s fit for a king.
The mansion was also the first large-scale residential project for Keswick-based full-service metalsmith shop Stokes of England, a job the company landed only a few years after its founding in 1981.
Local resident Stephen Stokes and his late father Joe created all of the hand-forged iron and bronze in the mansion, working with famous interior designer David Easton. Since that time, the company has gone on to earn both national and international attention, with features in numerous prestigious publications including Architectural Digest, Southern Living, Home and Garden, The New York Times and the Washington Post.
In addition to the Kluges, Stokes has worked for royalty and celebrities — including the royal families of Great Britain, Qatar and Oman and acclaimed actress and local Sissy Spacek. Though the company’s work knows no geographic bounds, they have maintained the roots they set down in Keswick decades ago and continue to foster a strong local presence. In fact, if you’ve driven by the Albemarle County Office Building lately, you’ve probably seen the weather vane they designed.
Stokes — who first came to America as an exchange student from England and eventually settled locally with wife Alison — is quite the versatile man. He meticulously handcrafts fine works of art, ranging from intricate fireplace screens to enormous iron gates. Sure, he’s worked with some big-name designers and architects, but he always welcomes custom orders from local residents and even offers the opportunity to tour his forge. That’s right, the forge. You can watch the blacksmiths hard at work at the fire firsthand.
The Stokes of England gallery in Gordonsville displays a selection of lighting, furniture, hardware and more that are ready for purchase. Multiple visits are a good idea as the selection is always changing. “When we get a whim to make something, we make it,” Stokes comments. Stokes and his crew of skilled craftsmen design everything in the store, and they are constantly trying out different things to see what will be popular.
To Stokes, the benefits of shopping local are pretty clear. When you have custom work made at his shop, you are going to get exactly what you want – the right design, the right size and the right shape. Stokes works closely with clients from beginning to end to bring their vision to life. Stokes of England even offers a free design service — they sit with clients and sketch until the design is perfect. “[Clients] get a kick out of realizing their vision in iron or bronze and watching it be made at the shop,” he says.
Not only does this practice allow you to maintain control over the design, but Stokes also guarantees that anything made by them “will be around for many hundreds of years.” Stokes’ pieces are ideal family heirlooms, personalized accessories for the home that will survive multiple generations.
Incorporating metalwork into your home is easier than you might think. “A lot of people don’t think about where ironwork occurs in their home,” he says. For your first piece, Stokes recommends furniture or a fireplace screen. For example, a wrought-iron dining room table would look gorgeous with a marble or wooden top. A custom-made fireplace screen could display a monogram or the silhouette of a beloved pet. Wine racks are a good pick for oenophiles — what better way to proudly display your collection?
For those who might be looking for the next step in metalwork, Stokes also creates light fixtures. Imagine illuminating your dining room with an elegant chandelier, or creating an intimate and inviting glow with a lantern in the foyer. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a definite showstopper, check out his medieval-style wine cellar doors that are exact reproductions of ones in medieval homes in Britain.
Blacksmithing has been in the Stokes’ family since the 1600s — as Stokes puts it, he has “iron in his blood.” His father traveled around Africa and Asia as a senior metalsmithing expert with the United Nations before teaching Stokes the family craft. The two started by crafting smaller pieces, such as swords and knives, and eventually grew to make lighting fixtures, balconies and massive iron gates. A few years after the company was first founded, Joe returned to England and ran the company’s U.K. branch until his death. Stokes of England U.K. is now headed by Stephen’s younger brother Chris.
“[Charlottesville] reminds me a lot of Shropshire, where I’m from”, Stokes says. “I like the fact that the community in Charlottesville is very international and mixed. It doesn’t feel like a small American town. It’s very cosmopolitan. A lot of people in this area appreciate the work that we do.”
For more information about Stokes of England, visit stokesofenglandusa.com.