A Family Heritage Sharpened By Steel
For Dave’s Architectural Iron LLC, steelworking is an art form paying tribute to culture
From his childhood, steel has been in David (Dave) Friessen’s blood. “I saw my grandfather and uncle working with steel,” Dave says. “I liked to work with my hands from a young age. I was intrigued when I discovered how steel could bend when heated.” Dave’s love of metalworking and strong work ethic show through in all the businesses he has owned, but none more so than Dave’s Architectural Iron LLC (DAI) in Paterson, New Jersey.
“I have always had my own businesses,” he says. “Before this one I had a company overseas in Bolivia.” Dave was born in Belize and moved to the United States when he was 25. “People were telling me to come to the U.S. if I wanted to make a lot of money. A friend said he could get me a job, so I moved here. I came for what was supposed to be only a couple of months—16 years later, I’m still here.”
Founded in 2009, DAI is an architectural and ornamental metalwork company offering custom-designed iron and aluminum products including railings, fences, gates, structural steel and casting. DAI is distinctive because its team of craftsmen design and hand-make steel pieces through fabrication, blacksmithing and hand forging. Dave particularly enjoys the ornamental railings. He says, “I have a passion for doing the work. I consider myself an artistic person.” The beautiful steel products dazzle the eye on the company’s website—clients can purchase collars, rosettes, scrolls, leaves, baskets, post caps and balusters. Everything available in the store and online is handmade. The rosettes and balusters are custom-stamped using a computer numerical control (CNC) forging machine and plasma cutting, which uses a high-velocity stream of ionized gas to cut shapes out of sheet metal.
DAI has a reputation for providing unique steel and aluminum custom-made products—and the custom part is what really excites Dave. “We make everything in-house. We do a lot of custom design, scrolls, etc.; we even provide our custom designs to other railing companies.”
The majority of DAI’s clients are those in the public sector, like Essex County, New Jersey. Essex County uses historic touches and decorative steel products in its facilities, including railing, arches and gates that look like they were made 50 or 60 years ago. Essex County contracted DAI to create a custom gate and fence for Weequahic Park. Of the project, Dave says, “The county wanted a distinctive, traditional arch, so I sketched out a custom design for them and they loved it. That’s the kind of work I like. To bring old-world charm together with a contemporary way of manufacturing is exciting.”
Dave believes that it’s important to provide clients exactly what they want, but offering a local, one-stop shop makes a big difference to his customers. “Clients often tell me that when they have something custom-made from outside the area and they need a replacement piece or additional pieces, there is always a long lead time. Because we make our products in-house, we can be very responsive,” he says. This heightened level of customer service is one main reason why customers come back to Dave time and again. “We have worked with lots of clients for a decade and these repeat customers receive priority. Those are the customers we will go above and beyond [for] to respond to their urgent requests. But we always strive to provide all customers with a quality product.”
Hometown Success with National Ties
Culminating years of service to the local community, DAI received the Best of Paterson Award in the Iron Works category by the Paterson Award Program in 2016. Each year the award program identifies local companies that enhance the image of a small business through service to their customers and community.
Dave says, “Our hard work paid off when we received the Best of Paterson Award. It is about the impact our business had on the local community. I thought it was great to receive an award based on some of the work we’ve done locally. Namely, we completed railing/fencing at Paterson Great Falls. This award validates that we did a great job on a project that positively impacts the community.”
DAI is also a member of the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA). NOMMA’s goals align with Dave’s desire to advance the metalworking industry through education and the promotion of a positive business environment on a national scale.
Giving Back to Paterson
Since settling in Paterson 16 years ago, Dave takes great pride in his local community, which involves giving back whenever he is able. Donating time and money to churches has become a constant for DAI. Dave’s team has provided pro bono services to churches throughout Paterson, extending into Jersey City, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. For Dave, he gives back because “that’s how I was raised. If your local community needs you, especially if it’s a religious institution, then you volunteer and don’t charge for it.” Based on the number of projects and the time he has generously given to pro bono projects, his family is extremely proud.
Client Service Above and Beyond
DAI aims to always provide a quality product, but sometimes it’s more than beautiful, ornamental designs. The company must also use diligence when assessing any structural situation. As a licensed home improvement contractor, DAI has an obligation to follow building codes to help ensure safety and compliance. Dave says, “I often have clients say they don’t understand why these building codes are important. It’s my job to explain why the codes matter and therefore why they need to be respected. The codes are in place to help protect everyone.”
One case in point involved an office building in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. A commercial client asked Dave to review the column bands on an office building, noting that one appeared to be rotting. “On-site, I found one column band was decayed at the bottom. Upon further investigation, I noticed a second band in the same condition. I then used a camera to go behind the Sheetrock to see what was happening with the steel inside the columns,” Dave says. “I couldn’t believe it. I discovered the entire building’s steel beams were exposed and had corroded. The whole thing was about to collapse.”
Dave’s team was on-site for more than a week, working 24 hours a day, to replace and reinforce the building. The original structure was improperly designed—it was a precast structure backfilled with dirt allowing the structure to leak, permitting water infiltration. Therefore, the carbon steel was consistently wet, which led to rusting and decay. Due to the severity of the damage uncovered, everyone was evacuated until the building was deemed safe. To Dave, it was all part of his job responsibilities. “At first, the owner thought all he needed was a simple patch-up. But I knew if one column was bad, they all might be. It’s important to be thorough. People’s lives can depend upon it,” he says.
A Storied Journey
The steelworkers in Dave’s family ignited his passion for the trade at a young age. This industry has been a distinctive part of his background and was an art his grandfather and uncle embraced as part of the Friessen family culture. Dave’s journey may have led him to travel tens of thousands of miles—from Bolivia, to Belize and finally, to the United States—but he overcame different languages and cultures by resting on the knowledge that his love of steel would keep him grounded. Wherever he travels, he always feels at home.