Like his father and grandfather before him, Joe Biunno has spent his life repairing, and restoring furniture. In his 9000-square foot showroom and workshop in Long Island City his staff has the ability to design, carve, gilt, and polish projects from start to finish. Biunno has also developed a specialty business in curtain hardware that includes tiebacks, rods, brackets and finials. He’s an affable, enthusiastic man who loves combing through in yard sales for parts of objects that he can spin into gold, or at least gold plate.
I think the first thing that everybody is going to want to know is: what is a finial?
Well, a finial is a decorative end. Most of what we do goes on the end of drapery poles but they can also quite often go on top of the posts of a four poster bed and they can go on fences, like a newel post. Traditionally there is a finial on the first newel post of a staircase.
And this business was started by your grandfather or your great-grandfather?
Entry door to the Studio. Above the door is a sign painted by Joseph’s sister in 1970 for his father’s shop. Above the sign is a hand carved and gold leaf bed valance.
My grandfather was a finisher, specializing in doing paint finishes, faux finishes. My father followed in his footsteps and he was really a restorer/finisher. When I started work with my father it was restoration business only.
When did this business, what you’re doing now, start?
In 1986. Learning all those crafts and skills of faux finishes and restoration played a big part in what is now our product.
So everything is more or less handmade here? There’s no mass production.
No [mass production]. We’re are the kind of people if someone wants to have line of furniture and they want 100 of the chairs for a restaurant or something along those lines—that’s not our thing. It’s strictly custom. Ninety-five percent of our work comes from designers or architects. They may find a beautiful mirror and they want a pair made, so we will make the second mirror to match the original or we’ll make six dining chairs to make a set go from eight to fourteen.
To me it seems as if today’s style indicates that heavy curtains [which Joseph Biunno also makes] are really no longer want most people are doing in New York but I would imagine there’s still demand for that in other parts of the United States.
Believe it or not – I have an issue with selling some of our things in Texas—they’re too small! And people in New York look at my things and say, “Joe, it’s too big.”
There’s such a lack of light in Manhattan and it’s at such a premium that people are sort of moving away from curtains.
A lot of the newer buildings do not work well with our hardware [either]. It’s just that … there’s no walls! It’s glass floor-to-ceiling and column-to-column. It’s a wall of glass There isn’t even any place to screw a bracket on to a wall that will hold the pole! Bracket challenges!
• Sian Ballen, photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch
The office. Above the desk are press cuttings—just some of the many articles written about the shop.
The wall of Joe’s desk is filled with photos of Joe, his father and his two boys.
Fireman’s Prayer. Joe found a cast bronze piece of the fireman’s prayer at the 26th street flea market. He made a mold and cast numerous pieces for friends and business acquaintances. (His younger brother is a 20-year member of FDNY.)
“Seems to be what we hear from all of our clients, says Joe.”
Joe Biunno and office manager, Christine on the phone.
A classic finial design is being enlarged to a custom application. The drawing is then sent to the client for approval or modification before fabrication begins.
Master finisher and guilder, Juan Mina, doing one of several sanding steps prior to the finial paint coat.
Applying a primer coat in a custom booth made specifically for poles.
Master finisher and guilder, Jairo Sandoval gold leafing a pole.
Jairo Sandoval water gilding a twisted pole with an alternating stain and gilt finish.
The attention to detail when water gilding, real gold leaf is intense.
The pole prior to burnishing, which will then give it a mirror-like gold finish.
Some rings and finials that have been gold leafed and are waiting to be antiqued and distressed.
Rings about to receive a protective clear coat.
Juan Mina getting ready to apply a glaze to some painted and gilded finials.
Custom metal brackets, used to support the poles on a wall, receive detailed finishes.
A pole sample that has been approved by the client (note signature on end of pole). The sample is now used to finish all the hardware pertaining to that job.
Joe Biunno in the shop with some finials in progress.
Overview of the woodworking shop and many pieces of machinery, all of which are on wheels for moving when working with large pieces of wood.
The workshop’s vast collection of wood turning tools, each with a custom ground edge to do a specific job.
Master craftsman, Sandor Muller doing a layout drawing prior to turning a piece on the lathe.
Master craftsman Sandor Muller has worked for Joseph Biunno for twenty years.
Master restorer, Eddie Harit repairing a broken leg on a dining table base.
Eddie Harit standing by the band saw.
Another over view of the woodworking section.
Cabinet worker, Jorge Poluchi at his workbench doing some edge banding.
Metalworker Michael Sibblies in the metal shop preparing to weld some steel decorative poles.
Doing the prep work before welding.
A very unique steel pole being fabricated.
Cabinetmaker, Javier Gutierrez doing a drilling operation.
Eddie at work near a wall of clamps.
One of Joe’s many yard sale finds.
Grinding bench with many different shapes and thicknesses of wheels to sharpen and shape tools and cutters.
A rubber mold prior to adding casting material.
A “book” mold which opens like a book to remove a cast piece.
Storage shelves holding stock finial pieces and various rubber molds.
Brass strips prior to welding onto the face of custom made brass rings.
Brass rings – on the left is an inlay “shaped” to fit into the ring. On the right, is a completed ring.
A corner sample of a vanity with its black finish and gold plated brass ormolu. The sample was made for the clients review and approval. The full vanity stands below the sample piece.
Some on-site photos in client’s home to begin the drawing process.
A unique secretaire still in the process of its fabrication
A corner section of a dining table being made with its “little brother” next to it (the smaller version is used for a coffee table).
A selection of antique mirrors in the process of being repaired and restored.
A gilded and painted bench being restored.
The workshop kitchen and lunch counter.
Hundreds of show sample finials fill a showroom wall.
A small sampling of Joseph Biunno turned and carved legs.
Sample curtain poles are piled atop a French chair in the showroom office.
Small grouping of tiebacks.
A collection of oversized legs used primarily on beds.
More finials on the wall and hanging from the ceiling.
A carousel of finish samples from past jobs that are occasionally used for a future projects. More often, each project gets its own custom sample.
A unique sample of some steel and brass drapery hardware.