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Twist on steel

(and cool stuff to fill it)

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published September 17, 2004

Ken Helle/tbt*
Dominique Martinez sits on top of the large dragon he manufactured at his shop, Rustic Steel Creations.

TAMPA -- You can't miss Dominique Martinez's 6,000-square-foot warehouse along 12th Street in downtown Tampa. His business, Rustic Steel Creations, stands knee-deep in glorious urban grit, part of a neighborhood that once housed the gears of a working port city.

Inside the cavernous purple and yellow warehouse, a cadre of youthful employees make poetic, curlicue railings and gates, chandeliers fit for medieval castles and cocktail tables so modern they await the perfect Charles Eames chairs.

Outside, Martinez's mascot practically roars with energy. The 10-foot-long, 1,500-pound steel dragon wears a skin of green computer motor boards, peers from eyes made of red trailer lights and clutches bouquets of Spanish moss in its bony steel claws.

When Martinez opened his custom-steel business on the site shortly after 9/11, friends minced no words.

"They said I was going to starve," he recalled.

Now, developers, builders and interior designers seek him out.

First came his funky, functional mirrors, then some tables, wine racks and chandeliers. The rest soon followed. His small creations like fish-handle door knobs and woven steel wall sconces are just as impressive as his large-scale fences and railings.

Martinez hires lots of 20-somethings as apprentices for their energy and ideas.

"We do what people want us to do, within their budgets," said Seth Garber, the 23-year-old operations manager. Martinez says his shop differs from other custom steel businesses because of the product selection.

It's no wonder HGTV and the Discovery Channel have come calling with the idea of featuring his home and business on upcoming shows.

FishHawk Ranch recently commissioned him for custom railings; Beck Construction, the contractor for Victory Lofts, also commissioned work, as have the Tampa Port Authority and numerous local home builders. As of now, Martinez has 13 projects in the Channel District alone. To make room for his expanding business, he took over his entire warehouse space, once partially occupied by rental tenants.

Rustic Steel is open for walk-in business, too. Visitors are met first by his 3-year-old black Lab, Jake, a big, gentle watch dog who checks out strangers with a wagging tail.

Want some?

For more information on Martinez's creations, go to www.rusticsteel.com

(813) 222-0016

[Last modified September 17, 2004, 16:19:08]