Words by Lisa Waterman Gray | Photos by Brynn Burns
From handrails to glass-and-steel walls, custom iron accents make an appearance in many new homes and renovation projects. Meet two metalsmiths who are not only handy but artistic.
Wheat & Waves
hillipe Leitner is an easy-going artist and fabricator, a Southern California native, surfer and entrepreneur who has called Kansas home for the last 15 years. When Phillipe’s children were first born, he was a stay-at-home dad while his wife, Krystal—also an entrepreneur—ran and grew her boutique barbershop business, Buffalo Mane. While home, Phillipe tinkered, did some design-build work and decided to learn to weld. With the help of YouTube, Phillipe was able to pick up the basics and do a few small projects around the house.
His neighbors, who happen to be Kevin and Molly Jarvis, founders of Brasstacks Design + Build, were eager to test his newly acquired skills and asked if he could build a sink base for one of their projects. Thrilled with the results, they realized he had quite the knack for metalwork and continued to offer him increasingly challenging and larger-scale jobs.
Stair handrails and guardrails became a common request, and other contractors and builders started approaching him for welding work, too, including Cardinal Crest Homes, Cicada Co., Erickson Build Co. and Centric Homes.
His business—Wheat & Waves—has evolved, with interior glass-and-steel storefronts, doors, windows and partitions now being the largest sector of his fabrication business.
In addition to fabricating items for builders and interior designers, Phillipe is often hired by private clients. He loves working directly with homeowners who give him an opportunity to do the design work alongside the welding and fabrication work.
Phillipe considers himself more of an artist than a tradesperson—beyond metalworking, he is a painter. He paints on canvas in his spare time for fun but will also do commissioned work for clients and projects.
And, as if raising a family, running a small business and being a painter all weren’t enough to keep him busy, Phillipe is also a dreamer with big ideas. His current efforts are on the development side of things, which allow him to think creatively, continue to challenge himself and bring the things he loves to the place he calls home.
Wheat & Waves, @wheatandwaves
Kansas City Metalworks
sheer Akram founded Kansas City Metalworks in 2008, only two years after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute with a BFA in Sculpture. When a local architect wandered into his shop in 2007 and asked him to collaborate on a project, Asheer embraced the opportunity and established his own company.
He hired his first workers in 2008, and for the first few years, he ran a small operation with only a couple of employees. But Asheer has proven himself a competent businessman who has grown Kansas City Metalworks into a thriving enterprise, employing a handful of talented fabricators, full-time draftsmen and several office admins.
Today, the company produces miscellaneous architectural metal components, including handrails, steel doors and windows, fences, gates, pergolas, fire pits and public art. A sliver of their work is commercial, but primarily they work in the residential market on million-dollar-plus homes.
Asheer’s business continues to grow as local development booms, but unfortunately, he can’t take on every project in the city. There are limits to how much work a small business can handle, and there are not enough fabricators to meet local demands.
This situation is a bit surprising, considering that the grandfather of architectural metals—A. Zahner Company—has been headquartered in Kansas City for more than 125 years; one would think there would be plenty of skilled tradesmen around. But those workers tend to stay at Zahner, a unionized company that pays well, so the need for trained metalsmiths persists.
“There is a lot of opportunity for the smaller one- and two-man operations to scale up,”
Asheer says, to fill the void in the market and keep the jobs local. Even though that would potentially create more competition for him, Asheer hopes some aspiring entrepreneurs will seize the opportunity and help the local industry flourish.
He admits that his own transition from independent artist to small-business owner has not been easy, but he has no plans to slow down. Yet, as his company takes on larger architectural projects, he becomes more removed from the fabrication process, instead spending his time managing the business, estimating projects and meeting with clients—and he realizes this isn’t for everyone.
“The only time I actually touch metal anymore is when I make sculpture,” Asheer admits. Which, luckily, he gets to do for clients from time to time. Creating abstract sculptures in cast bronze, aluminum or ceramic stokes his deep-rooted passion for working with metal and reignites his creativity. Returning to his roots replenishes the reserves he needs to lead his team. For that, he does very well.
Kansas City Metalworks, @kcmetalworks
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