WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTO | STEEL APPEAL
You may have noticed a scattering of bright and cheerful butterfly chairs, or maybe you have driven past the large steel silhouette of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald that graces M72 in Leelanau County. These works of art were created by Curtis M. Warnes, owner of Steel Appeal Custom Furniture in Empire.
After working many direct sales jobs to help pay for college, earning a degree in electrical engineering, and working for years in the communications industry, Warnes wanted to be closer to home and family. He took a masonry job along with a weekend job at Steel Appeal. When the production manager left suddenly, the owner approached Warnes about taking the position and asked, “But can you weld?” Warnes replied, “Sure, I can weld.” In fact, he had never touched welding equipment in his life! Thankfully, his brother-in-law, an experienced welder, happened to be visiting, so Warnes asked, “Can you teach me to weld by Monday?”
He learned enough to get by and continued practicing his welding techniques, discovering that he has both a love for welding and a natural talent for it.
Fast forward nearly three years to 2005, when the owner decided it was time to sell Steel Appeal. He wanted someone who loved the business as much as he did to take the helm. Even with no actual business management experience, Warnes jumped at the chance to purchase the company and take it into the future with his vision of what it could become.
Steel Appeal continues to offer its core products: rustic home decor that includes wall sconces, lamps, kitchen and bath accessories, free-standing sculptures, and wall art as well as custom railings, gates, and furniture, all made from steel. A new addition to the product line-up is Warnes’ live-edge, slab-style resin tables.
These tables are stunning. Inlaid items often have some personal meaning to the customer, such as Petoskey stones or driftwood collected from a particular beach, and he uses the resins to simulate lakes and streams creatively. Each piece is unique; his customers know they will never find another, and that is what they appreciate most.
A gradual turn toward more custom work has allowed Warnes to showcase his talent. Using a mix of steel, stone, wood, and various inlays and resins, he turns a client’s vision into a beautiful, special piece to be loved for years.
Over the years, Warnes has received many interesting requests. Currently, he is working on a 14-foot-tall, 36-foot-long replica of a T-Rex skeleton. The customer had expressed a lifelong desire to have a T-Rex replica and asked Warnes if he could make one. Of course, the answer was, “Sure!” Once Warnes started calculating measurements, he warned that it was going to be a “really big backyard pet.” The customer thought it sounded perfect.
Warnes is considering creating a second T-Rex to add to his M72 roadside display. The public will be given the opportunity to donate to help with the cost in return for their name on a recognition plaque. More substantial donations will receive a miniature replica of the T-Rex.
Steel Appeal’s showroom is also Warnes’ workshop. Customers enjoy stopping by to see what piece of art is in progress and possibly finding something to add to their home. Be sure to call ahead if you are making a special trip; you never know if Warnes might be out installing his latest piece. Maybe a giant Tyrannosaurus!
Steel Appeal Custom Furniture
12100 S Plowman Road
Empire Michigan 49630
(231) 326-6116 l SteelAppeal.com