In Design, As in Love, Opposites Sometimes Attract

Atelier Domingue shows how perfectly modern steel doors and windows pair with traditional European-style architecture.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen August 21, 2017

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It's a truth universally acknowledged (at least by Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat) that when it comes to love, opposites attract. What's less well-known is that this aphorism also applies to architecture.

A decade after opening Houston's Chateau Domingue and building it up to become one of the leading suppliers of European architectural antiques in Houston and throughout the country, Ruth Gay was on a buying trip to Italy and found herself drawn to an unexpected juxtaposition: historic stone buildings accented with sleek, low-profile steel doors and windows. When she saw that celebrated decorator John Saladino had similar steel pieces custom-made for his Tuscan-style California villa, Gay knew a trend was brewing. 

"The trend was starting to take off incorporating steel windows and doors, but I was noticing instead of these low-profile, sleek, elegant doors, you'd see ones that were really heavy-looking, not really streamlined and not sexy at all," says Gay. "I remember being in a client's home and thinking everything was perfect if only they had some beautiful steel doors. ... I thought, okay, somebody should do this."

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That was the impulse that led Gay to start Atelier Domingue five years ago, setting up a production facility in Houston (across town from her noted shop in Upper Kirby) to create bespoke windows and doors that are also properly engineered and sealed using her signature six-step process to prevent rusting. She also partnered with renowned color consultant Eve Ashcroft to create seven ideal colors for the line, although custom color is also an option. (Ashcroft would later join Gay and Belgium's Eddy Dankers to create Domingue Architectural Finishes, a line of 140 mineral-based paints and plasters.)

Gay notes that 80 percent of her clients choose slate, a soft gray, but the unexpected colors have also found some notable fans.

"The crazy part is she chose a red, and I thought we will never sell that, but sure enough we sold a red front door. She also chose white, and our first client to use white was Martha Stewart, so she knew what she was doing," she says.

She has noticed more people interested in bi-fold and sliding windows and doors, as Americans embrace indoor/outdoor living, but one trend she's been surprised to see is clients using her line in interior applications. 

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"Right now we're working on a historic office building in Maryland, dividing it out with interior walls all made of steel and glass, and we've done several interior units in New York," Gay says. "I think it's interesting how they are being used even as room partitions. One of our crews is in Manhattan as we speak installing the largest sliding doors—they are humongous. We had to close down the street and hire a crane to get them in, and they are using them as big space divider."

For Gay, one of the best aspects of starting Atelier Domingue was the opportunity to work with new clients that didn't fit with Chateau Domingue's classic European aesthetic.

"We visit designers and architects all over the country, and it's fun having something for everybody. Some people love the rich antiques but others lean more contemporary, they love the lines of the steel windows and doors. Because they're so simple and so clean, they go with anything."

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