In 1987, Victor Salas’ father’s business, ARTchitectural Interiors, was tapped to build hand-carved chairs, a table and throne for the record-setting mass Pope John Paul II delivered to a crowd of 350,000 in San Antonio.
When it came time to deliver the custom-crafted throne, the Salas family opted for a slightly eccentric, labor-intensive option. After building a custom trailer outfitted with ropes, they secured the elaborate chair on top and pulled it roughly 16 miles to Westover Hills by hand.
“We pulled it all the way up Culebra, all the way to the site,” recalls Salas, who was 10 at the time. “It was a whole-day event. It was crazy.”
As for the reasoning behind this unusual delivery method, Salas explained that it was the most authentic, “old-world” strategy the family could devise for the task at hand.
Even today, authenticity and old-world sensibility are hallmarks of the work Salas designs and builds at his own business, Forged Oaks. With a name that marries his two main materials of choice — iron and wood — the company is a go-to for interior designers, builders and homeowners looking for one-of-a-kind furnishings, from hand-carved doors and fireplace mantles to wrought-iron gates and staircase railings. The statement-making pieces are built to last — traits that distinguish them from off-the-shelf items and hold a status Salas likens to an heirloom.
After graduating Central Catholic High School in 1995, Salas relocated to Austin to study design, photography and drawing at the University of Texas. While pursuing his BFA in art history, he kept a hand in the family business, often spending weekends at job sites, spreading the word about ARTchitectural Interiors and making sales.
Later, after landing an architecture degree, he interned for a firm in St. Louis but found his duties — chiefly generating AutoCAD drawings from a desk — unfulfilling compared to the family business’ hands-on work. So, he returned to San Antonio in 2003 and started full-time with his father.
Salas rose to a senior-level position at ARTchitectural Interiors but ultimately found himself at a crossroads. While his father pursued commercial work, Salas was more interested in the high-end residential market. These divergent paths led to a falling out, and Salas struck out on his own in 2014.
Hurdles marked his first year on his own. Not only was he suddenly without tools and equipment, he was without a workspace.
“I was literally working out of people’s garages,” Salas said. “I had a lot of work that first year. I had so many different shops set up at different locations. My metal shop was set up on one part of town, my woodworking shop was set up in a couple of different locations, my finishers were in a different location. … And I was in my car the whole time, almost like running from job site to job site.”
The following year, Salas secured his own shop and upgraded to the 12,000-square-foot space he now occupies in North Shearer Hills.
During a tour, Salas explained his creative process, which typically begins with a conversation or sketch that informs an AutoCAD drawing, then a to-scale mockup. Such mockups abound in his shop — slices of elaborate banisters, decorative window casings and wooden railings expertly finished to mimic marble.
When asked what sets his shop apart, Salas explained that he’s driven by both design and detail. As an example of this attention to the latter, he showed off a forged iron banister. Appearing deceptively light with its swirly, filigree pattern, the piece looked surprisingly seamless and organic — every intersection had been smoothed over with a coat of Bondo then painted with costly automotive paint to weather the elements.
“We use all solid wood,” Salas added. “We’re not using particle board or MDF. So, the way we construct things is more old-world.”
Thanks to his team — which comprises iron workers, woodworkers and finishers — Forged Oaks is also a one-stop shop.
“We’re able to work with the client, work with the designer, work with the architect,” Salas said. “We do drawings, make the samples, build it, do the finish and do the installation — all in-house.”
Although 90% of what Salas builds isn’t in the public eye, his work is showcased in some prominent locations. He restored the furniture inside the church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, for example, and refurbished quatrefoil windows, duplicated period moldings and forged a new flagpole for the Bexar County Courthouse. He also made the stately double doors that distinguish the Lucchese Boot Company in the Quarry. Arguably his most visible project, a sculptural iron tower rendered in a ribbon-like design, is installed in Woodlawn Lake Park.
Two of Salas’ most recent projects involved solid wooden doors created in the signature style of architect O’Neil Ford’s brother Lynn Ford, the craftsman behind the woodwork at Trinity University. While one job involved the restoration of an original door burned in a fire, the other entailed a new build created in collaboration with local designer Hillary Walker Conrey.
“Victor is a true joy to work with,” Conrey said. “Not only is he a gifted artist in multiple mediums, but he’s professional and collaborative as well. He’s got a can-do spirit and is able to make my most outlandish decorator ideas a reality.”
“Victor inherently understands the nuances of a beautifully designed object,” added Clare Watters, lead project manager for the specialty hardware company Alexander Marchant. “Everything he builds reflects this sensibility.”
For more about Victor Salas and Forged Oaks, visit forgedoaks.com
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