Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stairway to the Crow’s Nest

D and I spent an interesting Saturday morning at a most unusual store, The Iron Shop in Broomall, Penna., just outside Philadelphia.

D conferring inside The Iron Shop. (All photos by author.)

Our task: shop for a metal circular staircase to provide access to our third bedroom. While the major, living portion of the house is a big open timber frame, there are two wings (conventional, stick-frame construction) on either side of it—one for the master bedroom on the ground floor and guest bedroom above it; and one for the entry, sun room, and third bedroom above that.

The main staircase in the timber-frame section will serve the second or guest bedroom. The third bedroom, which we’ve named the Crow’s Nest—for its indoor balcony views, with a nod to the Canadian Rockies railway pass of the same name—needs a staircase of its own. A circular stair will provide the most economical design solution in terms of space and money.

At The Iron Shop we were fortunate enough to have Ron Cohen, the current patriarch of the company work with us, looking over our architectural plans and guiding us as we chose from many designs and options. Since D and my tastes were pretty much in sync, it was a smoothly enjoyable process to select a 5’ 3”-wide stair in an “olde copper” color finish with 13 red oak treads from the Architectural Series. The rest of the hour was spent pleasurably talking with Ron, who was happy to share pictures of his great granddaughter and a little history of the company.

Architectural series circular stairs sample on display.
Red oak treads.

His grandfather, Max, started Max Cohen and Sons in Philadelphia in 1931, having emigrated from “White Russia” as an apprentice black smith. Today the company employs hundreds at the plant in Broomall and other U.S. locations. It works with architects to design and fabricate elaborate stairways, balconies, and building facades for an impressive array of corporate clients in New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Philadelphia; and for private residences from the Hamptons to Florida. The gallery on their website shows stunning work. The company started offering spiral staircases in 1972; and since then it looks like things have been going up, up, up. Its trademarked tag line: “The leading manufacturer of spiral stairs.”

Thanks, Ron, for a pleasurable design session and shopping experience. We look forward to sharing installation photos and joining your gallery. 


  1. What an interesting store! When I think of Crow's Nest, I think of the great old sailing ships. But I guess that more befits an ocean view!

  2. As always, Victoria gets me thinking . . . and researching. And you are right, the crow's nest is a part of a ship. But why? Crows were kept in cages high atop ships to aid Vikings in navigating in poor visibility.The land-loving birds were released and the ship's navigator watched their flight to determine the direction of the closest land. We were being a little more literal in naming the Crow's Nest; crows like to build their nests high up in trees, In NH we have some very big crows. Which gets me to wondering the difference between crows and ravens . . .