Behind the brick walls of a massive warehouse in Frankford, there are dozens of metalworkers, carpenters, and fabricators bringing to life the visions of some of the world’s most-renowned designers.
On one end of the 60,000-square-foot facility, a curved reception desk is being pieced together—it will soon be installed in the lobby of a Zaha Hadid-designed building on the High Line. At the other end of the warehouse, a worker sands down a 500-pound piece of walnut that will be carved into a bench for high-end hotel.
This team of fabricators is what make up the company called Amuneal. Chances are you’ve never heard of it, let alone knew the company was born and bred in Philadelphia. But it’s very likely you’ve seen their work all over the world.
Adam Kamens has always liked to tinker with gadgets. Makes sense, as the son of the husband and wife duo behind Amuneal, a magnetic shielding company.
His parents found their company in 1965 at a time when Frankford was mostly a mix of factories scattered between rowhomes. Like its nearby neighbor Globe Dye Works, Amuneal’s business boomed for the couple, who had developed a special metal alloy that attracted technical industries like aerospace engineers and medical companies across the nation.
“But by the eighties and nineties, that market just wasn’t growing at all,” said Kamens. “We just needed another way to grow.”
Kamens, who by that point had started his own glass-blowing business in Old City, took over at Amuneal. He realized that in order for the business to survive, it needed to expand its reach. Kamens started by creating a line of, as he puts it, “kitschy furniture.”
“Our customers basically said that they didn’t want to buy just metal from us. So it forced us to work on other materials,” Kamens said. “It proved that we could do other things with the same people, same equipment, and same approach.”
That was nearly two decades ago. Today, Amuneal has grown from a team of two to 150, many of whom are recent graduates from local universities like Temple and the University of the Arts. Their high-end work ranges from refined display cases to soaring steel sculptures and is featured everywhere from private residences to the Navy Yard campus to Barney’s in New York.
As client after client called up Amuneal to build their designs, the company began to run out of space. Kamens says there were only so many buildings that could accommodate structures like a 30-foot-tall staircase with a steel bird’s nest on top, which now graces Twitter’s New York headquarters.
“At that point, we realized it was time to grow up a little bit,” says Kamens.
Growing up meant buying a 60,000-square-foot warehouse on Torresdale Avenue. What was originally a coal yard in the early 1900s is now home to Amuneal’s wood and metal production facilities, and soon to be 7,000 square feet of office space. Meanwhile, the magnetic shielding side of the company has grown so much that it now occupies its own space in another nearby warehouse.
Kamens acknowledges that the company could have taken the same route of other manufacturers that have moved their headquarters outside of Philadelphia. But the type of workers that Amuneal employs made staying put in Frankford an obvious choice.
“There’s a certain amount of grit required for what we do,” Kamen says. “We attract an urban fabricator. That’s one of the reasons we chose to be in the city.”
In the end, the designers of these high-end pieces will likely receive all of the credit. And Adam Kamens and his team at Amuneal are okay with that. He’s just happy his parent’s company is still standing, and that he and his co-workers get to build things.
“We get to make really cool stuff, we really do,” says Kamens.