We recently had the pleasure to work with Mike Bless of Lido Gates in Newport Beach, CA. This beautiful contemporary home sits on Huntington Beach Harbor, so sun, salt, and humidity are all in play. Read about how Mike brings his 30+ years of woodworking to bear on this project.
All photographs taken by Mike.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your woodworking background, and your business. Where do you mainly work geographically? How long have you been doing this? What led you to building gates?
I came from a family of contractors my dad and his three brothers (Bless Brothers’ Incorporated). They built the first 13-story concrete apartment building next to the beach in Redondo Beach, CA, along with many other complicated structural concrete projects starting in the 1960’s. Being born into the industry, my first word as a baby was “hammer.” Just kidding! I think being born into the construction industry is most often helpful in getting your humble leg-work done at an early age. I took my first Wood Shop class in junior high school in Newport Beach and then three more years in high school. So it would be safe for me to say that I have been working with wood since 1979.
I see a lot of people in the construction industry who are good sales people but with a brash persona about the industry and oftentimes finding themselves getting stuck in sticky situations due to lack of knowledge about particular details such as “well this is supposed to be the best type of wood and I don’t know why it did that” which often ends up costing the client time for re-makes and sometimes money. We are all learning everyday, but we approach each new job very cautiously and don’t try to make the client feel that their custom project is “a piece of cake” before we get the job. Instead we carry the same attitude through pre-sale to job completion.
I remember my dad telling me as a kid that “hanging a door” is an art, and from that point on I saw it as a challenge. I started installing doors and after years of installing doors, was asked many times by clients “where can I get a door that can be used as a gate? Back then to my surprise the major door manufacturers wanted nothing to do with a door that is getting rain and elements on all 6 edges. These multi-million dollar companies are not dumb and they know the time and expense that goes into making something that “might” hold up in the weather. Fortunately my shop was right next to an old man who was a shipwright and he gave me invaluable lessons about glues and their relation to certain woods, which is critical in a weathering environment. A gate is a dynamic wood product and needs to move, operate, expand, and contract all at the same time while having the hardware work properly with the wood’s movement. THIS IS TRICKY!!
What wood did you use on these gates? Any special joinery?
The wood that was requested by this particular client was Ipe wood. It is from Brazil and after marrying a Brazilian girl and doing over 20 trips to Brazil in the last 15 years, I have learned much about this wood. In fact, Brazilian carpenters use glues that are not common to find here in the U.S. I have seen Ipe wood used in many different applications done in Brazil and I always take notice of the techniques used when I am down there.
Just because it is an extremely strong wood does not mean that it is the best wood to use for a gate in terms of cost efficient construction. One of the issues is that since the pores of the wood are so dense it is hard for the glue to travel deep into the pores to get a good “root bond.”
We don’t like to give away our hard long time secrets of exotic wood bonding, but instead rely on our credibility and reputation for accountability for standing behind our products if issues do arise. I will say however that these gates do have mortise and tenon joints as a minimum.
Do you work mainly with architects and landscape architects, or homeowners?
We work with them all!
What inspired these gates’ design?
The inspiration for the design was to try and bring the garage and fence together, which is usually easy on paper, but then again gates don’t warp and twist on paper! These gates are located at a house that is in Huntington Beach on the Huntington Harbor with a boat dock, so they are definitely getting the salt water marine environment, which calls for excellent stainless steel hardware like yours!
In your experience, how long do you estimate a high quality gate will last as compared to a standard fence gate?
The life of a door/gate depends upon how well it is maintained as well as the original quality standards it was built by. Just like the original front door of a 100-year-old farm house, we can expect a similar length of time for our gates since we are using a much better glue (2 part slow-dry boat building epoxy). This is provided the homeowner does their part to maintain the gate, especially since it will be getting rain and times full sunlight which are very hard on the product.
When you meet with potential clients and discuss pricing, do you discuss the pros and cons of a higher quality product over a cheaper alternative?
I don’t waste much time anymore trying to educate people on the “get what you pay for” fact. Since I am fortunately very busy with contractors, architects, and homeowners who understand that and who are not willing to take a chance to deviate from that age old saying. I do, however, have a page on my website labeled “Problem Gates” http://www.lidogates.com/gate-details/problem-gates/ that shows what can go wrong with improper gate construction.
What advice do you have for homeowners planning for a gate project?
Don’t underestimate the age old rule of thumb “You get what you pay for.”
Do you use gate stops on all the gates you design and build? What are your thoughts on gate stops?
Yes, we always use stops. We make our own of a special thickness and width. The thickness is relative to the type of handle/latch that is used and the width relative to sit over the top and cover the anchor bolts that go into the wall. This gives a very clean and streamlined look when the bolt heads are covered. We also like the stops to take the load of the gate closing as to not put that stress on the gate latch (if a gate latch is used).
Another nice thing about using stops is that they keep one from seeing through the edges of the gate for added privacy. They also help a little in keeping the latch/knob side of the gate from twisting.
What role do you think gate hardware plays in the function and appearance of a gate?
Hardware plays a huge function in the gate not only for ease of operation but for an artistic curb appeal, as well as home value. Often many times you can at least double the price of your new gate project added to the selling price of your home.
Also, if your home is on the market, a buyer will take into consideration the quality in which the entire house has been maintained and will see the quality of the gate and hardware as they first pass through to get to the inside of the home.
If you have an upcoming project and you’d like to reach Mike to discuss it, here is his contact info: