Delavan, Lake Geneva companies 'pull' together for success

Business partnership has global aspirations

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Dec. 12, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)

Copper and zinc melted together to make brass, now that's a match made in Heaven.

So is melting together of two Walworth County companies, Bergamot Brass of Delavan and Notting Hill Decorative Hardware of Lake Geneva.

A decade ago, the two companies formed an alliance that has flourished beyond belief.

In fall 1996, Bergamot CEO Daniel Baughman contacted Kathy Dustman, owner of Notting Hill, with an idea to design and sell decorative kitchen hardware, mostly drawer and cabinet knobs and handles.

What started off with 12 designs has flourished into an outfit that has the ambition to go worldwide with more than 900 pieces in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors and patterns.

Baughman and his staff provide most of the designs, but Dustman is in the field marketing the pieces and coming back with new ideas to make sure the product fits the demands of the marketplace.

"For us to be able to manufacture what these people are seeking in maximum capacity for artisanship and craftsmanship, I think you'll find the very best in the business, in the country and perhaps the world," Baughman said. "There is lots of nice hardware out there, but we like to look at it as a cut above."

"It's like jewelry for your cabinets," Dustman added.

The 20-page 2006 catalog has all sorts of designs on the metal pulls and knobs, from ornate leaves and flowers, to chefs holding butcher knives and rolling pins, to tropical birds and rainbow trout.

Each piece is hand made at the Bergamot Brass factory in Delavan, where 110 workers make sure each piece is flawless and consistent to the finest detail.

"There's no other way to do it," Baughman said. "(Dustman) has competitors that have machine-finished products and you can tell the difference. (Competitors) have good products, but we feel there is an audience that wants something better."

It's hard to describe, but machine-finished products have a certain look to them that lets consumers know it doesn't have the attention to detail provided by a craftsman, Baughman said.

"There's nothing wrong with machinery. It can make certain products good, but in some cases you need a handmade product and there's no other way around to get that look," Baughman said. "That's never going to change."

That added attention to detail does add to the price. Notting Hill pieces are not something you can pick up at national hardware retailers.

The company has more than 450 retailers nationwide and in Canada, and products are sold on about 30 Web sites, Dustman said. Most of the retail outlets are in niche outlets that specialize in kitchen and bathroom decorating.

Prices in the 2006 catalog range from $13 each for smaller pewter knobs to $75 for intricate, Victorian-styled, antique bronze pulls.

The sluggish economy has had little effect on Notting Hill's sales, which have grown every year and have yet to reach a plateau, Dustman said.

"People's homes are their castles," she said. "They're putting a lot of money and effort into making their homes personalized and the way they want them."

The Trump Corporation, owned by New York real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump, has purchased Notting Hill products. So has a National Basketball Association player and Hollywood movie studio owner, Dustman said.

Accessorizing a kitchen, bathroom or furniture piece with knobs or pulls is an easy way to make a home unique and beautiful, Dustman said.

"It really can change the look of a kitchen," she said. "It's something you want to coordinate with the rest of your home-light fixtures, faucets. It's very important.

"There is a variety of ways people will utilize their hardware. There is no right or wrong. You can do all knobs, all pulls. It's an important element. It's a design element.

"People are glad to have so many choices in the market right now. We're happy to offer them something that's so unique."

Added Baughman, "We want it to look like something you can get nowhere else."
Having become a force in North American markets, Bergamot and Notting Hill are looking to expand their products to worldwide outlets.

"This line deserves to be appreciated not only by the domestic audience," Baughman said. "This will have the same stature in many European homes and other fine homes around the world."

"We are poised for the next big thing and I think that's it," Dustman said of the ambition to go global.

About Notting Hill Decorative Hardware and Bergamot Brass

Notting Hill is owned and operated by Kathy Dustman out of Lake Geneva. It has six part-time employees and uses an independent sales company with 25 staffers. Key markets are in the United States and Canada. Products are sold through 450 retailers and about 30 Web sites for new construction homes and home renovations and remodeling.

Bergamot Brass has been operating for 37 years, and has been in Delavan since 1980. The company makes metal products from belt buckles to commemorative pieces to scale models. Products are manufactured in a variety of metals including pewter, brass, bronze, sterling silver and more. Each piece is hand crafted. Products are sold through four divisions-custom products for corporations, sterling replicas, sports marketing merchandise and auto accessories.

For More Information

Visit the Notting Hill's Web site at www.nottinghill-usa.com.

For information on Bergamot Brass, visit www.bergamot.net or its divisional Web sites, www.meridianmetal.com, www.sterlingreplicas.com, www.theofficialpage.com and www.alfredhitchcover.com.

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