In the past, a tradesman would sit with a scroll saw—a handsaw with a hair-thin blade—to carve out a geometric pattern of curves and curls in a slab of wood for hours. The result of this labour of love? Fretwork. With origins in Indian, French, and Arabic culture, decorative fretwork adorned buildings across the West Indies during the colonial period and became synonymous with Caribbean architecture. As the popularity of fretwork waned and the costs associated with this painstaking work escalated, the tradecraft died out.
However, the introduction of new technology—Computer Numerical Control (CNC)—has breathed fresh life into this iconic Caribbean style. Nowhere is that more evident than at Fretworks, a fabrication company based in Diamond Vale, Trinidad that designs and produces unique, custom architectural details. Marcus Skinner, managing director of Fretworks, took over on April Fool’s Day 2017. “I don’t know if that was prophetic,” he jokes, but the impressive growth and popularity of the business is clearly no laughing matter.
It’s not just fretwork either. The manufacturing process can produce modern textured panels, retro 3D designs, and an array of signage. Through the magic of automated technology, the options are limitless, with no project too big or too small. Fretworks can translate any inspiration—a photograph, a sketch, or a feel—into a pattern using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software and transform those designs with perfect precision into reality using CNC machines. The machines can be fitted with an infinite array of router bits, which allow them to produce endless designs on a host of materials, including metals, wood, PVC, and acrylics.
The credit shouldn’t all go to the machines though. “The machine can only do what you tell it to do,” Skinner explains. “Just like any other shop tool, it’s worth nothing unless it’s in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.” The Fretworks craftspeople are not only adept at the mechanics of their trade, but they also have the vision for what can be created using their equipment. With the design process it’s about bringing an intimate, personal flair to a space, whether it’s a home or commercial building. Fretworks collaborates with clients to come up with creative solutions that will achieve the aesthetic and functionality that clients need within their budget.
With a passion for conservation, Fretworks was involved in the impeccable restoration of the famed gingerbread house nestled in the southwestern corner of Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Savannah. Having presented on the topic at events for The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, Skinner believes, “It’s not just the famous, historic buildings that deserve to be returned to their former glory, but also the little gingerbread homes scattered around places like Woodbrook.” The Caribbean has lost much of its architectural heritage not only through time and neglect, but also because natural disasters.
Having worked up the islands, the team is mindful of the devastation caused by last year’s hurricanes. Skinner muses, “After the critical rebuilding has taken place, we would love to be involved in returning those historical touches to the countries affected.” From wedding mandaps to building façade cladding, and even Christmas trees, there’s no challenge too creative for Fretworks. So if you’re looking for your next décor project, stop worrying and start Fretting!
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