Meet Jim Watts, the guy behind a number of iron art installations you see all over our city

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Around the corner from Triple C Brewing Co. and the new Hyde Brewing and The Suffolk Punch, there is a brick building on Fairwood Avenue, and a mysterious-looking yard.

The yard is filled with everything from vintage chandeliers and a lime green mannequin to a 1940’s wooden teardrop trailer.

Step inside the gates and you’ll find one of the more unique art spaces in Charlotte: Jim Watts’ Creative Iron Designs, the shop of a man whose fingerprint is all over Charlotte.

Watts, who describes himself as a “visionary, artistic creative fabricator that can create most anything,” has been building and creating in his shop for years.

Known for his creative eye, not only in his custom ironwork but also in his ability to acquire and transform unique and vintage furnishings and art, Watts offers clients something they can’t get anywhere else.

His creations range from gates, fences and other residential and commercial decor to the yellow chairs by the Light Rail Trail and one of his more recent pieces, the hanging barrel sign at the Triple C Barrel Room.

How did Watts get started?

After spending his teenage years at military school in Georgia, Watts enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design before moving to Raleigh.

After frequenting North Carolina flea markets, he began driving weekly with a friend to the US/Mexico border to purchase home goods. He noticed he could buy a chair at the border, fix it and sell it back in Raleigh for a good price.

“I knew what I bought and what it was missing, and I knew what the quality was supposed to be,” said Watts.

What happened next?

Watts started transforming items he saw potential in, then focused on the ironwork space, specifically on building and installing iron gates and railings.

Soon enough, however, he had customers asking him if he could build them a table. Business boomed.

What now?

Watts spends most of his time creating railings, gates and furnishings for both residential and commercial clients.

His passion, however, is playing “what if,” and turning what someone may call “junk” into a one-of-a-kind art piece.

What’s in the shop?

Watts frequents auctions, flea markets and antique malls, working with pickers and other friends to source just about anything. It’s not just about buying, it’s about imagining what something might become.

Because of this, Watts’ shop, what he calls an “eccentric urban version of American Pickers,” is filled with everything from custom iron furniture to a large collection of vintage and unique finds. Customers are able to come in, talk about pricing and walk out with a unique piece to take home.

“I just want everyone to be able to love discovering this stuff as much as I do,” said Watts. “I also wouldn’t mind making more room for new things at the same time. New finds are constantly being added to the collection.”

What’s his process?

For railings or gates, Watts’ process is pretty standard.

Residential or commercial clients have an idea in mind and work with Watts to pick out the posts, pickets and rails before Watts gets to work.

With the “what if” or “I saw this online” clients, his process is different.

“You have something cool you want made and you can’t go to a store to get it. That’s where I come in,” said Watts.

He asks four questions:

  • What do you want?
  • Is there a budget?
  • What do you like?
  • What if we made it this way?

Budget affects more than just materials used and time in the shop. For Watts, the more a client is willing to invest, the more time he can spend hunting or picking for materials.

Though budgets vary, Watts is able to suggest different options and pricing to fit the client’s needs.

Once he figures out what a client wants, how much they’d like to pay and what they enjoy (a picture frame made from old surf boards, for example), he measures the space the client would like filled, then he gets to drawing.

“When people give me the keys, my brain just goes crazy,” Watts said. That’s where the fun begins.

Some work, like this outdoor firewood storage, can be done and installed for what it costs to simply ship similar pieces. This piece was commissioned by a client who fell in love with a similar piece online, but was deterred by the exorbitant price of shipping. Watts’ client paid $2,000.

What all is he working on?

Watts stays busy with commissions like staircases, signage, custom fireplace screens, live edge wood and iron tables and other custom iron creations.

He loves working with clients who might want to create their own custom piece or explore the shop for unique discoveries to add to their own homes.

Does he offer classes?

Watts will soon be offering welding classes by appointment, starting at $200 per session. Contact him or swing by his shop for more details.

How much does a typical piece cost?

Custom fireplaces screens: $375-$950 

Custom gates: $550-$2000

Custom trellis: $795-$2500 

Custom cut letters: $150-$400

Creative Iron Designs is located at 133 Fairwood Avenue and is typically open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays. Connect with Watts on Facebook and Instagram.

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Danny Gassaway
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My perfect day would include skiing, live music and Tar Heel football. And the Tar Heels would win.