If you’re a book lover like me, you’ve dreamed of having a room dedicated to your library, with floor to ceiling shelves. One necessary component to that room would be an old-world rolling ladder, to access those hard-to-reach leather bounds on the top shelf. Unfortunately, there aren’t many companies that continue to make these ladders. However, one company, Putnam Rolling Ladder Co., has survived due to top-quality craftsmanship and custom options. I recently visited the company’s headquarters in Manhattan, and sat down to talk with Operations Manager Lloyd Javois.
Putnam is located in Soho, amidst glitzy fashion houses. It’s a reminder of what the neighborhood used to be before the designers moved in. The company was founded in 1905 and was located on Water St. before moving to the Howard St. address in the 1930s.
And like it’s headquarters, the ladders Putnam churns out are just as enduring. As we tour the Putnam facilities, Lloyd shows me ladders that are 80 years old.
“These things last forever,” he says. “It’s very seldom that we have a ladder that’s less than 10 years old that something gets broken.”
Lloyd says that customers often call in about old ladders found in basements; ladders that can be 60 to 70 years old. These ladders may have lost a fixture or have a worn-out wheel, but these problems are relatively easy to fix. The great thing about Putnam ladders is that they haven’t changed much.
“Over the years very little has changed on the ladder. Maybe the tires might be a little different than they were 20 years ago but it’s still universal as far as the fit. So it may be made out of a different material now, but it still fits an older fixture,’” says Lloyd.
Putnam ladders are not antiques though. With their variety of fixtures and finishes, each customer can make a ladder personalized to their home design. Updated fixtures are what have kept the ladders relevant over the years.
“Sometimes it gets very trendy,” Lloyd tells me. “Right now everyone wants bronze or antique bronze [fixtures]. That kind of stuff is very common now as opposed to ten years ago it was mostly polished brass or polished chrome.”
And in the age of the digital e-readers like the iPad, Kindle and NOOK, libraries are no longer an essential room in the house. This has changed who the Putnam customer is.
“The purpose has expanded. When I first started working here, it was mainly libraries. Also, a lot of stores use them in their stock room. One of our biggest customers is Foot Locker,” Lloyd says. “We can take the same ladder and dress it up and dress it down. The function is the same but in one case the appeal is not as important as the function. When, with most libraries the appeal is most of the job. Function is secondary.”
There’s really no end to the spaces that could use rolling ladders. And if you buy from Putnam, you’ll get a ladder that will last a lifetime. Just take a look at some of the photos I took of the Putnam headquarters, and inspirational images of rooms with rolling ladders.
1 Lloyd said this ladder was probably 80 years old. That's amazing!
2 A small ladder is on display in the Putnam offices on Howard St. in Soho.
3 On the far right you can see a picture of founder Samuel Putnam.
4 These racks are where they dry finished fixtures. The racks look like dripping, silvery ice.
5 Putnam also sells standard ladders.
6 The metal scraps look like tiny metallic crumbs.
7 A collection of old ladders. Putnam keeps old ladders if they are structurally sound, and resells them. It's good to see that no ladders are trashed unnecessarily.
9 Lloyd shows me one of the ladder wheels.
10 I love the design. It has so much old-world character.
11 Putnam ladders are assembled at their Soho location, as well as at a satellite facility in Brooklyn.
12 Barrels and buckets organize screws and bolts.
13 My favorite part of this rolling ladder is the brass metal fixtures. (Pinterest)
14 Another great kitchen ladder. (Pinterest)
15 Even smaller libraries look great with ladders. (Martha Stewart Living, September 2005)
16 This ladder is great because it hugs the wall. It saves on space and is very subtle. (Pinterest)
17 This fun and bright kitchen is actually our Decorating Editor Rebecca's house. We love her inventive use of the rolling ladder. No more standing on counters to reach for tableware. (September 2008)
18 I like how the ladder is offset with it's dark color against the bright white of the library shelves. (Pinterest)
19 An impressive library with an equally impressive rolling ladder. (Pinterest)