Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Syroco, Any One?

If you've ever rooted around in an antique shop or flea market, you've probably seen, and maybe been amused (or even horrified) by home decor pieces of Syroco, perhaps without knowing exactly what they were. Syroco is short for the Syracuse Ornamental Company, founded in Syracuse, NY by Adolph Holstein, a wood carver who came from Warsaw in 1889. As the business grew, he employed immigrant carvers from Italy and Austria who worked in walnut, mahogany and other fine woods, creating decorative pieces for late Victorian homes.

To help meet increasing demand, Holstein developed a new material made of wood pulp with flour as a binder, plus other ingredients for strength. It looked and felt like wood, but multiples could be created through a molding process. The new, lightweight material, which could be painted or finished to look like wood, was called SyrocoWood. Many of the pieces I've seen have a painted gold finish, like the dogwood branches below.
Syroco came in literally thousands of designs, including mirrors, brackets, vases, clocks, shelves, sconces, moldings, figurines and much, much more, in numerous traditional styles, including Baroque, Heppelwhite, Queen Anne, Louis XIV, Renaissance. You name it. The variety of Syroco items is staggering. Google “Syroco images” and you’ll see what I mean.

Even though some might say that Syroco is tacky, I like it because it's inexpensive and the creative possibilities are endless. The character of even the most over the top, elaborate pieces can be completely altered by paint, making them work as an accent or counterpoint in rooms of all sorts, from the simplest or most modern, to rustic or traditional. There's something for nearly everybody.

When you’re decorating on a budget, start with a Syroco shape you like and just add color(s). Black paint, for example, turns Syroco into wrought iron. The ubiquitous gold finish looks much different (and far more subtle) with a verdigris patina. Or, as in the case of this mirror, use a bright color. Imagine Syroco pieces in varying shades of white in a shabby chic room...

The Syracuse Ornamental Company remained in the Holstein family for several generations, and at one point was the world’s largest producer of decorative wall accessories. It passed through several owners until 2004, when it was bought by Vassallo Industries of Puerto Rico. The company closed the plant in 2007 after increased material and operating costs made the business too unprofitable to continue. Although the company may be gone, Syroco lives on in countless homes, including ours. Maybe a Syroco piece can find a place in your home, too.


  1. Makes me want to go out and buy one - everyone should have at leat one piece!

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  3. No, I don't do a newsletter, I just write this blog, an occasional article on Wordpress and articles for my web site. Thanks very much for writing! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Excellent, informative article. Thank you !