Excerpt from Retail Therapy: Eclectic Revival's light bulb moment in the National Post
I wouldn’t’ recommend reading Freedom by the diffuse glow of a vintage Chevy headlight, but it sure looks good on a coffee table.
Last year, lighting dealer Peter Breese recalls, he told his wife, “that’s it, after this year we’re done.” Prized antique finds like an obverse- and reverse-painted table lamp, executed on an amber blank so that the sunset appeared that much more golden ($4,000), and a 1920s Classique lamp ($2,495) were gathering dust.
At around the same time, Breese started tinkering with a four-arm cluster light he’d found in a corner of his Junction store, Eclectic Revival. The store basement is a warehouse of orphaned components because, “like most dealers,” Breese says, “it’s like a disease. It’s like women with shoes, or for some guys it’s car parts.” He scavenged some sockets, screwed a few reproduction Edison bulbs in (without shades, to show off the decorative amber filament), hung it in the window and turned it on.
It sold almost immediately...
“That’s when the lightbulb when off,” Breese deadpans (that, or he’s genuinely oblivious to the pun).
That first multi-armed pendant light became a beacon for designers and designphiles, such that Breese’s custom work now accounts for over half his business — and in particular, the category of Edison bulb pendants and chandeliers he’s dubbed ‘steampunk,’ after the neo-Victorian sci-fi genre. The Edison bulb catch-all is the way many people refer to the vintage-style exposed filament incandescent bulbs that Breese more specifically calls Marconis, or squirrel cage. (They come in 30, 40 and 60 watts and cost $15-$20 to replace – nostalgia at a price, and take note: filaments are less efficient than their modern counterparts, which is why there’s a movement to recreate the effect using LED technology).
To craft his popular steampunk lights ($375-$900), Breese uses vintage brass arms with already articulated elbows when he can, but also shapes plain vintage brass tubing himself using a vice grip and brake benders. He’s dabbling in handmade reproductions, too, after securing a metal spinner in Mississauga to reproduce circa-1920s aluminum pan lights, which he then fits with a new-but-distressed cage and retro bulb (from $375; all are made to order in back, on a turnaround of 2-3 weeks). Lately, he’s also been converting vintage car headlights and taillights from their 6-volt systems to household electric, then mounting them on vintage stands for use as table lights.
It’s not lost on Breese that the retro-modern designs are incongruous among the twinkling crystals that still hang from the ceiling. “I was Mr Antique Lighting Purist. No, I wasn’t going to be bastardizing antiques, not me!” he laughs. And while he preserves the integrity of the original object, Breese also looks at a bucket of gears and sees chandeliers. He has bins of the stuff, salvaged from scrapyard oblivion – an old refrigerator cooling fin mixed with quad loop-style filament bulbs, or beautiful notched brass wheels that look like giant cartoon watch gears.
He might combine a spiraling worm gear with a junction and T lights – those long tubes generally used in signage or aquariums – to make an unusual pendant ($375), or mix in vintage ribbed prism Holophane glass. Silkscreened ruby glass Exit signs from the turn of the last century (and as etched glass pendants with an open bottom, rarer still; $250-$375) become accent lights; a trio of cast iron Hobite wire whisks, the scale of industrial mixers, will soon be transformed into pendant lights for a nearby Roncesvalles restaurant.
Some of the reworked lights are more suited to being industrial sculptures than to function. One piece crafted from a vintage examination lamp has a lens so thick it illuminates no more than a nightlight ($325), and the table lamp converted from a single vintage Chicago Doray Lamp Company car headlight. But they are beautiful. Breese runs his finger along the latter’s embossed chrome detail and admires the Deco-style casting. “Art Deco’s a funny thing,” he explains, gesturing to a pristine 1920s Stylux Art Deco slipshade chandelier ($1750). “There are people who just love it and will put it into an 1890s home, even.”
“I still buy a little [antique], when good things come in,” he admits, holding up a pair of triangular, 1930s ridged aluminum wall sconces. “Look at how modern that is.”