Light up your dinning room or foyer with a custom chandelier by Brightwire Designs

Drawing for my “Boston Edison” design.

Drawing for my “Boston Edison” design.

Looking for something special to hang above your dining room table? This post is about the custom chandeliers I have made over the past few years.

Considering how many lights I’ve made recently, it’s surprising even to me how few of them are chandeliers. “Multi-bulb hanging lights,” is what I prefer to call them. “Chandelier” is too old-fashioned. The word itself is gaudy, dripping with phonetic crystals. It is however a little more economic and less technical than “multi-bulb hanging lights,” so I guess I’ll stick with it for this post.

I have beaten the garbage man to more than one curbside chandelier in my day, and most of those pieces I dismantled and scavenged for parts. Ironically, none of the custom chandeliers I have built actually incorporate any of those parts. The problem with accumulating scavenged parts is that it can lead to endless tinkering. And there’s a fine line between useful, creative design work and tinkering a good idea into oblivion. I usually spend way more time designing the structural support, the bones of the piece than I spend making what I consider the more beautiful parts. That’s probably the reason I don’t spend a lot of time chasing chandelier business. It’s too difficult to determine how long they will take for me to build, and I end up pricing them too low.    

My first custom chandelier was actually one of my first lights of any kind, and it hung over our dining room table for a long time. Looking closely you can see that the EDM wire I used is much more gray than the shiny silver stuff I currently use. That’s because it had been run through the EDM machine and dumped at the recycle center where I found it. It was basically very dirty. It also incorporates way more wire than I would use on a similar design, today.

My second chandelier is probably my favorite, and I’m calling it my “Boston Edison” style, because I made it for a home in Detroit’s historical Boston Edison neighborhood. The concept was simple; a long box shape whose four sides and top are panels — woven mats, really — of yellow brass wire. The challenging part was figuring out how to put it all together. My neighbor had given me four old brass table legs, and I put three of them to good use on this project. I used them to create an inverted T shape, joined in the center by some one-inch plumbing pipes, which remain hidden. Holes were drilled in the soft brass to run wires, and there are five bulbs total, providing ample dining room light, and complimenting the long rectangular table over which it hangs. You’ll also notice the use of a Zildjian cymbal for the ceiling plate. Being a drummer, I usually have a cracked cymbal or two laying around, and they have become sort of a trademark of my style wherever “upcycling” is involved. In addition to ceiling plates for pendants and chandeliers, I have used them as bases for table and floor lamps. 

For my third custom chandelier I finally got to make use of one of those five-bulb floor lamps people are always throwing away. These have about 18 inches of flexible metal conduit connecting each socket to the main body of the lamp. After removing the long main tube, I was left with a Medusa-like five-socket cluster as a starting point for my chandelier. My client, One Salon, in Novi, Michigan, was very happy with the final result, especially after changing the light bulbs from my original edison bulbs to LEDs. Check out the difference between the two!   

The owners of my fourth and most recent custom chandelier have been living with it less than a week, and I’ve heard no complaints so far. Without question, the easiest parts of this light to make were the silver and black balls. My original idea was to swag six wired sockets out and away from a center junction box, which would have required no hardware at all except for the ceiling plate and a nut to hold it in place. Then I got to thinking . . . and before I knew it I was designing hardware in my mind, then in real life. This project came to me just as I came off a month or so of building sculptures from carbon fiber arrows, and I couldn’t get those arrows out of my mind. The large diameter arrows I used for this chandelier are actually aluminum, not carbon fiber, but they are strong enough to support the relatively lightweight wire balls without bending. And the inside diameter of 3/8 in. was perfect for accepting the standard threaded conduit commonly used for lamps and chandeliers. The most difficult thing about this build was making sure all seven balls were hanging at the desired length, and that each bulb was centered in each ball. Maintaining balance was not that big of an issue. I simply made three weight-matched pairs of balls, and hung each ball directly across from its counterpart. The balls have no opening on the bottom, but are easily removed without tools when it comes time to change the bulbs, thanks to a handy little three-spoke doohickey I came up with, which I will describe in another post.

I said earlier I don’t spend a lot of time “chasing chandelier business,” but that was a lie. I chase all business. If you or someone you know needs a really cool custom chandelier, don’t forget about Brightwire Designs!

New Lighting Ideas for 2019

Vector Lights

vector-light-2.jpeg

Some of the designs I came up with last year have led to cool and interesting new lighting ideas for 2019. The use of flat wire panels and the rods used to configure them, for example, got me wondering how these frame structures would look by themselves without the brass wire. I started with aluminum or brass plates to serve as the fixture base that could be easily connected to any standard threaded light socket or 3/8 inch threaded conduit. Then I drilled angled holes through the plates, through which brass or steel rods could be run at “vectors” of any length. The results were interesting, even if the holes were drilled somewhat at random, because multiple rods going in any direction will always create planes in space. I could then choose to delineate the planes using flat wire panels, or leave the structures as they were. Even though I’m not the first designer to use these minimal, scaffold-like structures for light fixtures, I haven’t seen any exactly like mine. This probably has to do with the fact that I don’t use a lot of precise engineering when it comes to taking measurements, making cuts, drilling holes etc. Often I don’t even have a clear picture of what I’m trying to make until the piece is halfway done. I rely mainly on figuring out a process of production, and the shape reveals itself somewhere along the way.

Carbon Fiber Lights

carbon-fiber-light.jpeg

One of my new lighting ideas for 2019 includes the use of carbon fiber. I’m attracted to interesting materials, especially materials I don’t see many people using. Lately I have been working with a bunch of broken carbon arrows I pilfered from the dumpster behind a local archery shop. I plan on purchasing some larger diameter carbon fiber tubes and seeing where that leads. Although I haven’t yet incorporated low wattage LED lights into any of my designs, I plan on using them inside some of the arrows I have left. I love how the carbon fiber weave has a textured appearance from some angles, and a wet, glossy look from other angles, all while being so smooth to the touch. And of course, it’s light, extremely strong, and reasonably easy to work with. I did find some very interesting carbon fiber lights made by a company called Tokio. Some of the Tokio designs are assembled from tubes or rods, but the most impressive shapes in their lineup are made with custom molds or forms, similar to the way carbon fiber auto body parts are manufactured. Tokio even makes a really cool carbon fiber lounge/couch, in three different sizes.

sconce-light.jpeg

Sconces

Wall sconces are a great luminary accent for any home, and my list of new lighting ideas for 2019 wouldn’t be complete without them. I kicked off the new year by installing a pretty cool one in my Mom’s house. The hardware was cheap, only $20 in the Home Depot discount bin. Like almost everything I buy at a retail store, I modified this fixture to work better with the rolled-up mat of brass wire I prepared. She was happy with the results, and I certainly plan on making more of these in the near future.

broken-egg-light-2.jpeg

Wire-Lined Wire Balls

Another new lighting idea for 2019 is a combination of two things I’ve been doing all along, but have never actually thought of until recently. This idea, to line a wire ball of one color, with wire of a different color, was inspired by one of my competitors in the Detroit Holiday Window Walk contest. Her version featured gold leaf inside plaster hemispheres, and it was a really cool look that reminded me of a broken egg. The only way for me to actually pull off a similar idea using a brass wire ball was to start with a powder coated ball. The powder coating would ensure that the structure would stay together after I cut it open with metal sheers. Look for more of these and a lot more, in 2019!