Antique Lighting As Art

A lifetime of unusual finds of antique lighting furnished the firehouse.

Serial restorer and preservation design consultant Karla Pearlstein has amassed an inventory of antique and vintage pieces, for clients and for her various homes. Objects run from Art Nouveau metalwork to rolls of never-hung wallpaper. In the firehouse, her latest and most ambitious renovation, arguably the oddest piece is a plaster of Paris mantel with Native American portrait heads.

Arts & Crafts chandelier
Over the main stair hangs an Arts & Crafts chunk-jewel chandelier, ca. 1910. Irregular amber “jewels” glow when lit. Planished metalwork feels organic.

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Nevertheless, it’s Karla’s collection of lighting fixtures that constitutes the most remarkable cache. Her previous house, dating to the 1860s, was lit chiefly by gaslight-era fixtures: Rococo designs in brass and zinc. Fixtures in this house are from the early electric era, which produced some of the most unusual and whimsical and downright strange designs. No longer was there a need to account for the gas line and open flame!

The Handel sconce with a hammered metal plate was found on eBay.

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Historical revivalism was in full swing. Take the multi-tier fixture that hangs over the main staircase. It’s a chunk-jewel chandelier of the Arts & Crafts period, ca. 1910. The closer you look, the more details you see. It’s organic, old-world, medieval. The art-glass shades were made by Steuben Glass in Corning, New York. The piece was almost certainly designed for an entry with a high ceiling or a stairwell.

In the bath, a diminutive pair of gilt-bronze figural swan sconces dates to ca. 1900; they’re fitted with hand-blown Floriform shades.

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See Pearlstein’s gaslights

Pearlstein has found beautiful pieces even on eBay. The sconce (above center) is a Handel piece, ca. 1905, with a slag-glass shade and metal overlay. The glass is painted and fired: “It has tremendous fire in it,” Pearlstein says. It hangs from a bold, hammered metal plate. 

Signed “Beardslee Chicago,” the ca. 1910 Art Nouveau chandelier has seven Quezal pumpkin-color glass shades. 

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More often, her vintage and antique lighting comes from Cindy and Chris Allen of Allen’s Antique Lighting in Massachusetts. The tiered chandelier in the stairwell; a Beardslee chandelier with blossom-shaped pumpkin-glass shades—original patina in mint condition (top left); the tall floor lamp depicting herons amidst reeds (p. 71): all came from the Allens. Other antique lighting sources include Marie Gautheir’s Revival Antiques, and Old Portland
Hardware & Architectural. 

Sunroom sconces depict winged dragons holding lanterns.

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Everything in the firehouse has a history. Besides the plaster mantelpiece and lighting, another quirky furnishing is the breakfast table in the kitchen, with a milk-glass top and porcelain-on-cast iron legs; it came from a 1920s ice-cream parlor.

Pearlstein couldn’t resist this quirky horned lamp, found in Marie Gauthier’s Revival Antiques (Pasadena). 

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Tags: OHJ December 2021

By Old House Journal

Founded in 1973, Old House Journal is the original authority when it comes to old-house restoration, traditional house styles, period kitchens, bath & kitchen restoration, DIY projects, gardens & landscaping, and more-- from Colonial and Victorian through Arts & Crafts and Mid-century Modern homes. 

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