>> Bob Parks is the author of Makers: All Kinds of People Making
Amazing Things In Garages, Basements, and Backyards. While renovating his home in Brattleboro, Vt., he has learned that many sins can
be hidden with good room lighting. firstname.lastname@example.org
Homemade lamps are the gateway female preoccupations,” says Palmer, an artist
drug to more sophisticated — and based in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “I started out do-
more dangerous — dalliances with ing concrete work using jello molds. That struck me
electricity. Those folks throwing long sparks from as funny. Then I started specializing with the lamps.
Tesla coils and Van der Graph machines? They all I guess I’m drawn to the 50s kitchenware that was
started with dorky little projects involving 25-watt around when I was coming up.” She often sells her
tulip bulbs. The wiring is easy to learn and requires works for $100 and more at haute houseware
only a few safety hints (more on that later). You can stores along the West Coast.
put a light bulb into anything, particularly into things Some of Palmer’s pieces skirt the line between
found around the kitchen. Nothing’s better than a Salvador Dali and Salvation Army. Let’s be honest,
mysterious glow emanating from a dead appliance we’ve all seen ugly novelty lamps. Wagon wheels,
or iconic soda bottle. rustic milk jugs, and carriage oil lamps were made
Amateur lampmaker Eric Gillin, for instance, into willfully hideous living room appointments in
created superior mood lighting for his apartment the 1970s. I won’t even mention previous eras (like
from a 1940s Cuisinart mixer. “It packs a huge surprise the dad’s high-heeled leg lamp in Jean Shepherd’s
for visitors,” says the Manhattan-based magazine A Christmas Story). But right now, kitchen stuff
editor. He hollowed out the flea-market find, installed presents safe aesthetic ground because it is kitschy
two small lamps where the beaters should be, and in a cute way. That the postwar kitchen was such
added a translucent red glass bowl to diffuse the a politically loaded place is something that Palmer
light. “People get a good laugh. It’s fun to pervert can parody with her hacked-up atomic-era junk.
something to have an entirely different purpose.” And for most of us, it’s the easiest route to cool
Kitchenware works well as the raw material for and unique lighting options. Gillin created his
improvised lamps because it is instantly recogniz- Cuisinart mixer after coming up empty at the store.
able. Crafters have made lights from liquor bottles, “Everything that was a little different was too
chandeliers from champagne glasses, and luminar- expensive,” says Gillin. “And everything cheap had
ies from catsup jugs. Photographer and tinkerer no style, no soul.” With an idea to transform an old
Warren Armstrong made 1,000 points of ambience mixer, Gillin walked down to the Strand bookstore and
by putting a bulb into a cheese grater. Mike Knapp bought the Time-Life book on wiring. He soon made
used Mountain Dew cans as fixtures for an attractive four or five lamps out of old blenders for friends, and
track lighting scheme. Argentine designers Adrian moved on to a toaster with fluorescent tubes. It had
Lebendiker and Ricardo Blanco created an overhead an eerie glow — sort of like the car in Repo Man — but
light by meticulously cutting up a plastic soda bottle didn’t generate enough light to be useful.
into thin strips and using the fuzzy material over The essential tools for lampmaking are small
a bulb to cast a soft greenish glow. pliers for cutting and stripping wire, a flat-head
Phoebe Palmer, the high priestess of enlightened screwdriver, and electrical tape. Any hardware store
cookware, has made hip lamps from cereal bowls, will sell lamp sockets for under a dollar. It’s always
thermos stoppers, casserole dishes, ice cream
scoops, gravy boats, fondue pots, and a particularly
fetching standup number made from 27 jello molds Right: Phoebe Palmer reincarnates kitschy old kitchen
bolted end-to-end. “It’s just one of the deep-seated treasures into fabulous new lamps.