(ran HP edition)
Rick Singleton makes lamps long on attitude and "odditude."
His first illuminating folly was a torchiere fitted with engine pistons. "When you turned the crank, the lamp went up and down," he says of that 1986 gift to a friend. "I designed the shade, and my mom made it."
These days, the Washington artisan makes chandeliers, wall sconces, table and floor lamps out of bits and pieces that the more shortsighted among us might merely discard, and he makes all his own shades.
A careful look at a typical Singleton creation might reveal a pot lid, car mirror, vacuum-cleaner head, gas stove ring, doll part, Erector set component, Thermos bottle or loving cup.
Consider the table-model lamp best described as GI Joe on a Spit.
"I was building this almost French Provincial lamp with a hollow sphere as its focal point, and I decided to cut a hole in the front of it, put a motor on the side and roast his little head as if he were a ham on a rotisserie," says Singleton, 36. "The sphere is painted orange inside, and the head moves so slowly it gives the impression he's in there baking. In some ways, it's like roasting my childhood."
The $850 lamp appealed to lawyer Patti Francis and her artist husband, Sean Griffin, who display it in their dining room, which is dominated by a Singleton chandelier they commissioned. That extravaganza is the most complicated thing he has ever made.
"They definitely wanted silver," Singleton said. "They wanted to use candlelight and electricity, and they wanted light to reflect off the ceiling, so I put a halogen fixture in an aluminum bowl, votive candles at the top and little 25-watt candelabra bulbs under parchment and tin shades on the six arms."
To personalize the $1,500 work, Singleton _ whose fine-arts degree from Louisiana State University includes a minor in jewelry-metalsmithing _ made tin "necklaces" that hang between the arms. The central fob is a three-sided shadow box filled with diminutive objects he crafted to symbolize the couple's life.
"We are religious, so one panel contains a cross," says Francis. "I went to the University of Virginia law school, and Sean and I love nature, so another has the UVA columns and a tree, and the third, because Sean is an artist, has paintbrushes and a palette. Rick used our hair, so one brush is blond, and the other is brunet."
The couple now own six other Singletons, including a copper, tin and stained-glass chandelier they commissioned to hang from the ceiling mural Griffin painted over baby Barrett's crib. A small lamp built around an Erector-set motor sits on a nearby table.
As for Erector sets, Singleton says, "My parents bought me one when I was a kid, and I played with it until there was nothing left of it. Six years ago I bought another one for nostalgia, and as I played with it I thought, "I can make lamp-shade frames by using the flat struts with fiberglass. From there I thought: wall sconces, floor lamps, chandeliers."
His creations are meticulously crafted, partly a function of his art-school training and partly a result of his day job, a decade working at Gaylord's Lamps and Shades in Bethesda, Md.
He occasionally uses the shop's equipment for tricky projects, like drilling a hole in the bottom of an old jade-green glass Mixmaster bowl, which he attached to the arm of an ornate silver sconce and mounted on his kitchen wall.
"I'm always haunting yard sales and thrift shops and junk stores for things," he says. "I have a case of pot lids in the closet. When I saw the bowl, I held it up to the light, and the color was so great."
Singleton's work is not just for homebodies. It creates a buzz in hip public spaces too. For the Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria, Va., he made an Erector set chandelier and 13 matching wall sconces adorned with such objects as an espresso pot and a Mr. Peanut bank.
Just blocks from Singleton's apartment-workshop is the headquarters of Bedrock Management, a company that owns seven pool halls in the Washington area, Tennessee and Texas. In that nondescript building, Singleton installed an Erector set suspension bridge chandelier, complete with antique metal trucks. Halogen lights are concealed in the pylons, and the vehicles are fitted with small interior bulbs.
"Rick has done a lot of lamps for us," says Jeff Dawson. "Rick builds things that are after my own heart, putting things together with odd pieces of this and that. He's whimsical. He's fun."