Putting it Together
By David Hanson | From Preservation | May/June 2009
Replicating a historic fixture can begin with a specific customer request, or in the library of the Rejuvenation factory, the 1939 Chase Bag Factory on the north side of town. Inside the 87,000- square-foot space, a bedroom-sized office is filled with old lighting catalogs. Just as Microsoft has its mainframe terminal, Rejuvenation has its library, perhaps the most comprehensive collection of architectural lighting catalogs in the nation, 130 years' worth.
After leafing through a dusty 1882 catalog, industrial designer Tim Wetzel might identify a promising chandelier. He then turns to his computer and scrolls through eBay. If he finds a similar antique chandelier for sale, he buys it and has it shipped to the factory for analysis.
Upon receipt, Wetzel works with a staff engineer to compile specifications for the antique. Draftsmen render every individual part; a completed chandelier may require 300 drawings or more. After adapting the design to meet modern building codes (c. 1900 electrical wiring was not always the safest), he orders required parts from specialized vendors around the country. Factory craftsmen complete the prototype and test it. Only then does the company promote the new item and acquire inventory for production.
Because each fixture is built to order, Rejuvenation's assembly process is unusual. When the factory receives an order, employees begin pulling customized parts from long, wooden crates and boxes piled on top of metal shelves. (It's like writing a poem from a word bank of period-specific nouns, verbs, and adjectives.) Customizable options include length, finish, number of arms, type of socket, and shade. The parts are placed in an order cart and rolled onto the factory floor.
First, the pipe supporting the light is cut to a specific length, then individual metal parts are sandblasted and prepped to undergo the finishing process. The pieces move through a buffing station and cleaning station. Some then head to the antiquing tanks. There, liquid in various shades of blue fills square basins that look like the tubs used to hold minnows in pet stores. A craftsman dangles metal parts from hooks attached to a rod. He drops the collection into a tank for the desired antiquing effect. After that, a hand-performed steel wool "rub-out" provides highlights, and a lacquer station adds color and texture before final assembly.
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.