Made in USA: Where I Get My Lamps

Vintage lamps - made or restored by Modilumi in St. Paul, MN.

Dateline: December 13, 2020

Before I made the commitment to purchase Made in USA products, I bought many of my house items from big name retailers, such as Crate and Barrel, Williams Sonoma, etc.

Learning how to source products made stateside took some time and learning — more so because I wanted mid-century, either vintage or pieces inspired by the mid-century greats, such as Charles and Ray Eames.

One find I made early on: Modilumi, an online and physical store located in St. Paul, MN. I found the store while doing an extensive search for mid-century lamps on Etsy.

According to a piece posted in the Retro Renovation blog, Modilumi owner Lex started the business in 2014 “after he saw a fiberglass pendant light in a bar and loved the look.” Due to his history in manufacturing, he did more research and started making lamp shades, pendants and ceiling shades as a sideline.

My first lamp: Restored vintage

In the past, Lex sold restored vintage lamps on his website and Etsy (I’m not sure if this is the case now).

At any rate, I was redoing my office and wanted something mid-century and made in the US.

I found this piece on his website and snapped it up.

Restored vintage mid-century lamp © Dianna Huff, 2020

Although small in height (21″ including the shade), the lamp packs a lot of style punch. Lex restored the ceramic base by painting and then firing it in the kiln. I love the swirls of red and yellow that blend into orange.

The color was also perfect for my office, which combines blue, black, and orange / red colors. I use orange and red for yang or fire energy.

Other details include the teak neck and the red frame ring. I also love that the skinny shade adds to the drama and overall height.

Red frame ring © Dianna Huff, 2020

Restored vintage: From junk sale find to statement piece

When the owner from the now defunct Be Modern shop in Ipswich, MA delivered my vintage credenza in 2017 (see photo a ways below), she spied the ugly lamp sitting in a corner.

“That’s a vintage mid-century,” she said excitedly. “Where did you find it? Are you going to restore it?”

Vintage lamp needing some TLC © Dianna Huff, 2020

I had found the lamp at one of those “antique” places where people rent space and then sell stuff they find at estate or garage sales.

The lamp was buried in with a lot of other stuff and pretty beat up. You could tell previous owners had painted it a different color, including the metal base (that was missing its felt bottom).

Bottom of lamp — yuck! © Dianna Huff, 2020

I paid $20 and carted it home, where it sat while I figured out what to do with it.

At first, I thought I’d restore it myself, but after hearing Ms. Be Modern’s excitement, I thought of Lex at Modilumi and emailed him. He asked me to send photos and a few emails later, we agreed I’d ship it to him and he would restore it, plus create a beautiful custom shade for it.

The result was even better than I expected. Lex rewired and painted it, and added a felt bottom to cover the large gaping hole (also keeps it from scratching the credenza).

He also created a custom shade for it. He sent me three recommendations for the lampshade design and let me choose. I chose the two-tiered design because the height and wide base of the lamp called for something dramatic and substantial.

Custom two-tier lamp shade by Modilumi © Dianna Huff, 2020

The blue paint perfectly matches the blue in the modern art piece I have hanging next to it. This happened by accident! I’m not a matchy-matchy kind of person.

And, the restored vintage lamp works perfectly with the credenza — as if they were meant to be together.

When you come in the front door of my living room, they’re the first thing you see.

Lamp + credenza. The credenza is a 1960 piece made by United Corporation (now defunct), in the USA. © Dianna Huff, 2020

My friend, who came over a few nights ago for Chanukah and who hadn’t seen the house in a few years, commented on both as soon as she walked in.

The ceramic piece on the credenza is a signed platter made by Paula Estey in Newburyport, MA — and one of my most prized possessions. I bought it 20+ years ago when she had her studio in her backyard. (I have several of her pieces from that time period — love her work!)

Paula Estey ceramic platter ca. 2001 © Dianna Huff, 2020
Back of platter showing Paula Estey’s mark © Dianna Huff, 2020

Mid-century reproduction: Fun lamps for the bedroom

In addition to restoring vintage lamps, Lex and his team also make MCM reproductions. The designs combine whimsy, color, and fun. I have two gracing the nightstands in the bedroom (future post to come).

I also purchased a custom Modilumi lampshade for a cast-off floor lamp I’m using (not made in USA) until I find the one I want for the TV room (whole other post).

What I’ve learned through these purchases

Did these lamps cost more than what I’d pay at the big retailers? In all cases, yes (especially the one I restored — whew).

But what I like about all of my lamps is they’re different, and they match the low-key style of my 1960 ranch. I love the colors and shapes, the originality of the designs, and the custom-made shades.

But what I love most is knowing who made them — that they were handcrafted by someone who loves what he’s doing. I love being on a first-name basis with Lex, the owner of Modilumi, watching his shop change and grow, and knowing I’m adding to his success as an entrepreneur and manufacturer.

The other thing I learned, which I didn’t realize until I wrote this post, is that it’s very easy to buy something that isn’t exactly what you want because you want to save money or to cross it off your mental to-do list.

Buying Made in USA (and vintage to boot) often means waiting until the right pieces find you — which was the case with my restored blue lamp (and the credenza — which has its own wonderful story).

I think that’s the best thrill of all.

Comments

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Rachel Cunliffe

This is such a great story. I never even considered sending something off in the mail to be restored either. That lamp and credenza photo looks so wonderful!

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Dianna Huff

Thank you! I love my lamp!

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