As any good interior designer will tell you, lighting is the one thing that can make or break a space. And as any retro enthusiast will tell you, finding mint-condition, period-correct lighting for your midcentury home is like looking for Bigfoot. Most of those swanky retro lamp styles hit the landfills in the 1980’s, when people were in favor of installing recessed lighting, or those flush-mounted, generic Home Depot fixtures that are completely devoid of all personality.
Though original, not all of the lights in the Retro Ranch were our preferred retro style. Some were a little too colonial and country-cozy for us. But the ones that hung over the breakfast bar in the kitchen were absolute pendant-style perfection in frosted opal glass. We noticed these two brass-and-glass beauties the day we toured the property with our realtor. Finding a 1960’s home with original midcentury lighting fixtures that you love is a pretty exciting accomplishment.
Unless of course you accidentally whack one of those fixtures with the handle of your Swiffer mop no less than 30 days into your homeownership.
It was two days before Thanksgiving and I decided to do a quick cleanup in our kitchen and dining area in preparation for the upcoming holiday festivities. While changing the pad on our Swiffer mop, I launched the handle a little too far upwards when I flipped it over, and smashed one of the pendant lights.
What followed was a good amount of cursing, a little crying, then a very solemn text to my husband confessing my stupidity. Those were his favorite lamps in the house and he remarked several times over the past few weeks just how much he loved them. Ugh.
He was very understanding (best. husband. ever.) and was hopeful that we could find a replacement shade at Hippo Hardware or the ReBuilding Center, or one of the other local establishments that specializes in vintage lighting fixtures. But as we made our rounds, we discovered that these lamps were more unique than we originally thought. No one had seen anything like them and most people suggested trying to find a newly manufactured replacement shade. But I knew that wasn’t a viable option for us.
So the holidays came and went with a head-lacerating weapon hanging right over the breakfast bar. How festive.
After several months of wandering Portland antique malls, vintage shops, and searching endlessly on eBay, Etsy, and any other auction site we could find, we determined that the best thing to do would be to just move on and buy a different set of midcentury pendant lamps. I was hesitant at first since these were original to the house and I wanted to preserve the authenticity, but I knew we couldn’t live with a broken beer bottle hanging over our breakfast bar forever.
But what style of lamps would we even get? The midcentury design era is comprised of some of the most unique, imaginative lighting styles in the widest range of materials I’ve ever seen– metal pivoting sconces, single-double-triple pendant swag lamps, flush mounted opal glass globes, wood and fiberglass ceiling danglers, lucite chandeliers in all colors and textures, even retractable asbestos dome lamps (because I enjoy breathing, those were not on my shopping list). Needless to say, it was more than overwhelming. And finding a matching PAIR in mint-condition? Well that would be fun to try. Or not.
David says he has a surprise for me in the car trunk. He opens the hatch and I lay my eyes upon a gorgeous matching pair of frosted opal glass pendant lamps, nestled safely inside a box of newspaper and styrofoam peanuts.
“Holy shit! How the hell did you find these?!” I practically screamed.
“I have my sources…” he replied, gingerly lifting the box out of the car, and placing it inside the garage door. “Go move things away from the breakfast bar so I can install these before it gets dark.”
I ran back into the house to prepare for the installation. Hooray! Finally! We would have an original set of midcentury opal glass lamps once again! And the shape of them was even more beautiful than the original pair.
I was shifting chairs and boxes out of the way when the garage door opened and David stepped inside the house, carrying both lamps by their cords. As he turned to close the door behind him, one of the lamps swung ever so slightly and smashed into the other one, breaking it into about 20 pieces.
We just stood there looking at one another in total disbelief. Neither of us said a word. Then, he nodded his head, calmly set the lamps down on the rug in front of him, and walked back out into the garage without saying a word.
So that was a fun 60 seconds of having this problem solved.
We’d just about given up on our search for matching pendant lamps. After 8 months I was burned out on losing online auctions, scouring estate sales, and searching every antique Portland shop for an affordable pair of good condition midcentury lights that wouldn’t cost as much as a mortgage payment.
David eventually removed that broken lamp from the ceiling over the breakfast bar, and just capped the wires. He’d given up too. I was certain we’d never find a pair of lamps, and was almost to the point of looking at (gasp) reproduction fixtures.
Then, one hot day in August, David received a text from his brother, the owner of Rose City Modern, a store that specializes in high-quality midcentury modern furniture and housewares. He had just purchased a pair of amazing, mint-condition pendant lamps, and had listed them on his Instagram feed, but wanted to call our attention to them.
His text said:
“Just got a cool pair of mid-mod pendant lamps from an estate in VT. I don’t know if they’re what you want, but they’re metal so you guys can’t break ’em.”