Former entertainment lawyer-turned-lighting designer Michael McHale creates chandeliers that are as much about structure as they are shimmering crystal. Born from the seeds of a DIY project, Michael McHale Designs is drafting a new vision for the chandelier, utilizing such rough and ready materials as patinated brass pipes and fittings, refrigerator bulbs, and appliance tubing in concert with the finest crystal available. The effect is at once jarring and oddly beautiful.
Cool Hunting had an opportunity to ask McHale about his unique approach to lighting design and where his business is headed.
What lead you from practicing law to designing chandeliers, of all objects?
Complete serendipity. I doubt that, before a few years ago, I had ever devoted one thought to chandeliers one way or the other. It's funny how life unfolds. I walked into a design store a few years ago to buy a nice light fixture for my home and I thought that what they had looked a bit cheap, a bit flashy and they didn't seem to be about anything. I left the store with the same feeling you get when you see a bad movie, "I could have done a better job than that!" So it all started as a craft project that turned out to be infinitely more interesting than I could have imagined.
The blend of common building materials with glitzy crystal is a rather unique approach to the traditional chandelier, an object historically viewed as a status symbol. Was this a conscious choice to subvert the classical typology, or more a decision based on practicality?
Both. The original decision on materials was made because those materials were what was available to me. I didn't have access to a factory and I didn't weld. Once the first piece was made I realized that I had created something far more interesting than I had planned. Contrast turned out to be the point. The piece used these very common materials which normally reside in the service areas of our built environment, and which we are trained to ignore. Celebrating those materials in something like a chandelier ended up being a really interesting and powerful provocation to our conventional ideas of beauty and status.
Complete interview and another image after the jump.
On your website you mention that many of the materials are reclaimed and that you've made effort to acquire fittings from Katrina building sites. What role does adaptive reuse play in your designs and fabrication processes?
To tell you the truth, we began using reclaimed material from building sites less because of the green aspect of recycling and more because their patinas and histories fit the aesthetic better. The idea was to make these lighting fixtures a celebration in contrast, and that required the industrial part to be very industrial looking and the glam part to be as sparkly and chic as possible. We've since received several designations since as makers of environmentally responsible products—which is great, but was to a certain extent incidental.
Until recently, the chandelier was viewed as a stuffy lighting object, more suited to a bygone era. How would you explain its resurgence in popularity?
To some extent, I think that technology played a part—optical fiber and LED lights allowed the most fanciful creations to be illuminated. That doesn't explain the popularity of Michael McHale Designs, of course. We use things like low-wattage refrigerator bulbs and are decidedly low-tech. It may be for no other reason than the fact that chandeliers can be really, really beautiful.
What's next for Michael McHale Designs?
We have just introduced an extremely inventive and original line of table lamps, which have all the drama of the chandeliers, but in plug-and-play form. The lamps feature a clear acrylic stem, giving them the feeling that they are floating in space. The base is clear acrylic and gorgeously hand- painted by hand on the bottom by New York surface artists Sublime Living. We are exploring different finishes, including white powder-coating and shiny satin-nickel plating. And in the new year we will be expanding our line of Outdoor Chandeliers. Yes, that's right. Outdoor Chandeliers!