Cast-offs reborn as light fixtures

Robert Nicholas creates lighting fixtures by upcycling or reusing vintage objects. The fixture in the foreground is the skeletal frame from a gazebo roof, which Nicholas is converting to a showpiece fixture for a local brewery.

NEW YORK — Household objects, industrial cast-offs and vintage farm tools — all these and more are being salvaged and upcycled into lighting fixtures that range from elegant to funky to pure wow.

The trend is evident at eateries like Malai Marke, a stylish Indian restaurant in New York City’s East Village, where light in the dining room glows from bulbs surrounded by green wine bottles arranged in a circle, empty but corked.

It can be seen on websites such as Pinterest, where the “Upcycled Lighting Obsession” board shows bulbs affixed to old skateboards, the metal innards of a box spring, bird cages, teacups and an upside-down colander.

And it’s become a career for Robert Nicholas in Asheville, North Carolina, whose dramatic showpiece chandeliers made from all kinds of vintage objects sell for up to $6,000.

Nicholas’ materials range from the wooden roof of an old gazebo to tobacco stakes, which were used to harvest and dry tobacco leaves and are part of North Carolina’s agricultural history.

The gazebo-turned-chandelier is going to be a showpiece for a local brewery; the tobacco-stakes fixture went to Miami.

“You’re taking something that may feel more indigenous to a cabin in North Carolina and you’re putting it in a modern home in South Beach,” he said.

In fact, many of his fixtures have an urban-chic sensibility despite their authentic rural roots.

His aesthetic has “a modern feel to it but there’s also a primitiveness to it,” he said. “The younger generation, they want the modern feel but they still want to be comfortable.”

His philosophy stems from “seeing value in things we were discarding.”

That’s similar to how Antonia Edwards, author of a book called “Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors” (Prestel), defines upcycling: “You take something that is considered redundant and has no value and you are basically transforming it to give it value again.”

Edwards’ website,, reflects her philosophy that “you could literally upcycle anything,” from repurposing abandoned buildings to making new clothing from scraps.

But her book focuses on interior decor, including lighting. Two of her favorite lighting designers featured in the book are Alex Randall, whose quirky, theatrical lighting includes lampshades made from vintage dresses with enormous full skirts; and Stuart Haygarth, who Edwards says is known for show-stopping chandeliers, including one made from eyeglasses and lenses.

Another concept she likes is from a Finnish company, Characters, which makes lights out of letters from old neon signs refitted with LED technology. “Lighting is probably the most important thing in any interior.”

Nicholas started his lighting business about 15 years ago. At one point, he was making hundreds of upcycled lamps, selling them wholesale to a furniture market and a retailer. But eventually he got bored with smaller fixtures and now concentrates on larger, unique pieces, which can be seen on his website,, and in his showroom, Splurge, in Asheville’s River Arts District.