Furnishings: Imagination Brought To Light
Before closing their London antiques shop more than two decades ago, Michael and Lucy Vaughan had learned something significant about the demand for vintage lighting: that quality lamps and light fixtures will sell as quickly as they arrive on the sales floor.
“I think there was a tremendous gap in the market for good antique lighting in the 1970s when we had our shop,” says Michael. “Everywhere one looked, the lamps were all sort of ruined. Either they had a hideous base or they were simply a horrible color. So when we found good ones, they were instantly popular.”
Rather than continue to hunt for the good pieces, Michael, a former painter, began making his own. In 1983, he and his wife introduced the Vaughan collection of antique re-creations and reinterpretations. “In the beginning,” Michael admits, “we were worried people would think it was slightly tacky [to alter an antique].”
Considering that he and his wife, a onetime ceramic restorer with the Victoria and Albert Museum who is responsible for marketing the couple’s products, now have been in business for more than 20 years, the Vaughans had little reason for concern. Their latest lighting options are hall lanterns based on 1930s and ’40s French and Chinese designs. Michael has embellished the original forms by making them more curvaceous and adding details such as small gold fan-shaped medallions to the Rousham lantern and pearl-like beading to the Packwood nickel lantern’s serpentine-shaped ceiling extensions, base, and crown. For a chinoiserie lantern, Michael says, “I’ve replaced the panes of glass with glass rods for a completely different look.” The hexagonal fixture features a pagoda-style top and cranberry-colored glass.
“The hall lantern is a wonderfully English tradition,” says Victoria De Lotbiniere, who has led the company’s U.S. operations for the past 17 years, “but they can also be very weighty-looking.” Vaughan lanterns (priced from $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the amount of brass and difficulty of the casting) avoid that pitfall, she says, by having “clean, elegant, and unfussy lines that seem to work well in modern interiors.”
The Vaughans’ interest in lighting is not confined to English antiques. The pair offers such designs as twig-shaped wall sconces and floor lamps influenced by Giacometti designs of the early 20th century, and modern table lamps covered in what Michael calls cut crystal blobs. “[The first samples we produced] didn’t seem to have enough crystals,” he says, “so I made sure [the fabricators] put on many more blobs and in much greater variety.”
Such imaginative details are a shared characteristic of Vaughan designs. Michael says he will contemplate a candlestick lamp design for hours, sometimes days, to determine precisely the right length of the candle tube. “I guess you could call us a very uncommercial business because we spend far too much time fussing about the smallest details, driving everyone crazy.”