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Arts Bright ideas

July 29, 2018

Like brittle, colorful candy, small circles of cut glass sit in a pile atop one of David Laurence Flynn’s work tables in his Bridgeport workshop. Cobalt blue, scarlet, banana yellow, speckled — their fate rests in Flynn’s imagination, which is quickly being unspooled in a quick sketch on a scrap of paper.

“It may change, but I am thinking about doing a half circle and letting them hang by wires,” Flynn says, as he scribbles. “The light would be coming from above it and it would be like stained glass. So, you would have all these dots in a half circle, several rows, which is why I keep cutting more and more. I’d probably put an LED down there, so you would have two sort of reference points … the light coming through the bottom and the sides. If you are at a distance, you would see the light in the space, but when you get near to it, you would see the stained glass underneath.”

He pauses and puts the pen down.

“Well, that’s what I am thinking about right now. It might change from now to then,” he says, looking at the pile. “We shall see.”

For more than 30 years, Flynn, who lives in Stratford, has designed and fabricated handmade custom lighting — a passion he turned into a business after college. He began as an apprentice to the late artisan Gates Moore, who operated from a shop in the Silvermine section of Norwalk, where he designed reproductions of period lighting fixtures. Working after school and during summer breaks, Flynn developed an appreciation for handmade work and an aesthetic rooted in art as function.

“Light always fascinated me,” Flynn says. Its ability to alter the mood within a space was a powerful draw for Flynn, who designs chandeliers, lanterns, sconces and pendants. He works with interior designers and architects, and, sometimes, directly with the public, fashioning works built off collaborative plans or replicating items he has posted or clients have seen online.

At a time when mass production makes it easy to illuminate one’s home, Flynn knows keeping the tradition of customized and handmade fixtures alive requires reinvention and attention to aesthetics. It’s why he stays late, or carves out time in his day, to come up with forward thinking designs. There is a trapezoidal structure occupying his thoughts this morning. Made of thin steel rods covered with red lacquer, one day, with refinements, it may hang over a kitchen island.

Flynn is grateful there are clients who give more than a passing glance to the way light fills their homes and businesses. “It can make or break the space,” he says. Light is an amazing invention that can be delivered as simply or as sophisticatedly as is one’s wont. Artisans have long pushed it into ever more creative and sculptural works.

The emergence during the past 10 years of LED lights has afforded even greater flexibility. They last longer, are more energy efficient than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, tend to be small, have a low-heat output and change color. They can be wireless. Some can be controlled through smart devices.

“They change the design parameters and allow me to do something different,” he says. “Lighting has become so trendy, I need to keep up with it.”

The search for unique, modern, decorative lighting from local artists and customized lighting firms has risen in the past several years, as designers and their customers look for functional, stylish and one-of-a-kind pieces. The small-batch mentality that altered the culinary landscape has seeped into other industries, along with the desire to customize. Clients may work with a designer to shape the final look.

New York City’s Apparatus, which launched in 2012, is known for handmade modern, sculptural light fixtures, as is Beacon, N.Y.’s Niche Modern, which formed in 2003. Connecticut’s lighting design lineage runs the gamut from reproduction to modern. Classic Lighting Devices of East Hampton has created New England colonial-style reproductions and period lighting for about as long as Flynn and another state light maker, Malco Inc.’s Brass Traditions, has been in the business. Grand Light, in Seymour, has restored and fabricated traditional and modern fixtures, with its crew of designers and restorers, for more than 80 years.

Being a one-person operation, Flynn is the quintessential artisan.

“I have tools for everything, or pretty close to it,” he says, of his saws, torches, lathes, planer, metal folders, bending machines and other objects. He tries not to decline a request, and sends out work he simply cannot do. He keeps that to a minimum, however, as he enjoys working toward the final look.

Each project is a different challenge, such as the one for Stew Leonard’s Farmingdale, N.Y., store, which opened in 2016. He fashioned a chandelier made of glass milk bottles, cut at the base, resting on two sturdy wood planks in the shape of an “X.”

“I kept saying, ‘you sure you don’t want them upside down,’ ” Flynn says, laughing. He connected the bottles so that changing bulbs is a breeze. If he made it today, he would probably suggest LED bulbs.

Above Flynn are prototypes of chandeliers he has created. There’s one that stands out, made of birch veneer strips that resembles a semi-squashed paper lantern.

“That one is sort of fun,” he says. “I did that between projects. If someone wanted to buy it, I would make it again for them. That was just a draft.”

chennessy@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

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