Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Light Fixtures Attack

Zettel'z 5 Chandelier

Ingo Maurer's Zettel'z fixture first appeared in my life when, as a starry-eyed design student, I employed it over a French Deco dining table in an imaginary Upper West Side brownstone:

If you're keeping score (I know you are), those are Biedermeier chairs, an Asian-influenced stone console table, Russian Constructivist and turn-of-the-century graphic art, an overscale po-mo dentil molding, and an unremarkable cream rug (which I now know better than to ever put near a dining table, hoooo no). This was during my Mixmaster Phunk phase, if you hadn't guessed.

But the beauty, looseness, spontaneity, and simplicity of this fixture are remarkable: I've adored it for years. Until I had to put one together, that is.

That thing is a BITCH. You have to run each of those little metal rods through the central mesh cylinder by hand, judging the height and angle, correcting misfires, and locking it into place with two diabolically small and slippery rubber stoppers, all while teetering precariously on a step ladder (or kitchen stool, for some people). It takes a LONG TIME. After a couple hours of picking away, I felt reasonably confident I had arranged the rods in a satisfactorily full and firework-like fashion, even though I had a bunch of them left over. Then I put the papers on and realized it was still only halfway full. So, like Sisyphus taking hold of his boulder for another go, I sighed and climbed back up on the stool. Only to ping my client in the face as a rogue rod-stopper went zooming out of my hands.

The only light fixture more painful to put together than the Zettel'Z is the Bocci, which we also did for this same client:

All those tiny floating orbs of dewy light come at an agonizing price, namely hours upon hours of time. For this same (very patient and trusting) client, we did a cluster of six of the five-orb fixtures, to create a fairy-cloud feeling over her dining table. It was very important that the globes not be aligned symmetrically, but instead with subtle variations in height and location, and that is just NOT the kind of thing you can draw up on CAD, you have to look at it in real life, in the real space, with the real fixtures. Which meant that I had to sit with the electricians for hours while one of them held each fixture up--and those bastards are heavy--and the other measured the hanging distance for each orb, slipping it up or down according to my instruction. And that's not counting the time it took them to actually cut the wires, lock them in place, and install all six fixtures.

I left the site for a while to get some lunch, and when I came back I ran into one of the electricians outside. He reared backwards in alarm, making the sign of the cross in front of his face to ward me off, before retreating cautiously into the building, never taking his eyes off me.

That’s called suffering for beauty, my friends. They’re not just talking about high heels.

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