Aurora Lampworks: From Lampshades to Lighting for Landmark Buildings
Aurora Lampworks was inspired by a mauve lampshade with eight inch fringe that I spotted in an art deco store during my first trip to Europe in 1978. It really was love at first sight; I knew right then that I wanted to replicate lampshades just as beautiful as that one.
Back in my hometown of New Haven, CT, I asked a seamstress friend if she could make a lampshade. She read up on the subject, practiced, learned how to stretch a lampshade and became really good at it. Covering a lampshade by hand is very difficult; you have to choose a sturdy fabric with the right amount of elasticity, and you need to have have strong hands and a delicate touch to stretch that fabric over the frame.
Founded in 1983
I started going to auctions and tag sales and scooping up all of the lampshade wire frames that needed to be recovered. Sometimes there would be a remnant of the original fabric and we’d try to find matching material to restore it to its former splendor. Other times we’d forego historical accuracy and use crazy fabrics and funky fringes to create unique, one-of-a-kind shades.
By going to those auctions and tag sales I learned about antiques and got to know many dealers and collectors who always had interesting lamps in need of custom shades.
Within a month, I was in business.
Clients wanted distinctive lampshades for their vintage and designer lamps, but many didn’t have the original frames. I found an amazingly talented fellow in a SoHo back alley who could make anything out of wire, including the mechanical automata characters you see in store windows during the holidays. This man had literally been a rocket scientist in Russia before immigrating to the United States. He put his talents to work and began making custom wireframes for me.
Fulfilling My Destiny
My mother named me “Dawn,” which means “first light.” In founding Aurora Lampworks, it felt like I was fulfilling my destiny.
The suggestion for the Aurora Lampworks name came from my 98-year-old, retired Latin teacher friend, Ruth Razee. Ruth was amongst the first woman to attend Yale University, although she never received a diploma; at that time women were not only barred from graduating but also from enrolling, with the exception of programs specifically designed to include women. Her suggestion was inspired by the fact that in Roman mythology, Aurora is the goddess of the dawn.
Educated at Yale
When the business outgrew the spare bedroom in my apartment I opened a small storefront on State Street, located in the antiques district of New Haven, CT. Yale University discovered Aurora and asked us to replace some lampshades; then we were asked to make recommendations about outdoor lighting options. For this project, Security wanted the lighting bright; maintenance wanted the bulbs to last a long time; and the Historians wanted to maintain the historic integrity of the fixtures.
The Yale project was a real challenge and expanded my knowledge of lighting and lighting fixtures in every way. That’s why I like to joke that I got my education at Yale.
Antique Lighting Restoration
In 1990 we moved from New Haven to New York City. I was drawn to the city by its incredible resources, like the Russian man who built the wire frames, the fantastic shops on Canal Street, and the plethora of historic buildings. In the winter of 2015 we moved from our Williamsburg location to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
Over the years, we’ve been involved in the restoration and replication of light fixtures in some of New York City’s most cherished and celebrated landmark buildings.
Aurora collaborates with extraordinary architects, designers, and artists. We also partner with amazing vendors— Flickinger Glassworks, Michael Davis Glass, and Tom Ryan at Koenig Iron Works—who provide us with the components we need to restore, replicate, and fabricate custom lighting fixtures. This can be challenging work; we hang heavy objects with electricity running through them over people’s heads. Occasionally, I wish I sold rugs or some other product that wouldn’t break or fall; but, most days I’m grateful for the mauve lampshade that led me to Aurora Lampworks.
Founder & President
Aurora Lampworks Inc.