Well over 30 years ago, Classic Illumination started at the flea market. It’s parents are Phil Waen and Alexa Gregory.
From that tiny beginning, Classic Illumination grew bigger and bigger until we couldn’t find enough of the antique fixtures that people needed. We started doing commercial installations: restaurants, government buildings, colleges and universities. They needed more than just two or three of the same thing so we took the knowledge we had gained from a dozen years of restoration work and designed and produced new “antique” fixtures in quantities, always staying faithful to the original designs, materials and construction.
Somewhere in there, we started adding in more contemporary designs, began making our own fused glass shades and adding employees until it just wasn’t fun anymore. We lost touch with the individuals that used our products. We got tired of making the same thing over and over again. We got older. Our children flew the coop, sort of.
It took a while to recognize that what had felt like an art had become too repetitive. Having all those employees meant we couldn’t play hookey when the weather was just too gorgeous to stay in doors all day. So we began the slow process of downsizing and focusing on the things that brought us joy. We eventually moved from that dark cavernous warehouse to a small workshop in Alameda right on the edge of the Grand Marina which is right on the estuary across from Coast Guard Island.
In our new space, we can look out the window and see the masts of the boats swaying and hear the sound of the halyards on windy days. When we open the back door we can feel the breeze from San Francisco Bay. And then can close it again when the inevitable fog rolls in. We can walk out on the piers and see the sea birds and sea life swooping through the air or water. We can watch the pelicans dive and the bat rays glide. It is amazing how much wildlife there still is if you take the time to look. Zasha, our Black Russian Terrior, loves it here too. And believe it or not, we are more productive than ever.
One of the things we missed was the excitement of finding a “new” light fixture of ingenious design that we have never seen before. Things that we tossed aside, we are beginning to appreciate again. Watch a little Mad Men and you gain a new appreciation for the designs of the 50’s and 60’s, so many were influenced by our rush to the moon.
Starting this sideline, has allowed us to enjoy the hunt again and to keep learning from the lighting designers that came before us. And what do you know, we are part of a whole new movement towards reducing our carbon footprint, re-using rather than discarding, and making old things new again so they can have another go round rather than winding up in the landfill.
We still do all the work that Classic Illumination is known for. We make multiple fixtures for institutions such as Stanford University (and have restored a few for them too), post office and courthouse buildings across the country and for a variety of residential and commercial uses. We don’t intend to stop doing that any time soon. We are just happy to have come full circle and get to talk with first time home owners who are so excited about each and every improvement they make to their homes. We like to think the lighting is one of the most important pieces in making a house feel like a home.