Michael McHale Goes from Lawyer to Lighting Designer
April 4, 2012 - 3:59pm

Michael McHale: The short story [of how Michael McHale Designs came to be] is that I had been unhappy as a lawyer. I knew I had creativity in me, but I didn’t know how to harness it. [But, I did know] I needed to do something different [with my life.] In the middle of this [career crisis,] I needed a chandelier for my apartment. I searched high-end design stores but left thinking that I could make something instead.

My first [chandelier] made itself. The geometry of the piping set down rigid rules — I couldn’t make any curves — but when I applied strings of crystals, I realized what I had created was about contrast. What I had done, almost accidentally, was to “restage” everyday materials. The brass pipe is a form we’ve seen all our lives in the service areas of our homes; it’s a form we’ve been trained to ignore. I made a statement about beauty simply by restaging it. I’d never seen anything like these [chandeliers] before; I knew I was onto something.As I mulled it over, I looked for materials, but because I’m not a designer or a fabricator and I don’t weld, I was limited. During a trip to the hardware store, I noticed these red brass plumbing pipes and was attracted to the heaviness and roughness of the material.

As I got more into designing, I started sourcing recycled parts, not for the chicness of being “green” or eco-friendly but because they provide the most contrast. The green aspect of my work is incidental.

In the future, I’d like to develop more outdoor chandeliers because the materials I use are innately waterproof. Brass is one of the most outdoor-friendly materials we've got. Besides the rugged materials, I like how the crystals sparkle and move [in the outdoors]. It has always seemed to me that putting a chandelier outside would be perfect; you get strands of light flickering throughout your patio or gazebo.

If you notice on my pieces, the light bulbs hang downward. I’ve never liked the idea of light bulbs trying to imitate candles; I think a lot of modern chandeliers [with the bulbs placed upright] end up looking kitsch. They’re putting light bulbs where candles should be.

Recently, I introduced some portable lamps to add to my collection of fixtures. We did a prototype with a polished brass base, and the stem going up was a red brass pipe, and it didn’t work. I couldn’t put my finger on why, and then I had a revelation. It had to do with the staging. My chandeliers [work because they comprise] familiar parts hanging in space, though they’re removed from where we usually see them. The restaging allows us to look at the parts differently. The problem with the lamp was that I needed to make the brass pipe float, in a sense. So, I gave these lamps clear acrylic stems and a hand-painted acrylic base. It gives the idea that the brass and crystal are floating, which is the same quality that is present in the chandeliers.

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