Theodis “Sonny” Williams is a counterculture character you meet once and never forget.
He’s a fashion model, an emcee for Dr. Sketchy’s Kansas City burlesque sketch events and a fashion consultant who teaches women how to strut a runway and has been known to strut one himself in an evening gown with a beard.
Williams, of Kansas City, is also a light-maker and artist, which is why I know him.
I visited Williams at a house he was renting in Pendleton Heights three years ago to see if he and his one-man light-making company, Beacon Industries, would be worth profiling in House+Home. The answer, I realized quickly, was yes.
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Williams invited me in, led me on a tour and it was clear within 97 seconds that he has a knack for turning the ordinary and cast-offs into something magical, whimsical and useful.
Under the moniker Beacon Industries, Williams creates stylish ceiling lights from cast-off drum shell remnants that he gets from C&C Custom Drums in Gladstone. Several bars and restaurants including the The Brick and Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, in the Crossroads, are lit by Williams’ creations, as is the lobby of Missouri Bank.
He stains or hand-paints the exteriors of the wood drum lights with his own designs and covers the interiors of the drums with gold or silver leaf so the bulbs cast a metallic glow. No two are alike.
He showed me a number of items in his home that he’d created including a jewel-encrusted cow skull; colorful hooks made from old metal trophy figurines that looked like they were scaling his bedroom wall; an old stereo speaker turned colorful cabinet; a jewel-like chandelier made from used tasting spoons he got from Murray’s Ice Cream in Westport; and a 7-foot-tall, mind-bogglingly intricate architectural model of a 42-story skyscraper made from foam core, aluminum and dowel rods discarded from a sign shop. He’s since installed electricity in it.
Williams’ style and projects are pretty cosmopolitan. It helps that he has a fashion merchandising degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. But Williams attributes his talent for creatively repurposing items to growing up the youngest of six children, having things handed down to him and wanting to make them his own. It’s also eco-friendly.
“We live in such a disposable society; why not give something a second chance?” he asks.
And so it is that I’ve tapped Williams to share his DIY projects with us in a series of online videos called “Sonny Revisions,” starting with him demonstrating how to gussy up a box fan with spray paint. These beauties aren’t really a product of repurposing, but the unfinished box fans are inexpensive (about $20 at most hardware stores) and the painted fans would make a unique and thoughtful holiday gift for anyone who lives on the umpteenth floor of a building (or dormitory) where the heat can be overbearing during winter months.
Williams’ inspiration comes from holding an object in his hands.
“I always have to have something in my hand and when I do, it speaks to me,” Williams says. “And some ideas just come out of necessity like how I think things should be. With the fans I looked at them and thought, ‘How plain. How boring. Let’s make this something special.’ I try to use my own voice and no one else’s. No one can say what I want to say better than me.”
In the first “Sonny Revisions” video, Williams demonstrates how to disassemble and un-wire a Lasko box fan, offers important tips on spray-painting it, then reassembles and rewires it, turning it from a run-of-the-mill appliance into a pretty and unique accessory.