“Vintage Edison is the intersection of the two things I know: Booze and electricity,” says former bartender Jim Ligon. Ligon began his custom lighting business three years ago, specializing in fixtures made from discarded liquor bottles.
Now Vintage Edison is his full-time job. “I did a 56-wine-bottle chandelier for a wine bar in Omaha,” Ligon said in an interview at his Crossroads studio. “I’ve done things all around the country: New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Minneapolis.”
In Kansas City, you can see Ligon’s designs at Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen in the Crossroads and at Louie’s Wine Dive in Waldo. You can buy his fixtures at TallulahBelle’s in Leawood, and he has small ones for sale at his studio, 1737 Walnut St., open by appointment and during First Fridays. How did you get started?
I’m originally from New Orleans, and my grandfather owned an electrical contracting business, so all the men in my family did electrical work. I started in seventh grade.
What inspired you to begin making lamps out of bottles?
It was completely by accident, from years of looking at cool bottles. I made a floor lamp and put it on my Facebook page, and people said, “That’s really unique. You should sell those.” I decided to make a few more and post them. Cellar Rat invited me to do a display for First Fridays, and from there I started selling them. That was three years ago.
And now you’re full time?
I was a bartender at JJ’s, and I’ve been doing this full time since the fire. I opened this studio in the Crossroads a year ago. Over time, I’ve honed my craft. Now 75 percent of my business is custom work for bars and restaurants and residences.
What types of lighting do you make?
Anything from little nightlights to huge chandeliers. A lot of people want pendants for over their counters. I do some fixtures in a shadowbox style that can be a sconce or a tabletop.
Tell me about the components.
They’re mainly liquor bottles and little jars. I basically have a little recycling program around Kansas City. The bars know what I want. What are some of your favorites?
Blanton’s Bourbon bottles have this great hexagon shape. It reminds me of an old perfume mister. I take the labels off and I frost them. I buy the spray at Home Depot. It takes a few applications and gives the bottles a nice overall soft glow.
I made that big chandelier out of Patron tequila bottles. They’re all hand-blown glass, and the little air bubbles create this cool, sparkly effect.
Tell me about these boxes you use as a kind of housing or frame.
When I worked at JJ’s, I started making fixtures out of wine crates and whiskey crates. Now they’re harder to get, so I found the same kind of wood and started making my own boxes. I brand with my Vintage Edison logo where the vineyard stamp would be. In some fixtures, I also incorporate metal pipe or PVC.
How does the commission process work?
When someone contacts me, I meet them at the studio. I show the client various examples that I have here, and we do the design process together. Then I make it and come out and install it.
Have you had any unusual requests?
I’ve had people come in and say, “This is a bottle from my wedding 30 years ago. Can you do something cool with it?”
I use a wet tile saw to cut glass, and if I need 10 nice bottles, I usually end up going through 12 or 13, so I’m a little reluctant to take something there’s only one of. What’s the price range?
I charge $85 for a one-bulb hand-blown glass fixture that can be either a lamp or a night light. Individual pendants begin at $80. I’ve done commissions in the thousands for big restaurant jobs.
The price depends on how many fixtures and how much custom work is involved. I would place it between what you’d pay for off-the-shelf lighting and custom-made showroom designer fixtures. Whatever I’m making, it’s 100 percent unique.
What’s the story with this lamp in the black box?
After the fire at JJ’s, I found this charred box and a wine bottle, and I made a fixture out if them. It’s my little memento.
Visit Ligon’s Vintage Edison Facebook page to see examples of his custom work. Reach him at email@example.com