Fairfield craftsman transforms old objects into unique lamps
Published 12:25 pm, Monday, November 20, 2017
Sometimes it takes a while to see the light.
“I’ll see a piece in an antique shop or a flea market and I will think, ‘I got to have it,’” says Jason Aleksa, as he sits back on a large leather couch in his Fairfield home. “Then I’ll get home, put it down and realize, ‘What the heck am I going to do with this?’”
Most of the time, Aleksa’s path to illumination is far less fraught. Since 2012, when he launched Stonehill Design, he has made dozens of lamps out of unusual objects.
“I focus on a lot of things that don’t really have a function or purpose anymore,” he says, of old blow torches, rotary phones, wooden shoe molds, trombones and radios he has found online or during shopping adventures. “Some people might want it and put it somewhere because it is a cool decoration, but I’m able to take those objects and make them into something that is not only beautiful to look at, whether it is on or off, but it also is functional. You can use it every day and enjoy it in a different capacity. That is what I really like about it.”
Aleksa, 35, is not a fan of flimsy workmanship or design that prizes speed over quality. He comes from a family of workmen who used their hands and sturdy tools to shore up the machines that helped Connecticut’s once-thriving manufacturing sector. His grandfather began it all with a machine shop in Fairfield that his father turned into a heat-treating business, Advance Heat Treating Co., and moved to Stratford. When his father retired, so did the business. When it came time to name his business, Aleksa was inspired by the band his father played in as a youth, the Stonehill Trio.
A graduate of New York University, where he studied medieval history, Aleksa wasn’t expected to carry on the family business, and instead has worked in finance for more than 10 years. He has always tinkered, however, and on a recent morning, he leads the way to some of the many things he has made, from a living room coffee table to a fireplace screen. He is a believer in the cliche, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”
“They were made to last,” he says, “and people put a lot of thought into the design. It wasn’t just how quickly can I print this out and how cheaply can I make this.”
It is why he enjoys using older devices and appliances that have outlasted their original purpose. It would be a shame to let that workmanship go to waste when, with a bit of electrical know-how, it gains a second life. Some of his projects are relatively clear-cut, others can take years, such as the trombone he stashed for a spell in his basement. Getting the wiring through the mechanisms can be a simple matter to a vexing problem. For items such as old-fashioned cameras, Aleksa will put the socket where the flashbulb used to be, leaving the camera operational (these days one would have more luck finding the lightbulb than film).
“I made a gumball machine into a light and managed to wire everything around its mechanism,” Aleksa says. “You can still put a coin in it and crank it.”
In an antique fan, lights mimic the old blades. As the object takes on a new utility, a shadow of its former self remains. “I like to really incorporate the lighting in a way that when you look at it, you don’t really see it as a light. You think, ‘Oh, that is how it always was.’”
His works can be found online and at pop-up marketplaces. The circuit takes him around the country, with stops in Brooklyn, N.Y., Boston and Rhode Island. He recently was among vendors at a fair in Fairfield.
Aleksa’s lamps, which range from about $100 to $500, have lit up many a corner in residential homes, and his commission work has brought his creations into several businesses. He appropriated an antique ladder to hold 16 lights that shine on customers at Harborview Market in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. Down the road toward Fairfield, he created sconces and pendants at the Aspetuck Brew Lab, playing off the beer company’s logo, the Erlenmeyer flask.
On this morning, he looks at some of his earlier works with bemusement. They are a long way from the work he does today. One is a fairly nondescript light, the other a log he drilled through and wired. “Clearly, they didn’t make the cut,” he says, laughing. “I have just left them in my basement for the last five years.”
Even his earlier works, however, carry a trademark approach. Although the work is scientific, the effect is magical.
“I always try to hide the mechanics of things,” he says, peering into one of his latest works. “I don’t want people to see the inner workings.”
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