Lighting the Way

Neal Johnson’s eclectic assortment of fine antiques lights up any room. Literally.

Neal Johnson’s eclectic assortment of fine antiques lights up any room.  Literally. The designer, who has a degree in art history from UNC-Chapel Hill and a showroom in Uptown Charlotte, scours the world for “crazy old things,” as she modestly puts it, and turns treasures like Italian glassware, Scandinavian figurines, and French candlesticks into striking, one-of-a-kind lamps.

“I create lamps that are going to make a statement,” Johnson says, “not just fill a space. These lamps are like a piece of art, and they function that way.”  Too often, lamps fall by the wayside when it comes to decorating, she says, which is ironic since, emanating light, they’re actually one of the most conspicuous necessities in a room.

With the help of a metal worker and a wiring expert, Johnson is able to turn just about anything into one of her statement-making pieces (the average price of one of Johnson’s lamps is about $1,200 depending on the origin of the antique, which usually hails from France and Italy). “I’m just attracted to old things,” she says, which is why the majority of her items, with a few rare exceptions, are antique. But other than that, the designer can’t say exactly how she knows what will or won’t work as a light.  “I can’t put my finger on exactly what attracts me, but subconsciously, it’s probably about good proportions,” Johnson says.  “I’ll buy all kinds of strange things.  Weather vanes, salt boxes, papier-mâché people, a biscuit mold from Belgium. I love anything animal related.”

Her work is primarily sold to the trade only, but Johnson, who’s lived in Charlotte for fourteen years and exudes a warm, Southern hospitality, says with a grin, “We aren’t going to kick anyone out who isn’t a designer, obviously.” She also has a Web site featuring a small sampling of her wares, including tables—“because you’ve got to have something proper to put the lamps on”—and an assortment of silk, hand-sewn lampshades.

And while her work is a favorite of local residents who add Johnson’s pieces to their Charlotte residences as well as their second homes from Charleston to Blowing Rock, there are also a few heavy-footed drivers whose houses feature her work. Though “a little goosey to reveal any names,” she says, “suffice it to say I’ve been very grateful to sell to some of NASCAR’s favorites.”

Categories: Dwell, Expert Advice (People)