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On the bright side: Buffalo-made lighting

Sometimes the most interesting and dynamic things come from some of the most unassuming spaces. Custom lighting designer Andrew Emerson of Emerson James is a perfect example. Though he works out of a sparse, unadorned warehouse space on a residential street in Lockport, he produces some fantastic, and extremely unique designs.

“It’s a creative outlet for me,” Emerson said. “I really enjoy creating fixtures I don’t see in the market.”

He says that most of what is available in the lighting market is “the same casting pattern out of China,” and that to really break the mold and do something unique you have to set out on your own.

That’s exactly what he did four years ago when he and a friend, Mike James, founded their company. Shortly after, the partners decided they wanted to go in different directions so James stepped away, but the name stuck and Emerson James was born.

On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Made | Buffalo Magazine

The custom "kite light" by Emerson James, ready for install in a Buffalo living room.

Emerson brings the skills he developed over a 13-year career in the lighting industry that started as a customer service rep for Anzalone Lighting and blossomed into his current role as part artist/part electrician.

Along the way he learned to weld, wire and machine many of the parts he needed to take on his life as a custom lighting designer.

His portfolio covers a wide variety of styles and types of lighting, from beautiful artistic chandeliers to basic desk lamps, but no matter what he’s making, it usually conforms to his personal style.

“I prefer utilitarian design, I want stuff to do its job and then to look good doing it,” Emerson said. “I prefer designs that are absent of filigrees and too many elements.”

These sensibilities extend to his workshop, a concrete warehouse with little adornment or decoration beyond a few of his completed works and the tools he needs to create his fixtures.

Emerson also extends this ethos to installation: All his pieces are designed to be installed quickly and painlessly. Many custom designs force electricians to spend hours working on the install, often with several electricians working in tandem.

“You have to make them as easy to install as possible, a lot of custom lighting designers won’t do that,” he said.

1. Create the master plan

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

Emerson starts by talking with the clients and getting a sense of what they’re looking for. Then he works up a 3D rendering of his concept for their approval. The final step is a CAD design that is used to create the parts.

2. Craft the frame

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

Using the dimensions in the plan, each metal piece is individual laser-cut by another company, then welded by Emerson to form the frame of the light.

3. Coat it

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

The assembled base is put through a powder-coating process. The powder, which is sprayed on before being oven cured, can provide the look of 3,000 different finishes while protecting the metal from corrosion. Emerson says that in most cases, the coating protects from the harsh chemicals in household cleaners.

4. Add the function

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

Using a mill, Emerson carves a groove in a long metal bar to hold the LED strip that actually provides the light. Once the bar is finished, he attaches a large counterweight to one end to account for the asymmetrical shape. The light bar is then installed into the frame.

5. Set the sails

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

Emerson says that since he’s not a good sewer, he contracted out the making and grommeting of the canvas sails to an artist who shares his workspace. The canvas will soften the light and help direct it downward.

6. Secure in place

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

The constructed shades are attached to the frame using small hooks that have to be individually bent into place. The hooks are a shiny bronze to match the bronze powder coating.

7 . The finished “kite lights”

Buffalo Made: On the bright side | Emerson James Inc. | Buffalo Magazine

With the shade panels afixed, the light is ready for its new home — a Buffalo living room. Emerson takes special care to make sure that it’s easy to install. He also creates a canopy that attaches the light to the ceiling and contains the electrical components needed to power the assembly.

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