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My Blog Is Changing Addresses

May 3, 2009

Hi Friends:

So, Niermann Weeks has launched a great new website at, and my blog will be moving to be part of that site.

You can still find all of my posts, both new and old at this new address:

Please visit me at my new address, and be sure to change your bookmarks!!!

Eleanor McKay


Custom Lighting

April 29, 2009

Custom lighting is so much fun to make. First, it provides an intellectual challenge to change the proportions of a standard fixture and modify its bead structure. Our design team flexes their mathematical brains with problems in solid geometry, leaving me to admire their mental dexterity. Lately our clients have engaged these skills by specifying both giant chandeliers and teeny ones, leaving many special drawings and CADs in their wake.

Second, the chandeliers are beautiful to behold. The poet John Keats was absolutely correct when he wrote:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases;

it will never Pass into nothingness;

The smaller in scale one goes, the less room the human hand has for maneuvering to do its work. Let me show you in our smallest standard Sancerre Lantern, which measures 19″ diameter x 26″ high. This photo on the right shows you how little room the beaders have in which to string their crystals. The process takes much time, patience, and attention to detail, so that the right graduated bead is always inserted at the right place. If the beads aren’t just right, then the entire 10 hour process must start all over again.


The final result makes all this labor worthwhile.


This week we’ve miniaturized a Biarritz Pendant to a mere 19″ diameter x 10″ high. Normally our smaller sized one is about a third larger at 30″ diameter by 22″ high.


We also reduced an Italian Chandelier to 18″ diameter x 23″ high, about 30% smaller than our typical small version which also features a simple strand of beads swagging from arm to arm.


My guess is that these small fixtures will hang in a foyer, a closet, or a bathroom.

At the other side of the size dimension, we are also crating a giant Avignon Chandelier. It measures 70″ in diameter by 75″ high with 24 lights, finished in Antique White, and will hang with matching sconces in a great room in a house in New York or Connecticut.

We’re always careful when we pack our products, and these big ones are a special delight. Basically we must make this Avignon its own room-size crate, in which the chandelier hangs from a central beam and then will be surrounded by packing material. Then the crate gets enclosed and reinforced with a lumber shell resting on its own wooden pallet.


As a final step, we always also remind everybody that Niermann Weeks’ products are proudly made in America by Americans earning a living wage and working in decent surroundings. Our employees also get health care benefits. Joe and I have always loved our flag, but 9/11 made our patriotism even more important to us.


Copyright 2009 Niermann Weeks Company. All rights reserved.

Avignon Chandelier and Sconce

April 24, 2009

Joe and I had been travelling in rural France and Italy and had become fascinated by this curly-armed shape from the 17th century.  We had seen it made of much heavier metal stock and often hidden behind a thick gesso and gold-leaf finish further smothered with crystal ribbons.  Joe could see through all the extraneous decoration and liked the basic silhouette. Our homage to this classic is designed in a more delicate, flat metal stock.  To accentuate the basic shape, he swagged it with a hint of beading.  The fixture is all made by hand, with cut steel elements, beads on “aged” brass wire, finished to a deep patina, wired to UL, and capped with waxed candle covers.

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The twelve arm chandelier         The eighteen arm chandelier        The three arm sconce
All these versions are shown here in our rusty steel finish.
(The red frame means it’s on Quick Ship)

As with all our fixtures, almost any of our metal finishes can be applied to any piece. When in doubt, just call to ask.

By hand, we apply our finishes layer upon layer before beading.  Most of our fixtures are done with glass beads, but we do use rock crystal as accents. For custom jobs we have even used amber, amethysts, and emeralds.  The responsibility of inventorying such precious beads always makes me tense.

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This client needed a shorter, squatter version of the Avignon. She specified a 30″ diameter fixture finished fancily in Pavilion goldleaf finish with regular glass beads accentuated by custom rock crystals.


Our 18-arm Avignon started out as a custom order.  After several requests, we now make it as
One of our standard sizes.  The original was in a custom goldleaf finish and looked very grand.


A long-time client in Bermuda asked us to make this chandelier,60 dia x 54″ h with 20 lights and in a silverleaf finish.  We wired it to British UL standards for a damp location.  It will end up on a covered porch in Bermuda.


In 2008 the showhouse in Los Angeles’s Greystone Mansion included a room by Niermann Weeks.  Our Avignon illuminated the Quatrefoil armoire, Poiret Chairs, Venetian Secretary, La Falaise Chair, Chinoiserie Fret Coffee Table, Hadrian Planters, St. Cloud Dining Table, Avignon Sconces, and Bel Air Planter.  This room wonderfully showcased the versatility of our designs.

Copyright 2009 Niermann Weeks Company. All rights reserved.

Niermann Weeks’ Finish Library – The White Family

April 22, 2009

Joe loves new finishes, and we have accumulated about 500 different ones. The most popular ones we’ve sampled in our showrooms in display boxes.


The difference from one finish to another, however, can be merely a matter of degree, ie. several shades less green tint. For instance, when I showed Joe our 40+ different variations on antique white, then several things happened:

* He became less eager to create yet another antique white.

* NW gave specific names to specific finishes.

* NW actually discontinued some of the minor variations.

* Clients more easily got the finish they intended.

It was a happy day. Our website today shows a mere 30 finishes in “Creams/Tans” and 70 in the “White/Greys” section.

image0044Chalk rust may be the most popular of the surviving antique whites. We call this a crunchy finish, as it’s composed of many different layers of plaster and paint. It’s supposed to look like the remnants of a fabulous gilded finish from the 18th century which has fallen on hard times. The gilding has eroded away, exposing the inner layers of plaster and dirt and rust.

It’s a great finish for a chandelier like our new Vivaldi, hanging here in our DC showroom.


Because of its crunchiness, it doesn’t translate well onto a piece with a larger, flatter surface area, like this Venetian Bed. We’ve developed the more durable Venetian ivory and gilt for beds.


image0104Camel and Silverleaf is a prime example of a whitish finish that does translate well from design to design, regardless of surface area.

It started out on our Neoclassical Urn Lamp which Joe designed with Charlotte Moss.


We’ve now put that finish on:

A custom tall Charlus Etagere


Our standard Annecy Settee and Chairs

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Our Versailles Bed


Copyright 2009 Niermann Weeks Company. All rights reserved.

Italian Family of Chandeliers and Sconces

April 20, 2009

In Connecticut Joe and I found a damaged sconce arm dating from the 17th century.  Through all its rust, you could see that it had once been heavily plastered and gilded, but now it was just a derelict piece of iron.  We paid a pittance for it.  Back in his studio Joe re-scaled the curve and created a back plate for the first version, which was the five-arm sconce.

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The standard three-arm sconce and the standard five-arm, both in chalk rust finish.
(The red frame means it’s part of our Quick Ship Program!)

The sconces quickly morphed into chandeliers also. The English designer Nina Campbell hangs our Italian chandelier in her own bedroom, and every time she’s moved, it’s moved with her.  How cool!

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The standard 12-arm and also the standard nine-arm, both in the chalk rust finish.
(It’s on Quick Ship)                                                                  (It’s on Quick Ship)

The Italian Sconce premiered in a Virginia showhouse that brought us national publicity. Washington, DC designer Frank Babb Randolph collaborated with Joe to create this room. Our Roman Garden Table was specially designed just for this project, and all these designs have gone on great sales.

(c)1990 Gordon Beall

Here is the Italian Sconce in the second ad Niermann Weeks ever published. The sconces frame our Harewood Mirror.


The graceful curves of the Italians chandeliers and sconces let you look right through them , and they expose a volume of open space.  They are perfect to hang in foyers with staircases that wrap around.  The viewer can look into and through our fixture, seeing its beautifully decorated shape. We consider our lighting as architectural jewelry that must look perfect from every angle.  Using a dimmer allows the user to vary the light from pleasingly dim to as bright as an operating theatre.

The Italian design customizes perfectly for our clients’ needs, from an overall height of on the left of 54″ to a high of only 22″ on the right.

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The Tale of the Tray

April 16, 2009

Niermann Week’s most popular designs often start with a historical object and then twist it around to make a 21st century object. A case in point is our Chinese Fret Coffee Table, whose starting point is a 19th century Japanese tray. For Christmas Joe gave me this beautiful but fragile wooden tray.


I loved the patina and the graphics so much that I asked him to make me a table base to properly display my tray. After several months, I got my wish and the table’s been in our living room ever since. These photos actually show it on our brick terrace, where the light was better than in the house.


After lots of visitors commented on my table, Joe decided to make a version for general residential and commercial use. He retained the overall dimensions, but decided that the finish had to be much simpler. Whereas I found intriguing the Japanese clan symbols on the tray, Joe thought they’d bee too fussy for other people. He decided to metamorphosize my Japanese beauty into a side table in the Chinese Chippendale style.

First, the table and tray had to be made sturdier, which meant construction in metal, not wood. It also meant that the table could not detach from the base. For the finish he replaced my weather-beaten browns and reds with a silverleaf finish in a blackened glaze. (If you’ve ever seen metal leaf before it’s glazed, you’d realize why it needs a glaze. It looks just like the shiny side of tinfoil.) And with great pride, we introduced our newest table, but people HATED the blackening on the silver leaf. So much for a new approach to silver.


Anyway John Saladino saved the day by suggesting the mecca finish, in which silver is glazed with warm tones to make it resemble gold. This technique dates from the 17th century. Since silver was and is less expensive than gold, the finish gives one an expensive-looking product at a reduced price. I also think gold often looks too bright, but mecca presents a more burnished look.

Joe ignored his advice for this table whose finish he changed to a shiny black with linear detailing in gold. He also changed the function of the table from an occasional table into a coffee table. From my tray, he kept the outer border of a running Chinese key pattern and repeated it on the tray top itself.


For our artists it is difficult to keep a straight line extending along the surface, so David is using guide tapes to help steady his hand.


The finished product looks so:


Here David is painting a custom Chinese red finish.


Another client who had seen my original table requested the Japanese clan motifs on their custom version. I loved this one.


Joe did remember John’s suggestion about the mecca silverleaf finish, which has gone onto many other products and become a major finish in our repertoire. The Folio Ceiling Fixture shows its warm patina really well.


Copyright 2009 Niermann Weeks Company. All rights reserved.

Designs and Finishes – Part 2

April 14, 2009

In 1983, our patron Rodgers Menzies commissioned joe to make a table with these features:

– Resemble an antique table that was roughly cobbled together in the 1790’s in the backwoods of Eastern Tennessee

– Have a rectangular frame

– Include an inset parquet starburst on the top

– Be finished in a stained wood

At that time, Niermann Weeks was just learning how to do stained finishes, since Joe’s forte is painted finishes.  Give the man a paint brush, and he can perfectly imitate any finish.  We called him the King of Faux Finishes, but the market wanted us to also provide some stained finishes.  Rodger’s commission just fed right into that need.

So, Joe chose to make this table of cherry, a native American hardwood that would have grown abundantly in the Appalachian Mountains in Colonial times.  For that matter, it still does and is now farmed to provide a good sustainable hardwood for the furnishing industry.  He and Rodgers exchanged drawings (in the days before fax machines and scanners) and the first rough sketch was approved:


The carcass took several more deliberations to develop its shapee.  Joe designed the drawer to run under the long side of the table top, hidden in the apron construction.  He named the final finish Antique Pearwood for reasons that I no longer remember, but that made sense at the time. Finally the table looked like this:


Rodgers loved “his” table and ordered it a lot.  He allowed us to put it in our line, and designers started ordering it in its standard version as well as in a  myriad of custom versions.

A bedside table with a drawer and enclosed shelves


The standard size and shape, but in weathered oak finish


In a fancy painted finish with the drawer hidden along the narrow side


Then designers ordered our rectangular table in a custom round shape so often that we introduced two round versions.  They both have a drawer, but one includes a shelf as the stretcher, while the smaller on is more plain.


The shape took off in many custom forms, and recently we made one look really elegant with antiqued mirror facing.  This tables’ come a long way from its humble Appalachian roots.