Vintage junk becomes artistic lamps in hands of Snohomish man

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, February 25, 2014 6:33pm
  • Life

What do you get when you cross a flow regulator from an old claw-foot bathtub with a truck air can?

If you’re John Schilaty, you get an object to light up your life.

He uses discarded parts to make lamps.

“I get things that intrigue me, then look at them for a long time until I can figure out what to do with them,” said Schilaty, 53.

“It’s challenging technically to use things that aren’t supposed to be lamps and turn it into lamps and make them look normal. It’s all about putting parts together.”

The creations come to life in the garage workshop of his rural Snohomish home where he constructs, wires and imagines possibilities.

“I made one out of an old water pump one time,” Schilaty said. “It was laying in a pile and the guy was going to throw it away. It sat out there for a year before I could figure out what to do with it.”

A lot of his lamp parts are just junk: A spoked baby buggy wheel. A clutch off a dump truck. A furnace coupling. An Army signal corps phone.

“I’m really taking things normally thrown away and discarded or not appreciated and changing them into something that is appreciated,” he said. “It’s not that I’m a greenie guy.”

His enabler is his wife, Diane, a vintage dealer and vendor at Ruffles &Rust Square in Snohomish. Half of the garage is piled high with her stash.

“It used to be I’d go over there to raid and find pieces, but now she has gotten to know what I want so she’ll bring it over here and set it down.”

She’s also his greatest fan. “He has a great melding of mechanical and artistic abilities that is perfect for these lamps,” she said.

It started off on a whim for Schilaty, owner of Northwest Sand &Gravel in Snohomish.

“I had some old car parts, and I made a lamp,” he said. “My wife took it down to the store and it sold. So I made some more. I kept making them. She sells them so I keep doing it.”

He has made about 50 lamps in the past two years, and he has enough parts and ideas for 50 more.

“I can’t believe how many lamps he has sold,” his wife said.

“I can’t believe it, either,” he said. “It amazes me to be honest. I run a trucking company.”

The lamps go from $95 up to $500, with most about $200.

Some don’t sell. At least, not yet.

Up for grabs is a rusty, peeling air vent from a tugboat that he turned into a floor lamp.

“I don’t know who would ever want it, but it’s cool looking,” he said. “I make stuff that I like. Some is better than others. Some I go, ‘I don’t know if that works.’ If I don’t like it, I’ll change it until I do.”

The filaments in the Edison bulbs add to the vintage flair. The low-wattage bulbs stay naked, for the most part. No cloth shades allowed, but he might use a glass shade, say, from the ’70s.

“A lot of it is just changing things around,” he said.

Schilaty is a handy guy. He built the house in Snohomish where he and Diane raised three daughters. He used to tinker in woodworking, but he finds the lamps more gratifying.

“It’s something I can complete in a short period of time, in three or four hours I can accomplish it,” he said. “It excites me when I finish it.

“The key is, how do I make everything fit? I’m constantly dealing with diameters,” he said.

Three-eighths of an inch: That’s the magic number. There has to be a way to get a cord through it while keeping the integrity of the object.

“Some things just won’t work,” he said. “But then a lot of times I think that and then I’ll make it work.”

Need a light?

John Schilaty’s lamps can be found at ?Ruffl?es &Rust Square is at ?1?234 First St., Suite 1?, Snohomish. For more information, call ?360-217-7557 or go to www.rufflesandrustsquare.com.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.

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