David Phillips of 2 Lanes South takes a rare late afternoon break from fabricating his unique lighting line to elaborate on the hallmarks of hand-craftsmanship, his lighting collaboration with American Pickers star Mike Wolfe, and his adopted city of Nashville.
For the past 15 years Dave Phillips has been creating custom chandeliers and pendants for some of the country’s top interior designers, many times incorporating found objects supplied by a famous TV show “picker” into his forged designs. This father of three – all under the age of 6 – has never worked harder and enjoyed it more as he embarks on yet another stage in his second career: a line of “mass-produced” lighting combining elements from some crafty friends.
Through his company 2 Lanes South, Phillips brings a unique perspective to his work. Lighting, however, wasn’t always his focus. With a varied career path, he began parlaying his Marketing degree into selling broadcast media spots.
Burned out on the stress, he found a great deal of satisfaction working with his hands tinkering and dabbling in furniture-making. A chance meeting with a man in the paint department in the Nashville Walmart turned Phillips’ focus toward lighting.
“We just struck up a conversation and he mentioned that he needed help one day a week restoring old lighting fixtures. One day turned into five, and eventually I decided to open my own business creating new lighting,” he recalls.
“I have seen so many designs, shapes, and sizes of things from so many eras that I can translate repurposed items into a concept,” Phillips explains. Although not a fan of the ubiquitous term “repurposed,” he is emphatic that found artifacts must be an integral part of any of his lighting designs, and not merely used a trendy word. “Some things just call for use in a chandelier and I incorporate them, but they can’t stand out; they must be part of the overall design,” the artist insists.
“I am very particular when using an old item in a fixture. It must look like it was designed that way and [become] part of it, and not merely stuck on ? kind of like repurpose with a purpose,” he jokes. “That is the artistic side of the craft, and it’s not something that can be taught. Years ago I started reusing old porch posts. They reminded me of the ornate turned columns of fancy chandeliers, so I would start with the post as the center and then hand-forge arms for the sockets.”
The artist also relishes creating new designs. “I fabricate from scratch,[doing] actual blacksmithing. I love the whole process from sketch to fabrication,” he remarks. While Phillips is proficient in CAD programs, he keeps his sketchbook with him at all times. “You never know where inspiration will come from. For example, while working on our new showroom and workshop in Marathon Village [just south of downtown Nashville], I was on top of the building and saw the skyline from a new perspective. That sparked an idea that I had to put down on paper! Life is inspiration.”
When it comes to choosing elements for his designs, Phillips has access to thousands of gears and pulleys, many of them sourced from his friend Mike Wolfe, star of the television show American Pickers and purveyor of the renowned antiques store Antique Archaeology. Friends for years before the TV show debuted, it was only natural that Wolfe chose his long-time pal to produce lighting for Antique Archaeology’s latest venture, Rustorations — a one-off lighting line that is exclusively featured in Antique Archaeology’s Nashville store in the old Marathon auto factory. (Antique Archaeology’s original location in LeClaire, Iowa is still open and has just undergone an expansion.)
“Mike gives me free reign to do something with the tons of parts that he picks. It’s not a hodge-podge, but designed to honor the parts, their patina, and their stories,” Phillips relates. He has rewired antique lighting and created new fixtures from such relics as funnels, pulleys, and pails for the Rustoration fixtures.
In addition, Phillips’ love of vintage industrial pieces has led him to a new venture, a line of lighting featuring actual hand tools and construction materials.
“After spending so much of my career designing for others and making their concepts concrete, it’s exciting to finally create something that I can call my lighting,” Phillips says. “All of the lamps and fixtures are fabricated in our machine shop and the components sourced in the USA where possible,” he reveals. “The designs feature items like wrenches and resembled garage lights meant for man caves. It’s all about things I like. We are using raw steel, concrete, rebar, and other materials and pairing them with unique accents. One of the things I like is chrome so we are even chrome-plating the rebar.”
One example is the line’s unique take on pull chains. “I’m not a fan of them. I just don’t like the chain, and the newer sockets seem cheap. In my lamps, I’m using high-end braided leather pulls on upgraded sockets,” he says.
The line of portables and fixtures goes on sale at 2 Lanes South’s new showroom in Marathon Village this fall, and wouldn’t be half as fun without the sourcing he has done with some friends he has made at this new Nashville hotspot.
“One of the artists in the complex offers leather goods and is supplying my pulls. Another tenant, a Nashville artist in the fashion industry who makes fantastic ties and caps, is fabricating some shades for me.” Phillips also has the convenience of sourcing some components from B&P Lamp Supply in McMinnville, Tenn., less than 100 miles away.
2 Lane South’s fixtures also grace the spaces of his fellow tenants in Marathon Village. Garage Coffee Company, which relocated to the popular Nashville locale from New Jersey, needed a statement lighting fixture for its garage/biker-themed coffee shop. The owner turned to Phillips, who transformed vintage tires into a dramatic three-tier, illuminated masterpiece.
The synergy of artistry and craftsmanship among those in Marathon Village is indicative of the Nashville area, according to the lighting designer. “They say Nashville is the new Atlanta, the new ‘It’ town. There are some great restaurants opening up, there’s always music, and it’s still a friendly Southern town. There are so many celebrities moving in around the area, but you’d never know it. There are no paparazzi, just a respect for everyone, and a genuine appreciation for talent and creativity,” he says.
Phillips has a true passion for lighting design and says he would never create a fixture style or patina merely because it would “sell.” In this era of instant availability and convenience of the Internet, he believes consumers in general have gained a renewed appreciation for handcraftsmanship and old objects complete with their historical patinas — character that can’t be duplicated in a factory.
“People, especially younger consumers, see the effort and love artisans put into their work, and that makes it special,” Phillips reflects. “That’s what keeps people coming into our studio just to chat. There’s never a dull day here, and that’s fine by me.”