Lighting design expert recalls unusual projects
There have been many notable projects in Steven Handelman’s 48 years as the principal designer and founder of Steven Handelman Studios, which specializes in lighting fixtures and accessories.
“I have done work for clients in every state in the country and all over the world — all the Disneyland theme parks, the Dubai Opera House, the Royal House of Saud, Yale University, Caltech and 78 country clubs, including Pebble Beach and The Greenbrier to name a few,” said Mr. Handelman.
“The most fun and challenging have distinct and unusual themes. These projects give me the opportunity to explore new ideas, techniques and styles. They challenge the status quo and refresh my creativity.”
He cited three examples that fall into that category: an authentic Danish farmhouse in Solvang, the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro and a corporate rental in downtown Seattle.
“I was contracted to design and fabricate all lighting and decorative architectural elements for the Solvang house that was being completely refurbished,” Mr. Handelman told the News-Press.
The historic home was built by Ferd Sorensen, a local woodworker who was considered the father of Solvang architecture.
“In 1940, he constructed an authentic Danish style windmill next to his home, which started a trend that would define the destiny of Solvang,” Mr. Handelman said. “Over the next 30 years, Ferd built most of the Danish provincial-style buildings in downtown Solvang. This home was built in 1956 for his niece who had come from Denmark.
“The carved beams in the living room are classic Ferd Sorensen. On each beam are carved Viking ships sailing on the ocean. The carving style was my inspiration for the pendants and wall sconces for the living room.”
The mirror and sconces in the entry are typical of Mr. Sorensen’s woodwork.
“I added a small metal Viking ship detail to the wood-turned sconces, which linked them to the Viking ship theme. In every room, there are charming folk art embellishments,” said Mr. Handelman, who added the dragon lantern at the entrance and “what every Danish house needs — a stork on the roof.”
The native of St. Louis said his many years of studying historical architectural styles enables him to create new designs that look correct for each period.
“The process of historic restoration, repair and reproduction requires a variety of skills. A comprehensive knowledge of historic design, engineering, metal and glass fabrication, 3D modeling, casting, lighting efficiency, metallic finish skills, leaded glass and etched glass are all necessary,” said Mr. Handleman. His business has been located on North Milpas Street since 1991.
“Each new job is like a puzzle. Investigation, research and innovation are required to reach a solution that will hold up to the sharp eyes of historians and please the stakeholders while conforming to current codes.”
His expertise in the field was invaluable while working on a restoration project for the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro in 2020.
“The theater is a great example of the fabulous movie palaces that were built in the 1920s and ’30s. Thousands of people went to the movies every day from early morning to late at night. They could not get enough of them. Not only were the movies exciting, the movie palaces were a big part of the package. The buildings were enormous and elaborate.”
When Mr. Handelman’s crew began the project, they found the 1929 vintage fixtures in sad shape.Over the years, parts were broken and missing; the finishes were completely degraded and the electric system was a mess.
“The zinc that was used to secure the glass had failed over time and resulted in many of the etched glass parts to break or disappear. A critical light diffuser was missing from all the fixtures, and there was no record of what it looked like. The chandeliers were custom made for the theater, and it would have been very difficult to get replacement parts,” he said.
“We were able to create a replacement part that shared design elements with the original chandelier. Our design historian and engineering department created a model for the new part using our 3D computer program.”
The Seattle project presented another unique challenge. The rental for traveling corporate executives is an apartment on the 28th floor of the newly constructed Nexus Building.
“From every window, there are terrific views of Seattle, including the iconic Space Needle. Like a lot of great ideas, the Space Needle began as a doodle on a napkin in 1959. Edward Carleson, the chief organizer of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, had an idea for a dominant central tower structure that would make a permanent centerpiece for the fair and an enduring symbol for Seattle,” Mr. Handelman said.
“When my client explained that he wanted me to design Space Needle lamps for the master bedroom, my mind immediately started flashing pictures of how the finished product would look and how they would be constructed. This ability to visualize and then manipulate those visions is a critical component in my design process. I envisioned Space Needle replicas made of polished steel that would reflect light from their many surfaces.
“We also fabricated a space-themed light for the kitchen and desk lamps that would complement the Space Needle bedside lamps.”
At age 74, Mr. Handelman said he has no plans to retire.
“My work keeps me healthy and my brain sharp. I embrace my routine and solving problems. I also feel privileged to be part of Santa Barbara history with my numerous pieces at local landmarks such as The Granada and the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.”