Anyone who has enjoyed a glass of wine in the garden knows that its beneficial properties are enhanced by candlelight. It would be difficult to find a better happy hour than one that includes a sunset, followed by the ambience of a flickering flame.
But what if you raised your glass to toast the sparkle of a crystal chandelier in the gloaming? Such is the rose-scented scenario put forth by two Fort Worth women who have elevated garden lighting to new levels of enchantment with warehouse and rummage-sale finds of vintage fixtures they have restored, enhanced and reimagined specifically for hanging in the great outdoors.
Capturing the sun
In a Cultural District front yard, Karen Larsen's garden chandelier is not to be missed. Indeed, it would be nearly impossible for passers-by not to note the oversize fixture cantilevered from the trunk of a giant American elm. Larsen, who moved into her 1929 Tudor home a year ago, was designing fence caps and garden gates and restoring a pool cabana in close collaboration with trim carpenter Byron Oliver when he called to tell her he "had a vision" for another project.
"That always means money," Larsen says. But because she trusts Oliver's eye, when he told her about an old warehouse and a trove of wrought-iron chandeliers possibly the same vintage as her home, she listened. And she continued to listen when he posited that the best location for the chandelier was the front yard. In fact, she was intrigued.
Imagining that she would have to rewire the chandelier, Larsen was stumped by the safety logistics that might involve. And because of the height at which the fixture was to hang, candlelight was not an option. Instead, her boyfriend hit upon the notion of using small solar lanterns set into the original lamps. "We took them apart, spray-painted them to match the chandelier and then put them back together -- no need for rewiring, or turning the lamps off and on," Larsen says.
Other renovations included painting the body and arms of the chandelier a satin almond shade with the same warm glow of the recently painted brick of the home.
Rust-Oleum Designer Metallics Spray in Oil Rubbed Bronze, crystal prisms and clear glass beads further distinguished the fixture. Finally, an innovative use of plumbing pipe drilled into the tree became the connector from which a distressed and painted chain (suggested by a neighbor as a more coordinated accessory than cable) was used to hoist the chandelier eight feet above a garden seating area.
On all but the gloomiest days, the solar cells charge enough to provide light well into the evening hours. "It's ambient light. You couldn't read by it," Larsen says. Not that she'd want to; settled on her teak garden bench, she is more likely to open a bottle of wine and toast the view from the street's highest vantage point. Neighbors are welcome to wander over, should they be drawn to the light. "I don't know of many people that have outside chandeliers," Larsen says, acknowledging that some may find it over the top. "But I love it."
Any chandelier can be a garden chandelier -- that is, should you not fear dramatic license or exposing your treasure to the elements. For Cherry Richardson, whose jewel-box garden was recently featured on the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour, there is nothing too elegant, too avant garde or too colorful for the blooming spaces she tends.
The only requirement for placement, for both plants and found objets d'art, is that they should make her heart trill. Finding a vintage Italian tole chandelier and its sister, an etched-brass confection, in a box at a church bazaar did just that. Cleaned, stripped of electrical wiring and refitted for tea lights, both chandeliers soon made their way into Richardson's garden.
The floral elements of the Italian chandelier gained it prominent positioning on a back porch that acts as an outdoor extension of Richardson's living room. The sculpted metal flowers and leaves enameled in shades of red and aqua made the fixture the perfect foil for the shabby-chic white painted metal glider piled high with brightly embroidered Indian pillows. Translucent glass masks from Mexico, also illuminated by candlelight, join in to fill the space with gentle waves of color.
Steps away, in the garden proper, the engraved bronze chandelier hangs, its missing crystals replaced at no small expense. "I decided to make it really special. Plastic would have been cheaper, but then I wouldn't have true prisms when the sun breaks through," Richardson says. Leaving the fine little fixture outside did briefly give her pause. But ultimately she decided that it should stay put, hanging from the wax myrtle she planted for its year-round leaves and spicy fragrance.
She believes the found art in her garden is enhanced by whatever the weather may do to it. Rusted implements grow rustier, wood slivers and begins to bow, but a chandelier this fine?
"Whatever wears out or breaks only gives me license to buy something new to replace it," she says, laughing. And so the chandelier, its age and origin mysterious, hangs above a bistro table, enhanced with pleated colored-glass votives that shield the candles from the wind. The result is delicately pretty and much more queen's tea party than Mad Hatter's.