The Birmingham Post October 2013
Illuminating designs at the flick of a switch
A Midland designer is making light out of the need to recycle. Zoe Chamberlain catches up with Michael Grassi, a novel lighting designer from Kidderminster.
Designer and Maker Michael Grassi from Kidderminster.
Michael Grassi is certainly switched on when it comes to recycling.
He transforms everything from kitchen colanders to old-fashioned cameras into contemporary lighting for homes and offices.
His workshop in filled with table lamps made from vintage oil cans and measuring jugs.
A yellow safety helmet has been turned into an eccentric floor light, and there are pendant shades made from wire egg baskets and galvanised American tractor funnels.
“I’ve always been interested in 3D things,” explains Michael, 60, and from Kidderminster.
“One day I was walking through a hardware store when I spotted a safety helmet and thought what a good light shade it would make.
“It went from there as my ideas grew to thinking of what other items I could use.”
Michael trained as a graphic designer and met his wife Judith at Wolverhampton Art College where she was studying fine art.
They married and founded Grassidesign, helping companies large and small with everything from a simple local flyer design to a full corporate identity.
Over the past 25 years, they have worked with the likes of Sealine Pleasure Cruisers, OFWAT, the NHS and The University of Birmingham.
Outside of Grassidesign, Judith continues to paint vibrant floral canvases which have been exhibited all over the Midlands.
Michael meanwhile is passionate about lighting, which he creates in two workshops at his home: one on his drive and the other in his cellar.
“It’s quite tricky to turn unusual items into lights,” says Michael.
“You have to deconstruct them, find a way in, cable them and make them safe.
“I have a electrician who PAT tests (portable appliance tests) them all to make sure they are OK.
“It can take a week to find the right way into something and drill appropriately.”
The quirky designer’s lamps have received a great response from people looking for unusual lighting in their homes.
“The response to my light fittings has been great, especially the ones made from old cameras,” he says.
“I have a lot of old cameras because I’ve always done a lot of photography.
“I love the way photographers work with light too so I thought it would be interesting to turn the old 35ml cameras into lights themselves.”
Michael trawls car boot sales and antique shops looking for mundane items he can then transform into something extraordinary.
Designer and Maker Michael Grassi with his wife Judith.
He spotted a vintage military insulated food container in a Herefordshire antique shop and turned into an uplighter.
He has set a Bakelite Ormond electric hairdryer on a heavy black Bakelite base and turned it into a table lamp complete with a dimmer switch.
And he placed two oil and fuel funnels on top of each other to create an unusual bright orange table lamp.
“When you look at a funnel, as I do all too frequently, you realise how much design goes into some of them.
“I particularly liked the shapes of an oil and fuel funnel I found. As an added bonus, the two funnels glow in an orangey sunset way when lit.
“The repurposed funnels were capped with an intricate chrome finial, adding a touch of class to this industrial table lamp.”
He also turns speed signs into uplighters, offering perhaps unusual presents for significant birthdays.
“The 60 limit uplighter is made with a genuine road sign. This light will amuse and certainly become a talking point,” he says.
“As a graphic designer, signs are part of my life, whether designing them, following them or obeying them.
“These bold numbers and colours seen in an unexpected setting will have great impact.”
Prices start from around £75 for a brightly coloured colander lamp to around £375 for floor light mounted into a Japanese cine camera on an adjustable tripod.
He even makes light pulls using computer mouses for £18!
Not surprisingly, Michael and Judith have some very quirky lights in their home.
“We have a two-tonne axle stand that I’ve made into a lamp. It is, of course, a very big lamp,” laughs Michael.
“It was one of the first things I made.”
Michael is happy to do commissions, using objects that are personal or special to individuals.
He explains: “I take a look at the object first to see if it can be done before I start.
“I would not want to ruin an object that is special to someone.
“It’s important to me that the object looks as though it’s always been a lamp by the time I’ve worked on it.”
He believes people are more interested in using old objects to make new ones than ever before.
“Recycling and repurposing objects is a big trend now,” he says.
“I look for bits and pieces, shades and joints, rather than complete items.
“The likes of Kirsty Allsop are making this popular with programmes like Homemade Home and Handmade Britain.
“It’s also nice to use historic items like 35ml cameras that aren’t used any more.
“They could just be put in a cupboard but this way they can be seen and used again.”
* For more information, visit www.itsalight.co.uk
Funky, unique designer lighting. Familiar objects take on a new life;
becoming fun, frivolous lighting objects of desire.
Funky designer lighting ❘ Upcycled lighting ❘ Designer lighting ❘ Repurposed lighting ❘ Trendy lighting ❘ Hip lighting ❘ Designer pendants ❘ Designer lamp ❘ Cool lighting ❘ Zany lighting
Wacky lighting ❘ Witty lamps ❘ Groovy pendants ❘ Frivolous lighting
Designer pendant light ❘ Witty lighting ❘ Innovative lighting ❘ Ingenious lamps
Avant-garde pendants ❘ Resourceful lighting ❘ Unconventional lamps
Reinvented desk lights ❘ Curious work lights ❘ Amusing pendant lights
Unusual Lighting ❘ Upcycled lighting ❘ Recycledelic lighting
Cool living space lighting ❘ Urban lighting ❘ And the rest....