New by Jim Zivic: Introducing the Havana Lamp

by Alden Miller | September 19, 2013 | Noteworthy


This post is about a light fixture and it’s about so much more. After finishing my series of tips for lighting your home, I didn’t think I’d be here again writing about lighting. But, that was before my friend and colleague Jim Zivic told me about his show in LA at Ralph Pucci, where he’ll launch his new Lamp. This fixture is a culmination of what I’ve been writing about for the last couple months. If you combine what I wrote about craft and making, with the value in a story from my post on antiques, and you put them together into a light fixture, that is this. Let me break it down for you.

The Craft and Maker: Jim ZivicJim Zivic and Belting Leather from Forbes writeup.

Jim Zivic is from a small town in Ohio, 20 minutes outside Sugar Creek—the heart of Amish country. This upbringing informed his aesthetic and his desire to emulate the basic craft of functional things. But it also gave him the brutal contrast to the elegant work he creates. The materials he uses are working materials inspired by his working-class upbringing. Leather was not for fine shoes it was for belts and well pumps. It was used not for fashion but because it’s strong and flexible. When you needed something durable it couldn’t be beat.

The same goes with metal, the other material he favors. Like leather, this material comes from an industrial approach. He started using it for furniture at a time when no one would think to have a formal coffee table made of steel. His location surrounded him with galvanized sheets of tin. His family had a trucking company and he grew up riding around with truckloads of it. Tin is inexpensive, easy to work with and part of Jim’s identity. This picture from a Forbes article about Jim I think, shows well his rustic propensity.

The Story: Amish Chains

This light fixture started with the chain. On a trip home with his family, Jim was dipping into the plethora of local Amish antique stores when an old metal chain caught his eye. Drawn to the shape and texture of the links along with the hand-polished wooden handle -it was beautiful and also brutal. He bought the chain, took it back to his shop and traced the most perfect link. It was this one link that drove the creation of the piece. Now that he had a chain, he needed something to hang? Having always wanted to try lighting, Jim relied on his tried and true and folded a simple leather cover over a plain tin lining to create a shade.

This led our conversation to something I found very interesting about Jim’s process. I asked him if his work started more with the function and how something needed to work, or the form and what he wanted it to look like. What came out was that of course both of those were important but Jim’s work starts with a technique and a material. In this case it was the chain link leather and die cutting. He then moves to function and thinks, “what can be made with this material using this process?” Third, he turns to form: how can it be artful and something people want as part of their homes and lives? I think this is special and unique.

The Light: Havana Lamp

This light’s shade is 23 ½” wide and 3” tall. It’s called the Havana Lamp and made from a bridle leather suspension chain with a handmade leather and steel shade, copper grommets and caged bulb. Its low profile lends to hanging it nice and low floating over a surface. The construction is simple and the light it delivers is simple too.

The caged bulb is not just for looks. With the slim profile of the leather shade, the raw bulb is exposed and the cage will protect this delicate jewel of light within. The Havana Lamp would be romantic as the only light source hanging over a table and a great shot for a movie, but if you have read any of my posts on lighting you know lighting is best in layers. Use it with ambient light. It will be a strong but slender focus. I’d even consider getting some directional light onto the top of the shade and chain, so you can appreciate the leather and skillful ingenuity.

Although I instantly appreciated the beauty of Jim’s familiar materials and the simple craftsmanship, understanding the Havana Lamp takes a moment of meditation. Jim spoke of the rugged leather chain and shade hanging low over a large wooden table, and I pictured that wire cage swinging lightly in the breeze, providing the only light in a lonely bar on a hot Havana night. And although the lamp is actually named after the the leather they use, I got it.