While Abby Hull fully enjoys her weekends off, she also looks forward to Mondays. Now the lead powder coater for Barn Light Electric in Titusville, Florida, Hull hasn’t forgotten that it was just a few years ago that she didn’t have a job to report to on Monday mornings.
Employment was hard to come by then in Hull’s small hometown. About 8,000 jobs were lost when NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Hull had heard that the new lighting manufacturer in town was hiring, so she stopped by.
“The lady at the desk told me the only open position was in powder coating,” says Hull, who happened to have learned how to powder coat from a friend. “I told her that was great, because I had seven years of experience doing just that. The receptionist said, ‘Don’t move.’”
Hull is a vital part of the growing workforce at Barn Light Electric, which continues to prosper in its 10th year of business. According to owner Bryan Scott, the most important decision he made in the shop’s early years was to remain committed to creating products that are made and manufactured in the United States.
“We’ve built a strong following here in the U.S. and even abroad with customers who want to buy American-made products,” Scott says. “American-made means quality products, jobs for local people, and a strong local and state economy.”
Scott and his wife, Donna, had left their previous careers in 2008 to turn their passion for vintage lighting into a full-time business. They say they always had been drawn to antique lights for their timeless designs and craftsmanship, and launched Barn Light to manufacture fixtures the old-fashioned way: by hand and from quality materials. They revived the art of metal spinning and introduced their own porcelain enamel operation in 2012. At that time, porcelain enamel lighting hadn’t been manufactured in the U.S. for more than 50 years.
In early lighting manufacturing, lights were intended to last a lifetime in a particular setting, and they were hand-crafted from high-quality materials. Porcelain enamel provided an extra layer of protection to help keep the lights performing even in harsh industrial and agricultural settings. When cheaper materials and manufacturing techniques became available, new lighting fixtures lost this durability.
The Scotts wanted to return to that “original way of doing things,” manufacturing fixtures with skill and artistry. In their shop, flat pieces of commercial-grade metal are spun on a lathe, and then carefully manipulated and sculpted into the desired shape. To fully replicate the quality of vintage lights, some of the hand-crafted shades are coated in porcelain. It’s a meticulous process, but the Scotts say that ingrains a tangible sense of dependability and integrity directly into each light Barn Light produces.
The porcelain enamel is applied to the hand-crafted steel light shades and then permanently bonded through oven curing, providing a durable, protective finish and pleasing aesthetic. Other hand-applied finish options include powder coat, natural finishes for copper and brass shades, and a drip-paint technique.