We’re accustomed to the notion of farm-to-table eating here in the foodie mecca of the Bay Area, but it may surprise you to learn that the same commitment to sustainability that underpins that movement can also apply to making a light fixture.
Metro Lighting on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley is proud to be unabashedly local – a slow goods manufacturer of customized lighting. Co-founders Christa Rybczynski and Lawrence Grown trained as architects at the University of Cincinnati, but switched gears and started Metro Lighting in 1993, the same year their first daughter was born.
Metro Lighting’s network of local artisans and manufacturers spans the state, and most of its suppliers are in the Bay Area. The couple collaborate with glass artists in Berkeley and Oakland, as well as in Paso Robles and Arcata, to create the signature pieces found only at their showroom. Metro builds most of their fixtures on site, but when clients’ dream fixtures require component parts outside of the capabilities of their 3,000-square-foot on-site workshop, Metro Lighting connects with local metal shops.
For example, Metro Lighting’s versatile Cascade line features multiple pendants connected to a single ceiling plate. Some installations require a plate that exceeds standard lengths so Metro routinely calls on Jim at Crown Sheet Metal on Gilman Street to fabricate oversized sheet metal pieces.
The quality of Metro Lighting’s fixtures can be found in the details. Take the small brass turnings that are custom fabricated by Edward Koehn Co., a family-owned machine shop that has operated in Berkeley since 1943.
Another example: Grown discovered RSR Metal Spinning, a woman-owned business in the Los Angeles area when searching for a reliable local supplier for custom quality lamp parts that he had designed.
These two companies fabricate a dozen signature parts that define the Metro Lighting lines. And, like all thrifty small businesses, recycling metal scraps has been second nature to the makers for decades.
Environmental stewardship has always been a hallmark of this solar powered local company. Metro Lighting uses non-toxic cleaners, low toxic metal finishes, and contracts with an award-winning metal plating shop in Oakland, Gold Seal Plating, which employs a closed-loop water recycling system. The popularity of the warm, familiar Edison bulb never seems to fade, and now Metro offers that glow using LED filament bulbs which are ten times more efficient.
The personalization possibilities of their popular Bottle Glass line are endless with more than 30 different brands of wine and spirits bottles available. Bottles come from the Berkeley recycling center, or local bars or restaurants.
“We are making use of the embodied energy to create something beautiful and useful,” Grown says, adding that “at the end of its useful life, the bottle shade can still be recycled.”
Metro’s fixtures are the opposite of ‘cookie cutter,’ as clients can choose the metal finish and glass for any fixture to complement their architectural setting. Many shades are interchangeable so customers can update their style later by simply switching glass. Metro Lighting will take back fixtures if customers remodel, some of which are refurbished and offered for sale at a considerable discount. Damaged parts are repaired and reused or responsibly recycled.
Buying from independent businesses with local supply chains keeps dollars in our economy, ensuring that wages and sales taxes are reinvested in our city. And a purchase from Metro Lighting supports local skilled artisans, keeping craft manufacturing alive in California.
Metro Lighting’s fixtures illuminate thousands of homes in the Bay Area and beyond, as well as local restaurants Comal, Tender Greens and A Côté. Rybczynski says she was recently flattered to hear someone refer to Metro Lighting as a Berkeley institution, noting “after 24 years, we definitely feel a deep connection to our community. Thank you!”