Interview With Hilary Nagler

Hilary Nagler

When Hilary Nagler wasn’t happy with the lighting options she found in the market, she did what most people don’t even dream of: she started her own company, Flea Market Rx. Now she handcrafts vintage-inspired lighting, cabinet hardware, and storage accessories from her enviable studio in downtown Santa Barbara, California (not bad, right?). We met with the busy craftswoman to find out how she does this and how we can improve our lighting game.

What made you want to start Flea Market Rx?

I rummaged in the drawers of unloved lamp parts at the local salvage store and came across a magnificently patinated vintage brass socket, set about making a light out of it, and inadvertently found my calling. I had been in the design business for almost 20 years, but had never done anything with my own hands, never did anything smart, never tinkered. I have no idea where it came from, but the process appealed to me. Before I knew it, I made light out of anything I could drill a hole in, and Flea Market Rx was born.

At the same time, I was very upset about the “vintage-inspired” lights that I saw on the market … inexpensive materials, cheap painted or sprayed art patina surfaces. Stump. Boring. Lifeless. The vintage lights I made had soul; The patina was visceral and emotional. I knew there had to be a way to recreate that authentic vintage feel in bulk. So I set out to develop styles, techniques, and patinas that could be recreated and yet each one feels like a special one-of-a-kind vintage find.

Do you have a favorite piece?

I am very happy about every piece in our newly introduced Flea Market Rx for the Becker Studios Collection –The line offers an exciting aesthetic departure and a new direction for Flea Market Rx. But if I had to choose, it would be the custom-made mini wall light –It’s just so James Bond AND so cute at the same time!

What’s the best thing about your job?

The actual design of a new lamp is one of the most cathartic and fulfilling experiences I have known. My process is very organic. I start with an idea and go into the studio and just start playing. The original idea never works, but I stick with it and try a thousand different variations until I almost give up … and then BOOM! I somehow come to a design that doesn’t look like I imagined, but it’s fresh and inventive and I’m filled with an intoxicating wave of total satisfaction.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

People don’t always realize that I’m a one-woman shop and do everything we sell with my own two hands. The designs are complex, the techniques tedious, the patina time-consuming and chaotic (but the result is worth it!). Add that to the actual running and growth of the business, and let’s just say it isn’t all as fun as it looks on Instagram!

What inspires you creatively?

Growing up, the names Charles and Ray Eames were fought for my house so many times that I thought they were family friends! From a young age I was taught a deep appreciation for historically significant designs – I am most creatively inspired by the innovations, benchmarks and design philosophies that changed the course of design in the 1920sth Century.

What are some common mistakes people make with lighting?

I think most people think of highlighting a need rather than an opportunity. There is a tremendous variety of designs on the market to suit every aesthetic and budget. Lighting is an opportunity to introduce shapes and play with scalability and personal expression – it’s one of the few aspects of designing a space that can be functional and beautiful at the same time.

Do you have any tips on updating a room with lighting?

I am fascinated by programmable LED lightbulbs. The tremendous advances in the quality and design of the LED bulbs make saving the planet a lot more fun! What can I say, I’m a tech nerd who lives in Southern California – if there’s an app for that, it’s my turn!

Counterweight Bare Bulb table lamp

naked incandescent table lamp made of brass

Custom-made mini wall lamp

Wall lamp made of brass

Vintage lampshade frame chandelier

Lampshade frame chandelier

Otis articulated table lamp

Brass table lamp