On Upcycling Design Philosophies and Restoring Memories With Che Kehoe

Photo by Craig Cochrane

The 6th annual Address Assembly is back, taking over the Eastside Studios from September 26 – 29 (it kicks off with a launch party on September 25th at 7pm). As usual, the line-up of participants represent an incredible mixture of talented and impossible-to-pigeonhole designers, including Che Kehoe.

Under the name Lux Assemblage, Kehoe taps into her past as an electrician and fibre optic technician to create original sculptural lamps out of salvaged objects. We recently chatted up Kehoe, eager to learn more about her process and inspiration…

Working with vintage technologies must present its own special set of problems. What sort of unique challenges have you encountered with your designs? A challenge I have working with vintage items is finding pristine objects, things that show their age only in their design.

What new talents have you acquired as a result? I have learned a lot about restoration and repurposing. I now look at objects as potential bases for lamps. I’ve converted vintage toys, film projectors, cameras, slide projectors, typewriters, blenders, microscopes and reel to reels into table lamps.

You find inspiration in vintage objects from bygone eras. What do you think is the key to longevity in design? I think vintage items are made solidly, to be opened, taken apart and put back together. I think the original technology and uniqueness of them brings out curiosity. I love old technology and shapes; the history of it and the past economy surrounding it.

Your found objects and mementoes must come with some pretty interesting backstories. What has been one of the most memorable pieces that you’ve created so far? I created a lamp from a mini Minolta slide projector for a customer. He came with a photograph and a story about it. In the ’60s, as a child, he would go to the downtown east side of Vancouver with his dad to the Hogan’s Alley area, Main and Keefer. There was a drug/camera store and his Dad bought all his camera equipment at it. They would also go to the rail yards in the area and his Dad would take pictures. I was able to bring the mini Minolta projector from storage to everyday use for him.

Besides being one-of-a-kind and beautiful, your lamps are also eco-friendly because they upcycle old objects. How did you first get interested in sustainable design? I was initially interested in the simplicity and binary look of black and silver. The Argus Brick camera was the first piece that caught my eye. It was made between 1939-66, strong and solid, not very ergonomic. I love the story of it and the design, built like a brick. It has been used in movies to showcase a particular era. I felt it needed to be shown and appreciated.

Why is it still so important to you? As an industrial electrician I became acutely aware of waste at work, and realized that it wasn’t just at work, it was in people’s cellars and garages. I’ve always had a fascination with light – especially vintage lamps – and construction. So I’ve brought my two passions together by reconstructing recycled products into beautiful functional art.

What, in your opinion, is the key to a sustainable design future? Sustainability is just as important as the art. For me, the future is about recycling, giving items more than one function. Many of the cameras, film projectors and slide projectors turned into lamps still work. I try to maintain their origin function because it provokes curiosity in younger people as well as great memories for the people who have grown up with this technology.

Let’s flip the scenario and pretend that you are creating a custom lamp or sculpture to encapsulate your own legacy. What one personal possession/heirloom of your own would you choose and what is its significance? I’ve loved and collected old radios and vintage lamps for years, and carried and restored one particular lamp for 35 years. What I would leave behind is a well restored vintage lamp, or my red radio.

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