FARMINGTON, Minn. — On a drizzly weekday afternoon in the southern reaches of the Twin Cities, Shawn Carling stands over his new acquisitions in the driveway behind his house.
Carling is a lamp maker, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the rusted bits of classic Americana he had just bought from a friend who picks goods from area farms and garage sales.
“You see these? They have ‘Minneapolis’ on them,” Carling says while gesturing toward a workbench covered in old pressure gauges. “People will see that and those will sell real quick.”
The founder of Machine Age Lamps keeps his workshop — really, just a garage — packed with pieces of vintage industrial and agricultural parts, reclaimed wood and plenty of Edison-style lightbulbs. Cogs of all sizes are tucked away underneath a wall with large pressure gauges. Harley-Davidson motorcycle gas tanks sit on a shelf next to a stack of car grilles. Fire hydrants sit in a corner behind stacks of splintering planks of wood.
Carling, a Cooperstown, N.D., native, heavily emphasizes his creative philosophy — “restore, recycle, repurpose, reuse” — to make steampunk-esque lamps that have been in high demand since he made one as a birthday present three years ago. He said that gift to father — who now helps Carling with aviation-themed lamps — caused a buzz with the rest of his family and started a snowball effect of demand for lamps like it.
“I think people really like them because they look at them and are reminded of something they grew up around,” Carling said as he looked at a recently completed table with a Jeep grille and headlights on it.
His lamps — available at Southern Lights in Burnsville, Minn., and online at machineagelamps.com — range from a few hundred dollars for a desk lamp to several thousand dollars for larger contraptions.
“It gets pretty gross in here, with the sanding, welding, sandblasting, all of that,” he said. “I’m going to have to spend a whole day to do anything, so it’s time-consuming. But I love it, I really do.”
Carling gave up a 25-year career in sales and marketing with Best Buy to work on his lamps. It has grown from a hobby to providing fixtures for TV sets and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Hong Kong.
Turning the parts he gets into light fixtures doesn’t seem inherently difficult, but Carling says the real challenge is going from concept to reality.
“People will say ‘Oh, I could make that, it doesn’t look so hard,’ and I’ll always tell them they’re right,” he said. “I look at it like it’s a puzzle, though. Once you’ve done it, it’s easy to duplicate.”
Finding his puzzle pieces isn’t exactly a walk in the park either, Carling said.
“It’s like some people think I just have a genie down in the basement that brings me all these things,” he said with a laugh. “But I try to find iconic Americana — something that you would see and instantly know where it came from.”
Now that he’s a bit more established, Carling’s got a few colleagues who keep their eyes open for parts he might like. He also said he’ll get emailed tips, too.
“I’ll get an email out of the blue that will say ‘I’m on my way to the scrapper, do you want this?’” he said. “There’s just so much cool stuff out there, it just needs to be found.”
To see more of Shawn Carling’s creations, go to https://www.machineagelamps.com.