STYLE MAKERS – Autumn
Made in America: Fourteenth Colony Lighting
By KLAFFStyle Editorial Staff
Owner Bo Graham Says: Cutting Corners Is Not in Our Culture
As we were preparing to launch our ‘Made in America’ series, Bo Graham, the current owner of the Memphis-based lighting brand Fourteenth Colony, paid a visit to the KLAFFS Norwalk Showroom as part of an in-service training program for the lighting sales team. We had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn first-hand about this uniquely American company.
“We don’t always focus on it, but we’re a Made in America company – in every respect,” said Graham. “We tend to focus more on keeping quality high and staying true to our design and production standards. We demonstrate these with a lifetime structural guarantee. If it ever breaks, we’ll fix it!”
Bo’s grandfather founded the company in 1945 on his return from serving in Europe during World War II. He had been attracted to traditional lighting designs he saw, particularly in Britain – designs that had inspired early-American lanterns and other fixtures for both indoors and outdoors.
When he couldn’t find high quality replicas of these handsome items, he began handcrafting them in his garage using vintage tools – the same kind that colonial craftsmen used; thus, the name Fourteenth Colony.
The timing was good for the fledgling business. During the war, much of the highest quality metals had been siphoned off to build ships, planes, munitions – products for combat. With the war’s end, these materials became available once again and provided the raw materials for Fourteenth Colony products, including 20-ounce copper and brass – a heavier gauge than generally used in lighting. Steel used in the firm’s products is also a heavy gauge.
“The metals have to stand up to our techniques,” Bo said. “We use power hammers and anvils and other hand-forging tools. Some of the lathes go back to my grandfather’s day and have plaques that say they were certified for war production, should they have had to be pressed into service for the war effort.”
The results of Fourteenth Colony’s design and manufacturing vision are bold fixtures that make a unique statement – whether in a traditional style or a sleeker more modern look.
“We’re not often copied,” said Bo Graham. “Our lighting is unique and recognizable.”
A significant contributor to both form and function are the talented artisans and artists who design and handcraft Fourteenth Colony fixtures. The company employs highly experienced metalsmiths, some of whom have been with the company for 20 years or more. It also recruits sculptors who graduate from a nearby art college.
“We pay them a high wage and offer them hours that give them time in the late afternoons and evenings to pursue their own art,” Bo explained.
Artisanal techniques extend to the glass used in the company’s lanterns and other fixtures. According to Bo:
“Our clear glass is produced locally. Our bell jars are mouth blown by the Davis Lynch studio in West Virginia. Each of the bell jars is one-quarter inch thick and sports a bubble, which is not a flaw but a symbol of its hand-blown pedigree.”
Handcrafting fixtures allows Fourteenth Colony to readily customize its lighting:
“A designer or architect can come to us and say we want 14 of these fixtures but we want a different back plate on each one. We can customize on the fly and handle such requests easily. Of course, we do handcraft our products so allow some lead time.”
Bo is the third generation of Graham’s in lighting. His father did not go into the manufacturing business, but provided an outlet for its products when he opened Graham’s Lighting Fixtures, a retail showroom, also in Memphis.
The two companies are separate, but in addition to operating Fourteenth Colony, Bo also serves in management of Graham’s Lighting Fixtures. Today, there are two additional showrooms, one in Nashville and one in the Memphis suburb of Cordova.
Fourteenth Colony employs 25 people and a dog, Ida B. Wells, a Plott Hound, the state dog of North Carolina. (Even the mascot is Made in America!)
To truly appreciate the solid and stunning design and craftsmanship of Fourteenth Colony Lighting fixtures, come into a KLAFFS showroom. For those in Connecticut, KLAFFS is the exclusive Fourteenth Colony retailer in the state.
797 Roland Street
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