Giving second life to a found object started out as a hobby for Chris Henry Coffey – now it’s much more meaningful than that

Chris Henry Coffey
Chris Henry Coffey with cat and cameras. Photo: Phil O’Brien

An old Miller High Life beer can. A vintage railwayman’s flashlight. An art deco clock. And a multitude of ancient cameras … their insides removed and painstakingly replaced with the intricate workings of a lamp, complete with Edison bulbs where the flash or lens once was.

Chris Henry started converting vintage and found objects into lamps as a way to fill his time between acting jobs. 

“I think my grandfather was a big tinkerer,” says Chris. “He spent a lot of time in his garage messing around with all kinds of things; always repairing things. He just liked to work with his hands and I’m along those lines. I’ve always liked feeling like I’m busy. So, this little side world of mine was a kind of therapeutic side trip for me, with acting being so unpredictable.

“I had some downtime and made one of these lamps for myself. Then I gave one as a present to somebody and it just sort of started there. People would see somebody’s lamp and say, ‘Where’d you get that?’ Then I started getting people wanting commissions.”

Cat Cameras
Chris’s cat gets in on the photo call. Photo: Phil O’Brien

But it’s more of a labor of love rather than a business, he says. “I just love light. I’ve always been attracted to the texture of it. And, being in theater, I’ve always been interested in lighting design. 

“I’m also a bit of a dumpster diver. I love going into junk shops and secondhand stores and markets and fairs. And I’m also really into photography. So I just kind of blended those worlds.”

He doesn’t do much to the objects themselves – he likes the beat-up, been-lying-in-a-corn-field-for-20-years look. “I just give it a little switch and a replica antique cord, and an Edison bulb.” And lets their natural beauty shine.

Occasionally, he’ll feel a pang of regret as he’s pulling out the original workings on to the table of his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. “As an amateur photographer, I was initially like, ‘Oh, this feels really weird destroying the camera.’ But then I got a little more philosophical, thinking, ‘I’m giving it second life.’”

The craft also has a meditative quality, which helps keep him sane between jobs. “I love that part of it. I just go into this meditative state. I can work on these all night and feel like an hour went by.

Chris Henry Coffey
Chris posing with his cameras and lights. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“And I always say I have a lifetime guarantee with anything I sell,” he adds, “because it’s not about the money so much as sharing something of me, and spreading the light a bit, giving people some positive energy in their spaces.”

Chris sells his work through Etsy, craft fairs, and the Upper West Side’s Grand Bazaar. Follow him on IG @hankshandmade

This story originally appeared in issue 60 of W42ST Magazine in December 2019.

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