Lamp Doctor in the News!
New York Newsday
The Lights of His Life
by Merle English
The vintage, table-model Singer sewing machine was an heirloom. It belonged to Michael Pergola’s grandmother and became his when she died eight years ago.
``It was one of the possessions she always held onto,’’ Pergola said. ``I had been saving it, saying one day I would refurbish it and get it used again as a sewing machine, probably by my wife. But we had put it in storage and kind of forgot about it for a while.’’
In recent weeks, the black sewing machine with a lion’s head insignia and gold-leaf trim was taken out of storage. It now sits atop a table in the study of Pergola’s new home, sporting a fresh look as the base of a table lamp topped by an oblong, fringed lampshade. Pergola, 42, a supervisor with the Sanitation Department in Brooklyn, credits the machine’s transformation to Peter Romeo, The Lamp Doctor. That’s the name of Romeo’s business, where he creates imaginative and one of- a-kind tables, standing lamps and chandeliers.
``I had known Peter for over 10 years,’’ Pergola said. ``One day it just struck me that besides being a fantastic craftsman with lamps, he’s very creative. I brought the machine to him, and his eyes just lit up. He said, `I can do something with that.’”
Converting a sewing machine into a lamp is all in a day’s work for Romeo. Unique chandeliers — many dripping with glittering crystals — hang from the ceiling of his shop, which has been at the same location for 33 years. Table lamps and floor lamps — some completed, some in the process of completion and some brought in for repair — occupy much of the floor space. Each is a conversation piece. For example, there’s a chandelier with a model boat at the center; another is built around a set of white cups and saucers. Deer antlers, painted white, sprout from another. At the request of customers who want to preserve keepsakes but give new life to them, Romeo has worked antique liquor bottles, perfume bottles, a metal table, old gas and kerosene lamps, a birdcage, a toy carousel, a wagon wheel, a 1918 Kodak camera and a makeup set into lamps. A Victorian wind-up clock he set in a chandelier continues to work by battery when the chandelier lights are switched off. Even a chamber pot was incorporated into a lamp. ‘’We turned it upside down and wired it, and somebody bought it,`` Romeo said. Nothing daunts him. Romeo has made floor lamps from a vacuum cleaner, an old fire hydrant, part of the dashboard of a Porsche and a shark mounted by a taxidermist. “We drilled a hole through its mouth to its tail (to wire it), and put it on a base,” Romeo said. A customer wanted a fullsize, wooden phone booth made into a standing lamp. Romeo welcomed the challenge. “On the top of the booth we mounted a big plate and made a very large lampshade to cover it like a canopy,” he said. “He has it in the middle of his den. You can walk into it. When you open the door,the light on the top goes on.”
“You can make a lamp out of anything,” Romeo said. “You bring it, we’ll light up your life. `Can’t’ is not allowed.” Visitors are entranced by it all and hardly want to leave when they visit the shop to purchase a lighting fixture or have one repaired. Romeo found a kindred spirit in John Lee, his aide, whose creative ideas find their way into some of the artistic combinations of crystal, glass, bronze and light metals, wood, porcelain and just about any other material they use to fashion lighting objects. “We can do anything here,” Lee said.
Romeo, 60, an easygoing, affable man, got into the lampmaking business in the early ’60s after a stint as a photographer in the Navy. He started out selling lamps others made, but, lacking enough capital to keep his business going, he started making lamps from parts purchased from a wholesaler. “I assembled my own to save money,” he said. “I did my own designs. I made odd things. I put my twist on the styles that were happening, and I had no competition. That worked out well. All my stuff was original.” Over the years, he has made more than 5,000 unique lamps. But he also buys and sells old, intact chandeliers. “If it’s a really good piece, we just restore it,” Romeo said. “I love my work, it’s like making a painting,” said Romeo. “I don’t go to work; I go to play.”
His wife, Carol, who takes care of the sales, said, “He never runs out of ideas. He looks at something and sees it in a whole different light, so to speak. There’s always something new under the sun.” That’s what attracts people to The Lamp Doctor.
When he steps into Romeo’s store, Pergola said, “It’s like stepping back in time; you’re back into the early 1900s.” And the Singer sewing-machine lamp in his study also will be a “time machine” of sorts. It will remind him of his grandmother, Pergola said. “It’s going to have a special place in my heart. I probably won’t use it to sew, but it can. I’m just going to use it pretty much as the centerpiece of the room.”