Woman's love of lamps lights way to owning store

Published on Sunday, 27 April 2014 16:50 - Written by Casey Murphy cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

Jean Torrans started bringing lamps home to rewire when she was in high school.

“I was a nerdy high school kid and loved lamps,” Ms. Torrans said. “I’ve been rewiring lamps and dragging them home since I was a kid.”

Ms. Torrans grew up in Texarkana and moved to Tyler in 1985 as the owner/manager of Mayflower Van Lines, which she had until 2001.

Because she felt too young to retire from working, had a basement full of lamps she had acquired throughout the years and commercial rental property sitting empty on Old Jacksonville Highway, she decided to do something she loved.

She opened Illuminations in January 2013 and business has been good, she said.

The tiny shop carries antique lamps, accessories and other items. Her most modern lamp is from the 1960s, while the oldest lamps were made in the 1880s.

“I always loved hunting for antiques,” Ms. Torrans said. She goes to antique shows and estate sales to find unique pieces.

When asked to pick her favorite lamp, she said, “That’s like your children. I couldn’t tell you, I love them.”

When she places a lamp into a customer’s car, she puts a seatbelt on it like it’s a child, she said.

Ms. Torrans said she is pretty selective with her personal lamp collection at home. She loves English porcelains she turned into lamps, and one of her favorites is made of acid-cut alabaster in 1920 by Stueben, a famous glassmaker.

“Lamps, they’re art to me,” she said. “They’re just as important as a picture on a wall.”

Not only does she offer a wide collection of antique lamps from all over the world, she and Lester Dixon work to repair, restore and design lamps.

Dixon, 54, works security at night for Atria Willow Park.

“I’ve driven trucks and all that,” Dixon said. “I never through I’d be doing lamps. That’s all new.”

He started working on lamps when Ms. Torrans opened the shop but he has been “mechanically inclined” his entire life.

He has done mechanic work since he was 13 and always has been good with his hands, he said, adding that he also enjoys working on CB radio equipment.

“He can tear anything apart, and put it back together,” Ms. Torrans said, adding that they have known each other for about 15 years.

While working on restoring a pair of Corinthian column lamps from the 1960s, Dixon said it takes him less than an hour to do general repairs on a lamp and about three hours to build one from scratch. The process requires drilling, assembling, lacquering and polishing.

When designing a lamp, they work with the customers to select the base, shade, and colors to paint the neck.

“We do it all,” she said.

“Your lamp doesn’t have to leave the building,” she said. “We can do the repairs or do the design work here and have it out in 24 to 48 hours.”

She said the space is so small, they don’t let the work stack up.

When setting up the shop and repair room in the 680-square-foot house, they had to be very resourceful, she said. Lamps and other décor sit in every nook and cranny, including on top of a refrigerator.

Ms. Torrans recently showed off a Caldwell lamp in her store, with a base made of bronze, which can be seen in the White House and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

She has a Mason’s Iron Stone lamp, elephant size, from the 1820s, lamps with carved quartz bases and Murano glass from the 1950s. She has Chinese tea tins that were used to ship tea in the 1920s, as well as lamps made from tobacco and peanut tins.

Ms. Torrans said they can make a lamp out of just about anything. The oddest might be the lamp they made out of old shoe forms from 1900, or lamps made from old brandy or whiskey kegs, also called spirit kegs, from the 1830s.

They also can repair tea tins, figurines or nearly any other antique, Ms. Torrans said while showing off a large gun powder tin that was turned into an end table. Illuminations also offers old spice bins used in general stores in 1815 and Staffordshire spill vases from 1860.

“There’s not that many antique dealers left in Tyler,” Ms. Torrans said. “I love what I do.”

She said she has customers that come from outside of Smith County, including Kilgore, Henderson, Jacksonville and Quitman.

“Our location seems to be pretty good,” she said, adding that she lives a couple of blocks away from the shop on Old Jacksonville Highway, near the intersection with South Broadway Avenue