While on hiatus last spring from his job as a writer and director for “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Mike Karnell went to Mercanteinfiera, a trade fair in Parma, Italy, where he had one mission: Find the lamps. There, he met an older Italian vendor who invited Mr. Karnell to visit his warehouses in Milan.
“I thought to myself: In the future, I want to be a fragile old man selling fragile old lamps. How do I work backwards from there?” Mr. Karnell, 35, said.
About a year later, Mr. Karnell found a path.
In February, he opened FloraLuce, a shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that specializes in vintage lamps and lighting fixtures. The lamps, which include some he purchased during his expedition in Milan, are primarily from Italy, were made between the 1930s and the 1980s, he said, and range in price from $500 to $4,000.
Mr. Karnell runs the business with his wife, Sarah Schneider, a former “Saturday Night Live” head writer and co-creator of the comedy series “The Other Two,” while working at “Late Night,” where he’s been on staff since 2016.
Mr. Karnell’s passion for lighting began in the early days of his filmmaking career when he was starting out as a cinematographer. He read an interview with Ellen Kuras, the cinematographer, in which she described using lamps to light scenes in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which she shot. He started buying lamps for his own lighting kit, which he used in some of the projects he worked on for Funny Or Die and CollegeHumor. That sparked his lamp collection, which he amassed for years until he and his wife’s Brooklyn home was “overflowing with lamps,” he said. “Lamps that were installed, lamps in boxes. It kind of just took on a life of its own, and needed a place to go.”
At first, he got a storage unit and planned to restore lamps and sell them online. But he craved the physical space and social experience of a brick-and-mortar, which offered the opportunity to show customers his collection in action, all aglow.
In the Greenpoint space, lamps are perched on pedestals. Sconces radiate softly, displayed on stand-alone walls. There’s a living room-like setup with a velvet couch, simulating a home library with leather and brass-accented reading lights, and a loft above the main floor that serves as a workshop for restoring lamps.
Opening a traditional store was a risk, he said, but one that felt right. Ms. Schneider added that they feel grateful to be able to run FloraLuce alongside their television careers. “We’re sort of still in that phase of transitioning from romantic to practical,” she said. “We’ve gone from admirers to the ones restoring, and so that really is a whole new world for us.”
She reflected on her husband’s dreams for the store. “His goal was never really, like, to become some sort of lighting mogul or anything,” she said with a laugh. His dream, she said, is simply to fix up beautiful lamps and “send them out, like children” to light up homes in Brooklyn and beyond.
Above all, he loves cool-looking lamps — and his store is a shrine to them. There’s a lamp with a shade that looks like a fluttering stingray made of a tea-soaked scroll; a rectangular lantern with Art Deco bird designs; and bulbous twin table lamps that look like little glass aliens, vaguely futuristic despite their old age. Ask Mr. Karnell about any of them and he becomes a human encyclopedia, sharing details about the materials, design and restoration.
He has big plans for the shop, including staying in business for a long time. He wants to design his own lamps and sell lamps by local artists. He dreams of being a one-man lighting department for homes and businesses. But he’s balancing his dreams with practicality (and a yearlong lease, for now).
Upstairs in his workshop, Mr. Karnell enjoys restoring lamps, taking them apart and putting them together — but there is one challenge he faces. “I’m so clumsy,” he said. “Once I told them I was opening up a lamp store, people who really know me were like, ‘What? You’re getting into glass?’”
He laughed, adding that his friend put it best when he said, “So the bull bought a china shop.”
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