by Sandy Geddes
photos provided by Mr. Willies
The first time I ever heard the word ‘Steampunk’ was when my editor emailed me to ask about writing this article. When I got home that night I looked up Steampunk. But, I couldn’t remember exactly what it was called, so I mistakenly typed in the word “Studpunk”.
Let me tell you, the search engine results for Studpunk and Steampunk are quite different. Either North Volume Media had decided to go in a very interesting direction with this piece or I needed to double check my editor’s email. After verifying my search term, I was taken to a series of articles and in my research realized that Steampunk doesn’t necessarily refer to just one idea or thing. So what is it?
Beginning in the late 1800’s, Steampunk is an artistic movement that brings together Victorian or scientific materials to make unique industrial designs; essentially combining two very different styles into one. It was really a movement that was born out of necessity. Prior to these fancy schmancy things we call light bulbs, steam ran all the machines and gas was used for lighting. When a couple of innovative fellas by the name of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison gave us electricity, people used whatever they could to create lighting devices. With few lamp parts available, pipes once used to provide steam and gas power became a popular component and were widely available.
Steampunk culture has evolved. Modern Steampunk culture was introduced in the 2000’s and includes a style of fashion, home decor, music, and literature. Today, a typical Steampunk outfit could include a combo of goggles, top hats, lace, corsets and modified armor. (Fun fact: YouTube Justin Bieber’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” video...you’ll see ‘The Bieb’s’ attempt at the style.) Examples can be seen on the silver screen with movies like, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where you’ll see some of the different shades of Steampunk.
When referring to lighting, Steampunk is a really rad way of adding light and unique style to your home or office. What’s even more rad is that we’ve got a Steampunk lamp shop right here, just outside of Plattsburgh... and it’s name is Willies. Well, Mr. Willies to you.
Mr. Willies Industrial Pipe Lamps are truly one of a kind. The lamps are rustic, but elegant. Practical, but in style. For me, the main appeal is how the design was inspired from a time when electricity was invented.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour the shop where owner David Langille creates his craft; just a small workshop, with several pieces of antique industrial pipes and a few lamps that had just been finished.
Langille has worked in the heating and plumbing field for 25 years: 17 years with F.W. Webb and the past eight with Hulbert Brothers. In his spare time, he enjoyed creating unique lamps for his home, and in 2016 launched his Steampunk inspired lamp business, Mr. Willies Industrial Pipe Lighting.
You might be asking, what’s with the name? Langille chose to name the business “Mr. Willies” after the family’s beloved golden retriever, Willie. I got to meet the dog that inspired the name and I can vouch for his adorableness.
Since starting a little over two years ago, Langille’s lamps has grown and can be found at www.mrwillies.com as well as Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Houzz and Wayfair. Langille attended 22 craft shows around the North Country last year and have traveled as far as Vermont and Massachusetts.
“One woman who attended a show saw our lamps and wanted to get one but couldn’t decide on the color. We got a call from her later that day saying that she couldn’t stop thinking about it. We told her we’d make her a lamp any color she’d like; we like to make our customers happy,” said Langille.
Mr. Langille describes his lamps as ‘industrial meets antique’. He showed me how each lamp was assembled and the Edison light bulb that adds to the charm of the lamp. He said that it takes him approximately one hour to make each lamp, which is convenient as they are in such high demand these days.
The lamps can range in price, starting as low as $30 for a small lamp, but increase based on size and customization. He uses steam and gas pipes, wire and switches and makes everything from a desk lamp, to a focal piece for your living room.
I mentioned to a friend that I was doing a story about Steampunk lamps. She gushed over the design of the lamps, but wasn’t sure if the lamp would fit into her home decor. The Langille’s have several of their own designs scattered throughout their home, which I would describe as ‘cozy Adirondack-y’ and the lamps only add to the ambience. These lamps may be unique in their appearance; they are a piece of art and can be incorporated into any style.
Mr. Langille began making the Steampunk lamps because he enjoyed making them. They gave him a way to express his own creativity and now it’s sought after all over the globe.
I’m certain many people are unaware that Mr. Willies exists. David Langille is proof that even from the confines of a small workshop located in his home just outside of our city, that beauty and innovation can happen. What’s more is that it can be quite a successful endeavor.