There aren’t many museums in retail stores. That’s what makes the Kelly Art Deco Light Museum and Vintage Hardware & Lighting so different.
Since Ruth & I have lived in the Northwest, we have traveled widely and, of course, acquired favorite destinations. Port Townsend, Washington, is one of them. This town on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula has a unique history. Growing dramatically at the end of the 19th century, Port Townsend expected to but failed to become the Northwest’s main railroad terminus and port so it went to sleep. It’s Victorian mansions, big city public buildings, and town-center shops woke up during the hippie era, and the residents took to that cultural phenomenon. I used to enjoy counting psychedelic-symbol encrusted Volkswagen Type 2 Vans when I visited.
The last time we were there was near the end of the turn on, tune in, drop out days, and I thought that Port Townsend might doze off again. But it didn’t. Instead, it got way better. Losing a bit of its sleepy aura, Port Townsend began luring young families and well-connected millennials. I watched some of the latter re-doing the literally dusty Jefferson County Museum that was like a tinder-dry paper mausoleum not all that long ago. They and their mobile devices were transforming it into a state-of-the-art historical gem.
On our way into town, Ruth and I couldn’t believe the changes, saw a new-looking visitor center, and stopped. The ladies in charge were soon telling us about all the new stuff to see, and the one that sounded the most interesting was the Kelly Art Deco Light Museum on the second floor of Vintage Hardware and Lighting. As it turned out, we had already passed and discussed it because it’s in a building that looks like a time-traveling Victorian bank.
The Kelly Art Deco Museum is not a disguised attempt to sell antique light fixtures. It’s an actual museum in a retail store that sells new light fixtures and decor that looks as if it has been removed from period homes being torn down. Ken Kelly, an antiques dealer, took a sabbatical in the 1960s to research period lighting. While at libraries like The Smithsonian, Ken noticed that there was very little about lighting from the American Art Deco period. Buying a few pieces evolved into an ongoing passion that resulted in a 2,000+ collection of authentic 1928 to 1938 art deco light fixtures needing display space. Vintage provided that.
Vintage Hardware and Lighting looks like the kind of trend-setting store that you’d see in Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center instead of on West Sims Way in Port Townsend, Washington. After visiting the 2nd floor museum, Ruth had her charge card out before she made it down the steps. While she shopped, I learned. Although Vintage looked like a new enterprise, it has actually been around since 1978. Over time it has developed a reputation as the leading supplier of historic light fixtures to movie art directors. You can spot Vintage fixtures in an impressive number of TV shows and films like The Shining. There’s a list of its show-biz credits on vintagehardware.com. Even The White House has installed Vintage lights!