Designer and builder Nash Martinez transforms vintage castoffs into modern-day fixtures and furnishings
Nash Martinez divides his time between creating one-of-a-kind fixtures and consulting with clients on interior design for both residential and commercial spaces.
In the back of a Salt Lake City warehouse, Nash Martinez fashions his future by reshaping the past. Cloaked in a heavy canvas apron and shirt sleeves rolled up, this fixture designer stands in a cluttered workshop surrounded by remnants of days gone by—vintage lamp parts, boxes of mismatched light bulbs, strands of cloth-covered cable and a crowd of striking forms that look familiar, but not quite.
Each piece in Martinez’s C.G. Sparks gallery demands inspection and a close consideration of its narrative. “Every piece has a tale, and I’m just facilitating its telling,” he says.
The base of a long-forgotten embalming table, a tarnished swing-arm dental tray and a shapely lampshade mold may not serve modern-day functions, yet each is destined to become a unique fixture, furniture piece or objet d’art for Martinez’s growing clientele.
While Martinez may be new to you, his work probably isn’t. His handmade lights illuminate Salt Lake City eateries Pallet and The Copper Onion, and his rare vintage finds like reimagined fixtures and factory cart–like clothing racks keep execs at Nordstrom knocking on his door. Interior designers, showrooms and savvy homeowners similarly turn to him for peculiar pieces that deliver fascination to their rooms.
From rare bulb cages to century-old jointed arms, an edited mix of artfully paired parts form the artist’s light fixtures—each made by hand.
Martinez describes his collection as a mash-up of handcrafted, industrial age, art deco and modern, and one that captures the essence of American products made in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. It’s a mix that mesmerizes many. “Customers constantly tell us they didn’t know there was anything like this available in Salt Lake,” says Brandalynn Davis at C.G. Sparks, which sells pieces from the Nash collection.
While Martinez spends much of his time searching for frayed, rusted and inoperative castoffs and transforming them by hand, it would be a mistake to consider him a salvager or tinkerer. Those terms don’t begin to describe the level of imagination and craftsmanship required to create his pieces. More aptly described, Martinez is an artist who recognizes and develops potential in old, unappreciated objects.
Martinez scours flea markets and antique shows to find unique, collectible pieces like these vintage metal chairs, automated shoe cobbler figure and a Milton Resnick easel.
“I find pieces that have been marginalized and give them new life,” he says of his discoveries found at flea markets and while traveling the country’s backroads. Reinvented, rescaled and reimagined, his rescued ruins run the gamut from century-old light parts and vintage furniture to outmoded laboratory fixtures and rusted factory finds. Their common denominator is a past. “Each piece has a story, and that’s what make it special,” he says. In other words: These pieces have soul.
Martinez discovered his calling 14 years ago, quite by mistake. He purchased an old globe on eBay during the site’s early days, and resold it at a nice profit. Emboldened, he drove from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Portland, Ore., buying every globe and planetary model he could get his hands on and then reselling them with similar success.
This wall-mounted electric scissor lamp was originally gas fueled. It now serves as a retractable sconce.
His product mix expanded to period seating, lighting and decorative arts, and soon he was peddling a range of old and redesigned treasures to clients who clamored for more. He moved to Salt Lake City from Portland in 2010. Today—while he consults on interior design and continues to market collectibles and oddities including a Milton Resnick painting easel, a vintage mirrored dance hall ball and Model T steering wheels—he is known by many for his one-of-a-kind light fixtures created from period parts.
Martinez pulls parts from the shelves in his workshop. An old leather chair, bulb-studded arrow and carved angel bust take temporary residence before being refurbished and sold to clients.
Martinez uses the word articulating frequently when discussing his handmade lights. He creates movement and personality by combining adjustable joints, mismatched retractable arms, rotating sockets and pivoting bases, many originating from early 20th century O.C. White and Fairies fixtures. Sconces reach out on scissored extensions, long-necked lamps nod caged bulbs and dangling pendants wear shapely shades like party hats. While there are witty details, there is also simplicity. “I’m not a fan of ornateness,” he says. “It’s all about the silhouette.”
Martinez describes his creative process as one of deconstructing and reimagining, and the results reflect it. The level of craftsmanship and imagination Martinez infuses into his creations is as captivating as the pieces themselves.
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