Wispy layers of golds, greens and hot pinks embellish some of South Florida artist Valenino Llegada’s pendant lights. Others are shiny and bare. A few feature patterns of tiny holes.
The variations are interesting. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Valentino Llegada’s pendant lights is of what they’re made; fire extinguishers.
Llegada uses empty fire extinguishers discarded as scrap metal. Cut in half, the canisters yield two types of hanging fixtures – flat-topped and domed.
Llegada originally picked up some old fire extinguishers on a whim while shopping for art supplies at a metal recycling facility. Perhaps, he thought, he’d use them some day to make gardening tools.
Recycling facilities are a favorite source of material for Llegada, who was a student of art and sculpture in his native Uruguay. For him, relying on discards to produce something fresh and desirable is not only environmentally appropriate, but adds an extra dimension to an artist’s work.
“It’s wonderful when you create something with unwanted things,” he said.
A fresh idea for the fire extinguisher sparked when Llegada was glancing around his shop for materials to make a vase as a birthday gift. He was pleased with the result. From there, he ventured into different styles, playing with paints and primers until he perfected an approach for applying vibrant designs.
When his daughter pointed out pretty pendant lights in a design magazine, Llegada was motivated to spin out something new with his fire extinguishers.
Before he applies any design embellishments or electrical components, Llegada spends a good amount of time transforming the former safety equipment into suitable surfaces. He soaks the extinguisher shells. Then he uses three types of sandpaper to hand-strip the original paint – usually red – and smooth the metal.
Llegada showcases that smooth gleaming metal in some of the pieces, which are bare and unpainted. Others feature vibrant blends of color, which Llegada applies with his two-brush technique. On some, Llegada paints marble-like designs.
Pieces are priced starting at $70 on his Llegada’s website.
A selection of pieces from Llegada’s fire extinguisher collection is also available from online retailer Uncommon Goods.
“They’re gorgeous,” said Katie Giannone, an assistant buyer for Uncommon Goods. “What we really love about this, he took a commonplace [item] and made it a beautiful sculptural piece for your home.”
When fire extinguishers are removed from service and swapped out, often because of damage, corrosion or age, the metal shells are generally discarded or recycled after the contents are safely emptied, according to representatives of the industry.
John Gioseffi , president of Broward Fire Equipment and former president of National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors, www.Nafed.org, said his firm removes reusable and recyclable parts and then sells the canisters in bulk to a metal recycler. He estimated millions are taken out of service yearly.
Llegada is delighted to be repurposing at least some of them.
In addition to serving as the designer, he’s also a satisfied customer. Three non-matching pendant lights hang at different levels in his living room. “They look wonderful,” he said.
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