With company roots reaching back to 1850, this lighting manufacturer has been one of the best-kept “secrets” in the industry.
If you haven’t heard of the San Francisco area-based lighting manufacturer Phoenix Day, chances are good you’ve never heard of its earliest incarnation: the Thomas Day Company. And yes, there really was a Thomas Day at the helm in 1850, although the business started out in cutlery before expanding to meet the needs of the plumbing and gas fittings industries after the California Gold Rush.
Then the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco. In its aftermath, gas and electricity were shut off because gas pipes and fixtures had been damaged and posed a fire threat. Since they needed to be replaced, the Thomas Day Company stepped up and became instrumental in the rebuilding effort, installing new street lights and providing steel framing. Not that long after that was accomplished, the Thomas Day Company closed its doors and Joseph Guglielmo – a skilled craftsman from Italy whose specialty was metal chasing at Thomas Day – purchased the company and renamed it “Phoenix Day.” The new name and logo symbolized the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, just as the city was doing.
In the 1950s, Guglielmo’s niece and nephew, Lawrence and Patricia Fambrini, took over the business and it stayed in the family with their nephew Tony Brenta, who has been at the helm of Phoenix Day since the 1990s, alongside his wife, Joan, who also loves the business and has become his right-hand as the years have gone by. Together, they have two children who just might enter the family business in the future.
“We have always moved with the times,” Brenta says of the company’s continued success. “Everything is constantly evolving in the design community, of which San Francisco serves as an epicenter. The direction of lighting has changed with the evolution of architecture. Things became more artistic and aesthetically pleasing rather than just for necessity. We really noticed a change during the Renaissance revival period – including Victorian architecture – that evolved out of San Francisco. We’ve progressed into fashion-forward artistic lighting such as chandeliers, cast iron lanterns, candelabras, sconces, and portables.”
Designer and partner Milton Roller was responsible for the company’s very detailed Art Deco designs during the Victorian period. “His talent for freehand drawing fit the architecture of the times,” Brenta recounts. “We’ve been able to utilize his diversity and incorporate his lines into a sleeker version of our times, which is the elegant sophistication we see now through Phoenix Day.”
In the present, the company’s design work is accomplished mainly by local designers who have worked with Phoenix Day over the years. “We have an amazing team of designers who constantly create new styles,” Brenta says. “They still use workshop drawings to begin a new design and we work together to create a prototype before the final complete product.” Charles de Lisle and the Wiseman Group are among the main designers.
Custom orders make up approximately 40 percent of the business, while stocked products comprise the rest. “We also have a ‘quick ship’ line which ships in two weeks,” Brenta points out.
The line is sold to the trade only through lighting showrooms nationwide. Lighting retailers attending the Dallas Market can view the line in the E.C. Dicken showroom in the Dallas Design Center on North Stemmons Freeway, a short drive from the Dallas Market Center.
Approximately 70 percent of the materials used in its UL-listed lamps and fixtures have recycled materials and many of the fixtures are offered in Title 20/24-compliant versions. “We would like lighting dealers and interior designers to know that we provide unique finishes and high-quality craftsmanship,” Brenta states. “Our products are made in the USA and we’re one of the few metalshops around. We have extensive capabilities and specialize in restoration and customization,” he adds. “We can customize anything in our product line as well as create pieces from scratch.” The company will also work one-on-one with the customer to create an individual experience.
Despite California’s notorious regulations in regard to manufacturing, Brenta can’t imagine moving his company anywhere else. “San Francisco is an extremely expensive city, but it is important for us to stay here,” he explains. “We have so much history embedded in California, and specifically San Francisco. We love our city and are here to stay. We are close to the design community and our client, plus it’s easy for clients and designers to come in and see how their order is progressing, give feedback/notes on a product if needed, and really become part of the process. We are constantly adapting due to California’s energy-saving and environmental restrictions, but we see this as the future of the lighting industry and are happy to be a part of new, ‘green’ initiatives,” Brenta remarks. “San Francisco has been helpful in this redirection by providing direction and support. They helped us to convert our building to be more energy-efficient by offering affordable options and a rebate program.”
What does Brenta foresee in the future? “This is an ever-changing market, with more LED, more high-efficacy, and advancements in how we illuminate our spaces,” he comments. “Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, we’re sure you can expect more growth online, and in social media and networking. It’s an exciting time in California for a company that deals with new technologies and we are pleased in the direction it’s going.”