The founder of fledgling company Flea Market Rx™ draws upon her experience as an interior designer and her work as a manager at retailer Design Within Reach when creating her own line of lighting and accessories. Hilary Nagler specializes in giving new life to discarded materials such as brioche tins, old Schwinn handlebars, vintage plumbing pipes, and bed springs. She makes all of her lighting and accessories at her workshop in California. Most recently she exhibited her line at the San Francisco Gift Fair and NY Now in Manhattan.
By Susan Grisham
This maker of industrial chic lighting sees a long life ahead for the category ‒ not because it’s a hip urban trend, but because it relays intrinsic qualities such as honesty, craftsmanship, and a respect for materials. Hilary Nagler’s confidence is the culmination of a lifetime spent helping others furnish their homes, punctuated by a Recession-spurred jump into her current artistic role.
A former interior designer and a retailer, Nagler is the mastermind behind Flea Market Rx™, a manufacturer of rustic-modern lighting and accessories. Experimenting with patinated finishes and repurposing components in her Santa Barbara Calif.-based workshop, she relishes the “happy accidents” of hand-crafting.
In the two years that Nagler has been manufacturing, she and her assistant, Brier Random, have shipped more than 3,000 orders to 18 countries. The line includes such diverse items as reclaimed galvanized plumbing pipe sconces, articulated desk and table lamps, storage bars, cabinet pulls, pendants made from brioche tins, coat racks, and “trophy” hat racks (a homage to mounted antlers) made from vintage Schwinn bicycle handlebars.
How It Started
After she was downsized from her corporate design job, Nagler began producing lighting (one of her favorite design categories) in 2012 and posting her wares on Etsy as well as participating in several local craft shows. Resilience, she discovered, is part of her DNA.
“I like to say that if necessity is the mother of invention, then the Recession was the mother of re-invention,” Nagler quips. “I am my most sustainable resource and follow my instincts.”
It is the interaction with customers, however, that ignites her passion. “It’s exciting to see people’s response to the line,” Nagler comments. “It’s amazing how fresh it seems to them. It’s an honor to be part of people’s décor and work with them in the process of creating,” she explains, adding, “Once an educated consumer knows about unique and more visceral pieces, their imaginations are piqued. They won’t go back to mass-produced items.”
The chemistry is working. As the company has grown, Nagler’s business has evolved from the craft show circuit to exhibiting at major trade shows such as the San Francisco Gift Fair in 2013 and NY NOW in 2014. Flea Market Rx has impressed major retailers and catalogs as well as flash sites such as Fab.com, HauteLook, and VandM. Nagle is now pursuing the UL testing process to tap into the hospitality market.
As the owner and creative director of a high-end interior design business nearly 20 years ago, Nagler understands consumers’ desires, their insecurities about design, and their quest for individuality. Interior designers have the skill to mix textures, finishes, and patinas. “The balance is what makes the room come together,” she advises. “Anything done in proportion is timeless. However, if you decorate a room in a particular style from head to toe, it will become dated quickly. For example, a room done totally in Art Deco is not natural, but if you mix in a vintage or industrial piece or personal items, the design becomes more authentic.
“Once they know more about the past history of these unique pieces or the more visceral items in the market, they go in that direction,” Nagler observes. In addition to the handmade quality, the Made in the USA factor has also influenced purchasers of Nagler’s works. “The response to the American-made element has surprised me,” she remarks. “Retailers have been really excited and want to talk about the details, the craft, and the authentic patinas.”
Nagler can relate. She left her interior design business for a chance to move to the West Coast and become the studio proprietor (branch manager) for Design Within Reach (DWR). “That company is a game changer and has made good design accessible to everyone, not just interior designers. It has made everyone aware of form, quality, and design,” Nagler says.
DWR also attracted good retail talent. It was a former co-worker – Bradford Shellhammer, who later helped found the flash sale site Fab.com – whom she turned to when she began to market her line. “He absolutely loved everything and immediately placed my products on his site,” Nagler recalls. (Shellhammer has since left Fab.com to form his own retail consultancy company.)
No two items are exactly alike when it comes to assembling products from salvaged components such as galvanized pipe retrieved from plumbers or redirected from landfills, vintage bed springs, handlebars from 1970s Schwinn bikes, billiard barbell weights, and Bakelite plugs. Adding to the authenticity is her ebonized rust patina.
Nagler has found networking – especially social media – to be among the essential tools for her craft. One example: Nagler asked her Facebook friends gathered from her many craft shows and Etsy site to recommend their favorite home furnishings retailers for her to contact when she participated in the San Francisco Gift Fair. She is a prolific poster and keeps her social media friends informed of all the highlights, including meeting her design idols such as Jonathan Adler, who stopped by her booth at NYNow several months ago.
“I’m loving Instagram right now,” Nagler adds. “It’s great for getting my message out visually. Not everything translates directly to sales, but I don’t get lost either.”
While she continues to experiment with how metals react to achieve her finishes, Nagler wants everyone to look to artisans for future trends, simply stating, “If there weren’t a market for our craft, we wouldn’t be doing it!”