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Left to right: A solid brass Spanish chandelier, with full-cut almond prisms; Mantel lamps with glass bodies and clear teardrop crystal prisms; A brass sconce with teardrops and pear-shaped crystal prisms. James Dickinson photos
Ken Roeper's Fan District home is exactly 100 years older than the house he left in the suburbs, and it's
fitting that he moved into an old house. Roeper, owner of Crystal Details, spends his days working in a historical context — his specialty is cleaning and restoring vintage chandeliers, lamps and sconces, many of them in desperate need of his expertise. He'll also assemble, install, pack, store and deliver them as needed.
Stepping into his 1893 home, visitors find themselves beneath a Spanish chandelier, solid brass and decorative, with crystal prisms dangling from its arms. This chandelier and fixtures in places like Virginia Executive Mansion and The Jefferson Hotel have been brought to life through Roeper's efforts.
R•Home: How long have you been cleaning and repairing lighting?
Ken Roeper: I'm in my 14th year, and the company has evolved over the whole time. I did lighting-cleaning in the early years — pieces that were just hard to clean or hung in hard-to-reach places — a lot of ladder work and sometimes scaffolds. I started learning about crystal lighting, the nuances of how they're made and assembled. The electrical part (I learned) … from classes, reading and talking to electricians on some of my lighting jobs. I learned to have a stylistic approach to wiring — sometimes the wire needs to be invisible — there's a signature way to how I finish pieces, and I know it when I see it … I can look up and say, ‘I did that.'
R•Home: Where do you find your own projects?
Roeper: I purchase many of them at auctions or flea markets. Often, they're in dreadful condition ... filthy, with prisms missing. I restore some of them, and sometimes I cannibalize the parts to use on other pieces of mine.
R•Home: What are the basic steps involved in restoring a chandelier in your studio?
Roeper: First, I hang it or "stage" it so that I can work on the entire piece. I photograph it so that I'll have a record of where everything goes. Then, I totally undress it — remove prisms and store them, remove old wiring, dismantle whatever needs replacing or refinishing, take old sockets off to clean them....wash, polish and maybe rebuild. The frame is washed and probably not buffed, but left with its natural patina. I might do a swap on the chain.
Each prism is washed, dried and buffed by hand. I tell people to never ever spray a chandelier — water and electricity don't mix, and they can short it out and cause corrosion. Replacing any swags, I'll reposition them, tweak them to hang exactly as they should. After it's dressed, I pack it for transport. Sometimes it's better to work on location so that I don't have to transport the piece and worry about damage. I can stage a room in a house and do all the work there.
R•Home: What job have you felt luckiest about doing?
Roeper: Just one? Probably the work I did in two of the House of Representatives buildings at the U.S. Capitol. I found out by doing some research online who the person was that I needed to contact about doing work there. I knew I was competing with larger local services in the Washington area. They gave me (and the others who wanted the job) a sample of the work, a crystal and silver wall sconce, to take home and clean and show them what I could do. When I was done, they hired me to do a very large project — three dozen of those sconces. I was really happy about that … it was a job that I wanted and I went out and got on my own.
R•Home: Before starting this business you worked in human resources management for some 20 years. Any crossover?
Roeper: I think one of the reasons I've been successful is that I know the value of professional, excellent customer service. I try to do as much pro bono work as I can … gift certificates for silent auctions, schools, non-profits … because it's always a win-win. I value what I've been fortunate to receive, and I'm glad that I can give back.
You can contact Ken Roeper at Crystal Details, 658-1555 or firstname.lastname@example.org .