Craft & Design
Made On Earth — Bright Idea

bright idea

The chandelier that Eric Lawrence built from the molded styrofoam his new Apple computer came in looks like barracks that Frank Lloyd Wright would have designed for the Imperial Stormtroopers in Star Wars, he explains. He’s right.

Lawrence, 42, a web designer and former art student at the University of Texas, Austin, made the first Styrolight a few years ago. He’d just bought a new laptop, had all this styrofoam packaging lying around, and owed his nephew a Christmas present. He did the math.

“I like the way the foam diffuses light,” Lawrence says. “It’s keeping it out of the landfill, and I just like the shape.”

More lights followed. He tested different glues (settling on a hot glue gun) to connect the white blocks of foam and play with new shapes. He joined these to homemade aluminum frames of used bar and angle stock using two-part epoxy.

He bought all kinds of compact fluorescent light bulbs in search of the right color and brightness. LEDs weren’t simple and their color wasn’t as nice as with CFs. Finally, he found some 5-watt, dimmable fluorescent bulbs that emitted the perfect glow and burned as brightly as 20-watt incandescents, yet didn’t get dangerously hot.

“I’ve had [the 5-watt bulbs] on for 24 hours and can go grab a bulb in my hand,” he says.

In May 2009, Lawrence entered a 16-bulb, 35″×35″ Styrolight into the Austin Design Within Reach showroom’s M+D+F furniture competition. When he won the sustainability prize, he took home a gift card, lots of attention, and endless bragging rights.

More commissions are coming his way, but he’s got a problem. “Unfortunately, Apple has quit using styrofoam, so my free source of materials no longer exists. I have enough left to build one big one.”

Be on the lookout for his next bright idea.

Foam Chandeliers: