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The $7,000 Lamp

Mission ceiling lamp

“Prairie Lightbox” by Kevin Rodel

Since I’ve been woodworking, I’ve really grown to appreciate items made by hand, by a craftsperson of some kind – I don’t care whether that’s soaps, jewelry, leatherwork, woodwork, stonework, metalwork, painting – you name it; if someone has a passion for a discipline, and is good at what he or she does, I’m lovin’ it, to steal from McDonalds. I also understand now why hand-built items cost a lot more than machine made, one-is-the-same-as-all-the-rest stuff. AND, I also understand that people that are at the top of their field command a top dollar.

But $7,000 for a lamp?

No, not one made of gold ingots or diamond encrusted. Wood and stained glass. Not that large either, made for a dining room.

Well, one of my fellow woodworkers, Kevin Rodel, commands such a price for his ceiling hung lamps or “light boxes” as he calls them, on his website.

Are they beautiful? Stunning. Are they made out of the best pieces of cherry and other materials, and with the highest construction quality? Undoubtedly. But how much of a market does one have for this? How many rich people have bungalow or Craftsman style homes, and are willing to shell out this kind of scratch? I’m guessing not many, but I’m sure there are some. When people want something bad enough, price isn’t really an issue – just ask a crack head.

Mission ceiling lamp close

Wonderful detailing

I can tell you with a good degree of certainty that the materials cost – even given the almost certitude that Kevin out sources his stained glass work – is under $1,000. In the photo on this page, he states this piece is 39″ long by 25″ wide and 12 1/4″ deep. The matching ceiling bracket is 34″ by 24″. And you can see, the piece is mostly glass. I’m guessing there is $50 in wood, maybe another $50 for the leather straps, and perhaps $75 for the electrical? There’s got to be then, about a $6,000 gross for him. Yes, I know that it must take him some time to craft this piece; it IS very intricate, and has a lot of details; but it’s certainly not as labor-intensive as say, a relief carving. Given his level of expertise, I’m guessing he has no more than 40 hours of work into this himself. That’s $150 an hour. Does his level of professionalism command that price?

I’m not sure I can answer that. Certainly, he’s a top notch player in the Arts and Crafts genre of woodworking – just look around his website. Guys like him can really call there own shots on pricing; they have mastered their craft, established credibility (Rodel is also an author of an Arts and Crafts book, and authored articles in Fine Woodworking, and teaches as well.) and have a client base. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that price is right – please note, I’m not knocking his price.

What I really wanted to explore is a sub-text of that pricing. That’s the highest price I know of for a piece like that. If you look at all of Kevin’s stuff on his website, it’s all high-priced. Again, maybe he can command that price – the guy does great work. But let’s look at it from the (rich) consumer’s point of view. Let’s say you are a rich lady, and you want to furnish your bungalow home you’re restoring in Pasadena. You look around on line for the best pieces. You find a couple of ceiling lights that are very nice, in the $1,500 range. Then you come across Rodel’s page, and see his wonderful work – at $7,000! What must you think? My guess is, you’ll think something like “Wow, his stuff is really beautiful, he must be a top notch craftsman to be able to ask that much!” In other words, the higher the price, the higher his quality must be. If you have a lot of money, and you want the best, well, you’re probably going to go for this lamp. It’s true that better things cost more…and this is most expensive lamp you’ve seen….so…it must be the best.

There’s also this “halo of awesomeness” that pieces like his will impart. Yes, the piece in an of itself is wonderful – but the knowing the high price for it amplifies it’s “awesomeness” as well. It’s an interesting effect, and definitely factor’s into it’s perceived value. People like us often mistake the psychological impact of price. I’m willing to bet that if you took that same piece – use the same photos even – and showed it to a group of people with a spectrum of income middle class to upper class, and told them one is $1500 and the other $7000, most of the people would say that the $7000 one is better.

One other issue – Rodel gets to work less, and be paid more. Nothing wrong with that; he can make, say, 5 of these a year, at $7,000 a pop, or 15 a year at $2,300 each. Which would you rather do?


Posted by on March 8, 2013 in BlogNotes


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