It goes without saying that most lifetime winnings—from a lifetime supply of Cineplex tickets to an expiration-less subscription to National Geographic—don’t elicit much envy. Doug Taylor and Ed Sexton’s lifetime haul is a bit different. In 2006 the couple stumbled across a motherlode of Murano glass stashed in a dilapidated New Jersey warehouse (yes, cue the swoon). The couple, who previously worked in sales and real estate, had no hesitation about what to do with their findings: they shipped the lamps to Little Rock, Arkansas and opened the now renowned Swank Lighting.
Almost fifteen years later, Taylor and Sexton are among the country’s pinnacle Murano sources. They have continued to sell their original haul and have added their own line of lamps to the mix. To celebrate the success, we recently sat down with Taylor and Sexton to recount the incredible discovery that kickstarted everything for them, and talked about how they leveraged a moment of serendipity to form a booming business with plenty of swank.
Can you tell us a bit about what you were both doing career-wise prior to founding Swank Lighting?
ED: My prior career was in business-to-business advertising. I spent 25 years selling ad space in trade magazines. I was promoted to Director of Sales & Marketing of a company specializing in the medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing segment. The directors were awarded equity in the company, and in 2005 they sold the company for a significant gain over its original value. This is when I decided to search for a venture that would allow Doug and me to work for ourselves. We both loved Mid-Century architecture and interior design, so this was where we focused our energies.
DOUG: I had been a licensed real estate broker in Beverly Hills for 25 years when Eddie came across this cache. The timing was perfect, as we had both reached the saturation point in our careers and we were more than ready for something new.
How did you first become interested in Murano glass?
ED: I wanted to create a business that Dougie and I would love, one that would take care of us. While doing research I began looking on eBay, where I was drawn to vintage Murano glass table lamps. I noticed there were three sellers who offered vintage glass Murano lamps that were more superior in design and craftsmanship than the other sellers’.
I began buying from each of these three sellers and struck up a friendship with one in particular, a woman in New Jersey. Over time she told me that her inventory—and that of her two competitors—came from a company that had imported their Murano over half a century before. There was a vast enclave of warehouses full of these lamps, I was told—the lamps still in the original Italian shipping crates. The owner had been selling pieces to these three dealers who would buy a batch at a time, but there was SO much inventory in those buildings. My interest was more than piqued; this sounded like the opportunity I had been thinking about!
How did the actual haul come about?
ED: With my friend as the middle-woman, I ultimately secured a meeting with the owner, who took us on a tour of the two-story 100,000 square foot main warehouse. There was a vast second floor full of crates piled thirty-feet high, but the owner wouldn’t let us open any. We were lucky enough to get up to the second floor. He was very secretive, and never allowed one of the three pickers upstairs. Ever.
DOUG: Once Eddie understood the owner had no intention of letting us upstairs and everything on the main levels had been damaged by the sub-freezing indoor temperatures, he met with the owner privately to work out a deal.
ED: I sat down with him after and we came to an agreement for exclusive rights to go through all of the “new-old stock” and purchase what we wanted over a six month period. Although we hand-picked each piece, we ended up buying every Murano glass lamp there was except for the damaged pieces. Everything we found there was absolutely breathtaking. It was like the most magical Easter egg hunt ever.
Since you weren’t able to preview any of the lamps prior to purchasing them, what did your collection process look like?
DOUG: When an agreement was signed, I went to the car for our goodies—we each had a hammer and crowbar, heavy gloves, an Elmer Fudd hat—this was New Jersey in November and the buildings were not heated and many of the windows were absent of glass—and a large bell.
Now, came kid in a candy store excitement. We each took a different room in the main warehouse and just started opening crates. Since we were so far apart we couldn’t hear each other at all, but we could hear each other’s loud gong bell, which we rang each time we opened a crate filled with lamp bases.
We had budgeted seven days for our visit; we didn’t have a clue what to expect. Seven days did not make a dent in the contents of the buildings. We scheduled weekly trips back until we were able to empty the warehouses of what we wanted.
Was there anything else located in the warehouses beside Murano lighting?
DOUG: Yes, the importers had more than the lamp bases stored in their warehouses; they had ceramic lamp bases, candle holders, Murano glass ashtrays and figurines, depression glass of all sorts, as well as lamp bases of Alabaster and Italian Marble. Every crate has a treasure within, but not all treasures fit our plan—we were only interested in Murano lamp bases.
Now that you’re settled in your business, do you continue to source new Murano inventory today?
DOUG: Yes, we have a line of new Murano glass that we purchase from a glass house in Murano. They do designs specifically for us. We also have pickers across the country who call us when they come across something special, but we only buy extraordinary pieces.
Who are your main clients at Swank?
DOUG: Our main customers are interior designers, (about 75 percent), and those who have read about our lamp lines. Many of the designers who buy from us come back to us for other clients. We have a few designers who love the look of Murano glass in their projects and come to us to furnish lamps for entire houses.
Worth noting is that most of our customers purchase without seeing lamps in person. We offer consultations in which we photograph the lamps surrounded by fabric and paint samples. We have also benefited from the DECASO app which allows a buyer to place the lamps in their existing space. What we hear nearly every sale is this: we knew they were beautiful lamps, but we had no idea how gorgeous they were until we unpackaged them. They are even better in person. This is why we get so much repeat business. Our product is very special, as is our customer service.
Why did you decide to start your own lamp line?
DOUG: Living in Austin, Texas, we saw a lot of artists use recycled glass rock in their art pieces, inspiring us to create a lamp line from the glass. Rock Candy is a very successful line that appeals to buyers because of the colors available and the texture of the sculpted form. They’re very contemporary, yet they also work beautifully surrounded by antiques. We augmented the Rock Candy line with a line of stone lamps made of Selenite, Calcite, and Coral. These stone lamps are very impressive in size and make a great impact in a room.
All photos courtesy of Swank Lighting